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The word summer written in the sand on a beach

Summer break is getting closer and closer! According to my countdown widget, We have 15 days left until the last day of school.

While I am very excited to have some time this summer for home projects and working with a new puppy, I am also thinking about how to prevent the “summer slide” that is so prevalent every year. When students don’t practice their talking and listening skills all summer, they lose some of the skills they have gained during the year! ūüė¶ But when they have short, frequent practice during the summer, they can keep up their skills, or often even gain new ones, by the time school is back in session in September.

To help prevent summer slide I have put together a speech/language home practice calendar for the past few years. Each day has a short activity/conversation starter to do with a parent or caregiver, to give students practice using their speech sounds, or practicing language skills like vocabulary, categories, describing, and asking questions. Students who stutter can do the same activities, and either practice using a speech strategy, or practice using easy stuttering.

Click on the pictures to download the calendar for this summer!

2017 summer practice calendar July-page-001

2017 summer practice calendar August-page-001

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A ‚Äėwho‚Äô question is asking about a person.¬†I usually work on ‘who’ questions after students become good at answering ‘what’ questions. Giving an answer that is a person is still very concrete, and students can learn that when the question begins with “who?”, the answer must be a person.

Students in my intensive support classrooms often need visual supports to be successful answering questions, so having picture choices for answers helps them both to figure out how to answer, and to show us what they know.

I made a Boardmaker Online WHO question activity with visual answers, similar to the one I made for WHAT questions, which has been getting lots of use in the intensive support classrooms this month. To access this activity for free, you will need a Boardmaker Online subscription. You can search for it in the community activities, or find it in the Ms Petersen SLP group.

If you do not have a Boardmaker Online subscription, you can find a printable version of the WHO questions with visual answers on Teachers Pay Teachers.

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(Note: I have no financial connection to Boardmaker Online, or Mayer-Johnson. I did not receive any compensation from them in exchange for my opinions about Boardmaker Online. I am simply using it myself, and finding it very helpful).

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A ‘what’ question is asking about a thing or an action. Typically developing children learn to answer simple ‘what’ questions¬†by around age 3 (example: “What is your name?”). However, students with language disorders can struggle with answering questions. For students who are “emerging communicators” (just beginning to use words or pictures to communicate), learning to answer questions can be very, very difficult!

I have several students this year who are ready to work on answering WHAT questions, and who are just learning to use words (verbal or pictured) to communicate. For these students, the typical WH-question materials that I have used in the past are too complicated, and do not give them enough support. I needed to make more materials, which could give my students more clues to help them learn to answer questions.

Boardmaker Online is a resource I have been learning to use. I finally got my district to pay for a subscription this year, and have been loving it! It replaces the old Boardmaker disks that I have been using (last updated in 2006!). The most useful feature is that when you create interactive activities, they can be played on a FREE iPad app, so that students can use the activities over and over!

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My first activity was for WHAT questions, with visual answers that students can chose from. This allows them to show me if they know the answer, and also supports students who are learning to answer these questions, because there are only 3 options to chose from. If they chose the wrong answer the app tells them that it was wrong, and gives them another chance to find the right answer. It has been working FABULOUSLY for many of my students who love using iPads.

Another neat thing about Boardmaker Online is that you can search for activities that other people have made, and save them for your own use. I made the WHAT interactive activity public, and put it in a Ms Petersen SLP group to make it easy to find. If you have a Boardmaker Online subscription, you can add it to your activities and use it for free!

Some of my students do better with low-tech paper materials instead of using the iPad, so I also made a printable version of the same questions, which I laminated and bound into a book for the teachers of those students. I wanted to give away the book as a freebie, but one of the restrictions of using Boardmaker Online is that I am not supposed to give away PDF versions of materials that I create using the Boardmaker symbols, because of the copyright laws. However, I am allowed to sell materials, so long as I credit Mayer-Johnson as the source of the graphics.

In order to respect the law ūüôā and also share what I’ve made, I have two versions of the printable WHAT questions. If you have a subscription to Boardmaker Online, you can download the printable version for free off of the Boardmaker Online website. When you logon, search for “Ms Petersen SLP” in the groups, and when you join, you will find all of the activities I’ve made so far to share.

