Articulation · Cognition · Fluency · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Strategies · The Human Connection · Virtual Learning · Vocabulary

Everything is Possible With Zeroes and Ones: The Start of the School Year

Hi readers,
I hope you found fun and creative ways to enjoy your summer. This has been quite the start of the school year. I took the summer off to teach virtual summer school and think about the future of this blog. I am continuing to provide services virtually for my students. I am about to start week three of virtual speech and I’m not gonna lie, this is hard. This is a lot on my students and their families. I miss my kids. I miss my staff. As of today, my schools have been closed for 6 months. I’ve gotten creative in how I provide support, thanks to Boom cards and Nearpod and Edpuzzle.

I am so proud of how adaptable my students have been. I’ve been forgetting to extend that same pride to myself. I find myself drained, and all I’ve done is sit at a desk all day. The purpose of this post is for students who find themselves in any sort of virtual learning. I have some ideas for how to make virtual learning work for you.

  1. Create a dedicated workspace.
    Find a space that is used exclusively for school. Maybe it’s a desk in your room maybe it’s the kitchen table, maybe it’s your couch. Keep all of your school supplies there–manipulatives, chargers, headphones, workbooks. Store those items nearby so you are always ready to work and you’ll always know where your school supplies are stocked.
  2. Stick to the schedule from your teacher or school.
    Just like school, it’s important to be on time for your virtual class, just like it is to be at school on time. You can set alarms to wake up, just like you would if you were going to school. Eat a good breakfast and keep a water bottle nearby.
  3. Take breaks.
    This one is important. My school district has mandatory breaks. During these breaks, step away from the screens. Read a book, take a walk, play with your siblings, adults, or pets. If you can avoid social media, do so. Don’t forget to move. Try some jumping jacks, a game of Simon Says, movement breaks from GoNoodle have a variety of movement breaks from higher cardio to yoga and calming breaks.
  4. Try your hardest.
    We know it’s tempting to work at less than 100% when you’re at home. You might be more comfortable than you would be at home. Your teachers are trying their best and miss you dearly. We are working to give you the best education possible in a virtual setting. We know this is very hard, and new for all of us. We know our digital platforms can be glitchy, and may not always work. We’ll understand. These are things beyond our control.
  5. Finish each day when it’s over.
    There are points in every day when we feel “done.” It’s important to recognize those moments and either take a break then, or push through until the end of your session. When the school day is over, walk away from your screens. Give yourself a break before starting homework, if you have any. Talk to your family and friends about your day and theirs. Write letters, make phone calls, walk your pet, stretch from sitting for so long. School will start again tomorrow, it will be a new day, and you’ll begin again. We’ll all get through this together.

    I don’t know about you all, but I’ve found I’m spending entirely too much times in front of screens. In an effort to decrease this, I will be posting once a month until the end of the year. After much careful consideration, I’ve realized this blog is no longer as fulfilling to me as it has been over the last few years. Speech has been stressful, to say the least, and never knowing if/when I’m returning to buildings is getting to be too much. I love this blog and all it stands for, but the season of my writing here is winding down. I look forward to continuing to post in the coming months.

    Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
    –Stef the StageSLP
Articulation · Better Speech and Hearing Month · Interview · Lesson Plans · Strategies · The Human Connection

Thinking Inside the Beatbox: A Conversation with Kaila Mullady and Mark Martin

Hi everyone! I am so excited to share today’s conversation with you. I am always looking for ways to make speech therapy more fun for my students, and there’s no better time than during Better Speech and Hearing Month. As a speech pathologist working in special programs and with students from preschool to teens, I’ve always found it a challenge to make articulation therapy fun. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played Go Fish, Memory, or brought out flashcards and thought, “This is just as uninteresting for the kids as it is for me.” Enter The Academy of Noise, a program created and run by Kaila Mullady and Mark Martin. Their program works on articulation and social interaction through beatboxing. The second I first heard about this, I knew I had to learn more—how could I incorporate this into speech lessons? What could this do for digital learning? How much more engaged would my students be through this method of instruction? We had so much fun during this conversation that it quickly evolved into a collaborative learning experience for all parties involved. Let’s jump in!
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Stef: How did you guys become interested in speech therapy in connection with beatboxing?

Mark: My mom was a speech therapist and worked in special education. She worked with students with developmental needs, students who were learning how to read, and she would bring home whatever she was working on. As a kid, I got to see what she was doing with her students and she was definitely an influence in how I got interested in how we produce sounds. I’ve always been interested in how we get people to connect to their instrument, their voice, how we project sound, and I remember thinking some of the techniques I saw her use as a kid were boring. I could tell that, by nature of how her instruction was structured, there was a lack of rhythm in what she was teaching. But it becomes so much more interesting if you set it to rhythm. It suddenly becomes more exciting when you add rhythm. I think of how much I liked the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as a kid, and it was because it had a rhythm to it to keep me engaged. I was a musical kid and definitely a noise-maker, and this rhythm aspect made it magical for me.

Kaila: I come from a really big Irish family, and became the babysitter for everyone. I have a cousin who used to be nonverbal, until he was about seven, and he experienced apraxia of speech. The speech therapist would come by after school and my cousin would just shut down. What kid wants to do more school after just finishing a full day of school, especially when his siblings didn’t have to do this? I realized he loved beatboxing, and I realized that if the speech therapist held up a flashcard and asked him to say “caterpillar,” it could become more interesting if I took the words on the flashcards and presented it as beatboxing. We would make beatboxing beats out of whatever cards the speech therapist held up. So we realized, he wasn’t going to sit and do flashcards, but if I presented the speech sounds he needed to work on as an instrument through beatboxing, he’d practice, because he was beatboxing around the house all day anyway. It’s like sneaking vegetables into a fruit smoothie—they don’t know we’re here to work on speech when we see kids, they think it’s a field trip.

S: Yeah, speech therapy can be boring, until it isn’t. It doesn’t feel like speech practice if you’re beatboxing. You guys have worked with a bunch of different schools and populations, can you share some of your experiences?

K: Once, we went into a school and worked with a group of kids and there was one student who was very quiet, hiding behind the teacher. He was participating with us, and  by the time we left and the teacher told us he had a hard time finding a way into activities and participating, and this was the first time they’d seen him join in. We’re not trying to say this is the fix for speech therapy, we’re not trying to say don’t do speech therapy—not at all—we just want to help give speech therapists another tool to engage their students. And if they get hooked on beatboxing, the kids have access to so much. There are videos online and it’s something they can practice on their own. And you already have the equipment. There’s no instrument to buy, and no limit on what they can do with their own instrument.

S: I was listening to your interview on SiriusXM with American Voices and I heard you talk about the /p/, /t/, and /k/ as the drum kit sounds as the first thing you learn in beatboxing. My speech-oriented brain immediately connected those sounds to measuring articulation skills as an oral-motor exercise to determine the articulation and breath support and control of a patient who may have recently experienced some sort of brain injury or stroke. I love how this connects to my line of work.

Kaila: Me too. It’s one of the things that brought Mark and I together. We’re both beatboxers and we had the same mentor, but we really bonded over the storytelling and musical piece of beatboxing and its connection to education. We took beat rhyming, which is when you talk and beatbox together alternating between the beat and the talking. When I heard it, I wanted to take the consonants in the words, thinking of what I did with my cousin, and over-articulate the consonants. This made the beat and the speaking simultaneous. For a while we worked with an art organization to do beatboxing as music therapy. We worked with a school that supported students with a variety of needs. This transitioned from being traditional music therapy to adding beat rhyming, to adding the emotional intelligence side of communication. What does it sound like when you’re mad? What does your voice sound like when you’re excited? And through this, Mark and I got to introduce the speech therapy related aspect to kids. At that point, Mark and I created a curriculum that was specifically for students who were blind or handicapped.  Now we’ve started The Academy of Noise where we have a vocal health professional, Christine Schneider. She’s amazing.

M: Top of the world in terms of anything dealing with the voice. She works with people on Broadway, vocal professionals, she’s incredible, I highly recommend her.