If you do not have a subscription to Boardmaker Online, you can still get the printable version of WHAT questions with visual answers for emerging communicators from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

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Further reading:

(Note: I have no financial connection to Boardmaker Online, or Mayer-Johnson. I did not receive any compensation from them in exchange for my opinions about Boardmaker Online. I am simply using it myself, and finding it very useful).

It’s here! My¬†2016 summer speech/language practice calendar. The calendar is in both Spanish and English, and can be used to practice articulation, language, or stuttering strategies from the end of June to the beginning of September.

2016 summer practice calendar preview

Top reasons to practice over the summer:

  • Summer Slide

The “summer slide” is a term educators use to refer to what happens when students leave school for summer break, and don’t practice any of their academic skills until they come back in the fall. June – September is a long time to not practice! Students who do not practice their skills will actually go backwards in their skills, falling further behind their peers, and begin school in the fall at a disadvantage with their peers who have practiced, even only a little.

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The good news is that it doesn’t take much practice to prevent the slide. Even 5 minutes a day, a few times per week, can keep students from losing skills over the break.

  • Make faster progress

Students who practice at home, during the year or over the summer, make faster progress on their skills than students who don’t practice. Research on therapy effectiveness has shown that therapy programs that are more “intense” help students to grow more than therapy that is less intense, and one of the key factors in intensity is how often students work on their target skills.¬†Practice at home is a major way to increase intensity, and boost the effectiveness of what is happening in the therapy room.

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  • Graduate from speech/language therapy!

Having a large-ish caseload in a public school, I have a variety of homework-completion levels amongst my students. Some students practice and bring their homework back every week, some students do it occasionally, and a few students are not able to do it at all. I work just as hard with the students who bring it back as with those who don’t, but I have noticed a definite trend, where students who practice graduate significantly faster than students who don’t. For speech sounds, learning a new motor pattern takes time and practice, just like learning to play a sport or play the piano. The more you practice, the easier it becomes! For language skills, practice talking and listening is working on the muscle of your brain, which also needs exercise in order to grow. The students who practice the most are the students who graduate from speech/language therapy the soonest, and get back to full-time learning in their classrooms.

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This month in Teacher Norma’s classroom our language circle time is focusing on body parts. Knowing body parts is important for students because it impacts self-care (getting dressed, personal hygiene) as well as a student’s ability to tell a caregiver if they are hurt or ill. For students who are not yet using words expressively, it is still important to understand body words when parents, teachers, or doctors use them. “Stick out your tongue”, “Give me your hand”, “Arm in the jacket”, etc. Body part vocabulary is important!

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We have been playing with Potato Head toys during circle time. I have picture symbols (sometimes called PECs) with different body parts, and each student gets to choose which part they will add to the potato. Together we build the whole potato! I let students put the body parts anywhere they want, though they usually put them in the “normal” places.

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Our book this month is “My Nose, Your Nose” by Melanie Walsh. It is a book about how children are similar and different, using both body parts and things they like or don’t like. The book touches on skin tone, hair texture, but also things like loving chocolate cake, or not liking shampoo. It also covers a good chunk of the major body parts, while still feeling like a storybook rather than an “educational” book. ūüôā

 

And of course, who could talk about body parts without singing the Hokey Pokey? In our class we skip the “left” and “right” and focus instead on the basic body parts – arm, leg, hand, food, head, tongue, ear… Students take turns choosing which body part we will sing next, and we do it all together.

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Answering yes/no questions is a very important skill, especially for children with limited verbal skills. If a child can answer yes/no questions, it expands how much they can tell an adult or caregiver almost exponentially. Yes and No are so powerful!

Yes/No are also ideal target words because they can be expressed simply, with or without verbal words. Children can nod, vocalize, or look happy to express “yes.” They can shake their head, look unhappy, or push away to express “no.” Yes/no questions can apply across many different settings, from snack time (do you want a cracker?) to recess (do you want the ball?) to bedtime (do you want your red pajamas?). They allow parents and caregivers to offer choices, and children to have more control over their lives by expressing opinions. Being able to answer yes/no questions can reduce frustration for both children and parents, especially for children with communication difficulties.