K: She is incredible. And then there’s Tom Burke, he’s an SLP we’re working with. Right now, he’s focusing on vocal coaching and public speaking.  And now that we have created our own organization, we have people who want to work with us and have seen what we’ve done. In the beginning, we had a hard time getting anyone interested in us doing research. We went to so many universities around NYC and the northeast and we had a lot of doors close on opportunities for us because of the word “beatboxing.” I did an experiment where I changed the wording to include “vocal percussion,” and we got farther with that. Through that, we met a woman through NYU’s Music Experience Design Lab who was willing to study our beatboxing and curriculum to create tactile instruments that students who are blind could use in the classroom. Now we’re trying to work with NYU to work on the beatboxing and speech therapy side of it. Something we just did was go to the Langone Vocal Center and some of the best beatboxers had endoscopies done to see what is happening when we’re beatboxing.

S: What was that like? I saw that on your social media!

M: For me it was insane. The most exciting part was doing something and the doctors saying “We’ve never seen the voice do this before.” For us, it’s exciting to see we’re pushing the bounds of what the human body can do. We can rethink what is possible with the voice.

K: We were supposed to get MRIs done around St. Patrick’s Day to see what happens in the brain when you talk versus when beatboxing or beat rhyming. Do the same areas in the brain respond to these tasks? We’re in a really exciting time because we have people who believe in what we’re doing. We definitely want to talk to more speech therapists about what we could make that would help you. We know beatboxing is fun, but what do you need from us for this to be effective in speech? How do we make this meaningful? Every kid is working on speech until they’re around 8, in terms of articulation, so why not make it fun and engaging? We’re looking at how to restructure our curriculum to be effective for you and meet your needs so you can meet the kids’ needs.

S: What I’ve seen that I really like is that you have a visual component to your digital lessons for the kids to follow while you’re giving them verbal instruction. Almost every child I work with benefits from the visual component paired with the verbal component to really comprehend directions. When I first heard about this, I had a student in mind that I thought would love beatboxing as a means to address articulation. I’m really interested in how you created your own major of “Beatboxing as a Language.”

M: I went to the Gallitan School at NYU. It’s a school for individualized study.  I originally went to study Music Business and I wound up with an Entertainment Media business minor. I wound up leaving the program in sophomore year because YouTube just became popular and kind of took over this whole area. At the time, I’d become part of the New York City beatboxing community and became interested in beatboxing as communication. I saw beatboxing as a kind of meta-language. I thought I had this moral obligation to share beatboxing as a form of communication with people. This has been an ongoing passion of mine. What if we could really articulate the sound of what we’re trying to do? I took all these diverse classes, poetry, different languages, linguistics, phonetics, some speech-language classes, along with the ethics and implications of how we communicate. So now, it’s about how we take what we have and turn it into what we need. At this moment, that includes delivering all of this over the internet while we’re all at home and doing digital learning.

S: In addition to The Academy of Noise, you guys started out in competitive beatboxing and now you’re producing the championship competition?

M: Yeah, so I started out making noise playing as a kid—laser guns, rocket ships, all of it. I was a musical kid and I would copy what the drummers did. I was always tapping, and getting in trouble for expressing myself through this in school. School is a fairly clinical environment, and the expectation is to sit still and sit quietly.

I didn’t know beatboxing was a thing, I was playing with music. There are two sides to beatboxing—expression and community. The feeling of belonging within the community because you express yourself the same way is amazing. It was a huge part of my learning. I know how empowering it can feel to be around other people willing to make sounds and take risks with you, and that’s why I’m here with Academy of Noise.

K: Mark was one of the first people I met. There is a vulnerability in beatboxing that is specific to what we do. We’re taking risks and making weird faces and strange sounds and I have to be okay with that, and the fact that there’s a community okay with me doing those things was amazing to find. It’s a really loving community. It’s a very positive community, our battles are an excuse to hang out; they’re not meant to be aggressive. The competitions have every age group now, and they want to welcome you and your unique voice and style. When you teach it to kids, they walk away with another skill. Say they have to leave class to go to speech, coming back into the room can feel awkward for them, they feel like they’re different and they missed out on something. Well now, with beatboxing, we’re giving them this superpower and they can come into class with something they can do that the other kids don’t know how to do yet. They get to share that. That’s what gets us up in the morning—we know all ages enjoy it. It’s harder to teach adults to beatbox.