Using gestures or facial expressions is often how children start expressing their preferences. Sometimes making a face is enough, but sometimes the rejection can be pushing or throwing, which we don’t want! Starting with what we know the child wants to tell us, we can build those preferences into more conventional ways to indicate yes/no. If a child is using a push-away to express rejection, we can pair that with a sign or word to help them learn more socially acceptable ways to get their message across. Adults modeling yes/no in¬†situations that children are currently in is very important for emerging communicators to learn how to use yes/no themselves.

There are different kinds of yes/no questions, also. Yes/no questions that are preference-based (example: Do you want a cookie?) are easier than fact-based yes/no questions (example: Is this a cookie?). Students typically master preference-based yes/no questions before they can answer fact-based yes/no questions.
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Using visual supports is essential for students who have difficulty with yes/no. The graphic above is one I use every day. I have two cards – one with “yes” and one with “no.” When I ask a student a question, I hold up the cards so they can see their options for answering. It helps cue students who may not remember the words independently, but can point to the answer they mean with the visual support. This can reduce the amount of echolalia that students may use (repeating the question instead of answering it). A student can say Yes/No, point to the word they want, or even look at the word that they mean.

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This month we are reading Are You My Mother?¬†by P.D. Eastman during circle time. Each time the baby bird meets a new creature, I ask the question “Is the [cat/dog/cow/boat] his mother?” The board gives visual supports, along with pictures for the “yes” and “no” for modeling and pointing.

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Other books ideal for working on yes/no:

Additional resources:

Lastly, here is a video with a catchy song about yes/no, made by an SLP working on a kickstarter project. There are words that pop on the screen about their project, which is a bit annoying, but the song is pretty fun and could be engaging for a student who doesn’t mind the words, but enjoys music and puppets.

EET stands for Expanding Expression Tool. It is a kit which helps students to use stronger, more descriptive oral and written language. From the EET website: “The Expanding Expression Tool provides students with a hands-on approach to describing and defining. As a mnemonic device, it provides visual and tactile information which facilitates improved language organization. The kit itself is designed to allow you to follow a hierarchical approach taking student’s expression from words to paragraphs to reports. Therefore, it can be used by a variety of ages.”

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Confession: I saw the EET craze a while back, and ignored it. I saw all of the blogs of other SLPs talking about EET, how they were using EET in therapy, how great EET is… and I never looked it up. Then one day I did look it up, and discovered that it costs a lot of money to purchase the EET kit, but that it actually looked very handy.¬†So I did what any self-respecting, thrifty crafter¬†does – I bought materials at the fabric¬†store and made my own¬†describing beads.

EET beads

My describing beads are not the same as the original. It is made with wooden beads, which I painted and then embellished with a sharpie. It is strung differently on the cord than the EET, and has a ring at the top so I can clip it on my carabiner. However, it can work as a visual aid in the same way as the EET, and I can use it with all of the fabulous (and often FREE) Teachers Pay Teachers EET products. There are describing worksheets, graphic organizers, visuals to help remember what each bead stands for, and tons more.

 

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The EET beads are a physical reminder for how to describe something. Each bead stands for a different aspect of describing, as you can see above. When describing something, you start with the green bead, and work through each bead until you get to the end. What group is it? What does it do? What does it look like? What parts does it have? 91rja0ebmol-_sy355_My current go-to for practicing wits describing beads is while playing the game Hedbanz. Each student gets a card, and then use the describing beads to prompt their questions to figure out what they have. The better their questions, the faster they can guess what is on their head.

What could you describe using the EET?

 

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One of my favorite times in Teacher Norma’s classroom is when I lead circle once a week. We have a routine of songs, books, calendar time and listening activities which we do each week. The content changes, but the goals are constant and so important. Circle time is a fantastic time to address social language use, listening skills, answering questions, emerging literacy, and so much more! Today I’m going to focus on the beginning and end of the circle time routine: greeting and leave-taking.

 

What’s so important about hello and goodbye?

There are several important communication skills embedded within a greeting. One of the first is imitation, which is foundational to learning language. During normal development, children begin to imitate waving hi/bye around 9-10 months old. Waving hi/bye has been linked with overall development. When children master this skill, it shows that they are able to recognize that another person is there, and that they can interact with that person. Saying hi and bye is a great way to practice joint attention.

Another purpose of a hi/bye routines is that they signal a transition. We begin every circle with Hello Friends, and end every circle with the Goodbye Song. These routine-based cues help children to anticipate what is happening next.

 

Nonverbal ways to greet

There are more ways than words to say hello and goodbye, which is another reason they are popular early goals for emerging communicators. A child can use words, wave, fist-bump, hi-5, use PECs or AAC pictures, shake hands, or make eye contact and smile – all of these “count” as saying hello! I use hi-5s a lot with younger students, who enjoy the feeling of slapping hands, the motor skill of aiming their hand to match mine, and the excitement of the social routine. Some students are not yet able to hi-5, but they will reach out a hand to be squeezed, like a child-version of a handshake. Nonverbal greetings usually¬†develop¬†before verbal greetings, so these are great steps towards the ultimate goal of a more conventional word, sign, or AAC greeting.

Thanks for reading! Goodbye!raised hands

 

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We have been exploring Pete the Cat books in teacher Norma’s classroom the past few weeks. This month we are reading Old MacDonald Had a Farm, featuring Pete the Cat.

I love this book/song for how versatile it is. Students at many different levels can interact with the book in different ways.

Emerging language: Students in the beginning stages of language¬†can practice using “more” to continue the song, or to turn the page. Some students are working on the sign for “more”, while others are using switches or words. This works well for students who are motivated by music or interaction with adults. Pause the song in the middle or end of a verse, and wait expectantly for the student to request “more.” If they are still learning “more,” they may need you to model using it (“Let’s do MORE”, accompanied by helping with the sign, or pushing the switch with the child) and then continue.

Imitation: The repeating refrain “E-I-E-I-O” is great for imitation of speech sounds. I have a few students who are in the babbling/imitation stage of learning language, and they love to sing along and practice different sounds.

Labeling: Students who are beginning to use words can label the different animals in the song or book. Farm animals are fun to label, especially when paired with their funny sounds. I sing the song, and pause when we get to the animal to let the student fill-in the animal themselves. If the student does not know the word yet, I point to it, label it, and then look at them to see if they will label it with me.

Answering questions: Students who are using longer word combinations can start to answer questions about the pictures in the book. Questions starting with “what,” “where,” or “who” are the easiest ones to start with. Talk about what is on each page, and ask questions starting with wh-words to engage more advanced students.

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Where is the turtle? Where is the pig? Who is in the truck? What does a cat say?

You can find Pete the Cat Old MacDonald Had a Farm at the Sno-Isle library, on BetterWorldBooks.com, or you can read it free on YouTube!

This month we have been talking about shapes in Teacher Norma’s classroom! Some students are at the level of exploring physical shapes with their hands, and other students have begun to label shapes verbally. There are many, many ways to play with shapes that can be done at home.

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The book we have been reading together in class is called Shape Capers. You can get it at the library, or on BetterWorldBooks.com. The book introduces shapes – circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and semi-circles, and then uses the shapes to create fun pictures of different objects (a race car, a rocket, a dinosaur…). The students enjoyed touching each shape, and matching the shape they were holding to the picture in the book.

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I made puffy fabric shapes that velcro onto a display board, which we used as we read the book. Each student got a shape to hold and explore, and when their shape came up in the book, they added their shape to the board. It gave students a chance to learn new words, as well as listen for their shape to be called. And the students enjoyed the texture and squishability of the fabric shapes!

At home, playing with Play-Doh can be one way to learn more about shapes. You can download Play-Doh shape mats here, which you can use while playing with Play-Doh to create and reinforce different shapes.

Flash cards and sorting is another way to learn about shapes. Here is a shape activity with cards of objects that are naturally circles, triangles, squares, etc. Cut them out, and have students label the shapes they see, or sort them into groups based on shape. If your student is not able to label yet, then you can do it with them and model the words as you look at the cards.

Happy Holidays everyone! Stay safe and warm, and I’ll see you in January 2016!