M: I call it the shame barrier. For kids, they make weird sounds all the time and at some point, we get told to use our words. That’s so ingrained in us as adults that we don’t want to be vulnerable with our voices anymore and take those risks, because at some point, we were told not to. We work with everyone and have students of all ages. Seeing it cut to this level of freedom that these people can access through vulnerability is so powerful.

S: Is there a sound in beatboxing that’s harder to teach than others?

M: Yes. People are inventing new sounds all the time. People make the sounds more challenging, changing the production and complexity of the sound. People take outward sounds and make them inward sounds or combine them together. Every sound takes a different amount of time to learn.

K: I look at sounds that took me forever to learn and I’m seeing teenagers pick it up in a month. It’s like language acquisition, it’s easier when you’re younger. Beatboxing is a language through replication, rhythm, and timing.

M: And it’s dependent on your body. Your instrument is different from everyone else’s. Some sounds can take you moments and some can take you years. There are different styles of beatboxing so it depends on the focus of the person.

K: And bringing it back to speech, the kids get so many repetitions of a speech sound when they’re beatboxing.

S: What’s been really cool to watch while we’ve been talking is how you’re using your voices to make sounds. It would never have occurred to me to put certain articulators or sounds together to make another sound. I didn’t think vocal structures could do this. Based on how you’re explaining how you find, replicate, or recreate sounds, you guys might be the only other community that understands the articulation aspect of speech productions as well as speech pathologists.

K: That’s interesting, because we’re coming at it from putting articulators in place to make sounds and knowing how that works, and we have prompting strategies for avoiding the more common pitfalls that come with each sound.

S: Every week I challenge my students to get outside of their comfort zone and try something new. What would you have them try to do, other than beatboxing?

K: We have a game called “Show Time.” Everyone gets a minute of show time to do whatever they want in front of the audience of their peers or family. They can talk about their day, sing, dance, beatbox, whatever. The idea is getting them used to building confidence and trying something new in front of people. That person could do nothing for a minute if they wanted to, but no matter what, the audience is loud and supportive of that person’s choice.
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For the first time since distance learning began, Kaila and Mark got me thinking about the different avenues that can be taken to support my students best right now. I think beatboxing as a tool for speech production is brilliant. It really is another language, with its own shared rules and exchanges, which I think could be taken to the social skills areas of language as well. I am really excited about staying in contact with Kaila and Mark and playing with beatboxing in some of my own sessions in the future. You can find out more about what Kaila and Mark are doing by following them on Instagram at @TheAcademyOfNoise or on Twitter @AcademyofNoise. They are also teaching beatboxing to anyone and everyone interested online, and their information can be found on their website. I hope you all enjoyed reading this conversation as much as I enjoyed participating in it. I’m looking forward to hearing about how everyone’s 60 seconds of Show Time goes in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Grammar · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

The World Turned Upside Down: Activities You Can Do At Home

Hi readers. I’m writing this post without a clear theme. I know we’re all feeling so much, and we want what we consider to be normal back. We’re going through a lot of change quickly, and honestly, I’m feeling stuck and confused.  As Andrea Koehler of Broadway Makers Alliance and Coloring Broadway has been tagging her posts, #CreativityIsTheCure. I knew I needed help for ideas with this post, and I’m so glad I have friends like Andrea and Alisa Hurwitz to give me some ideas.

I know that home schooling right now is hard on everyone and is testing everyone’s patience. As an educator, I miss my staff and students so much and hope they are all well. So instead of work, I am going to share some activities that are more relaxed and easy to do. Anyone can join in on any of these activities, and I hope you enjoy them.

  • Taboo
    Write down a bunch of nouns on slips of paper and put them into a cup.  Set a timer for 60 seconds. One player chooses a slip of paper and has to describe it without saying the name of the object. The person or team who gets the most right during the allotted time, wins.  If you’re working on expressive language, describing is great practice, as the listener has to clearly understand your message. If you’re working on language comprehension, this activity focuses on your ability to consume all of that auditory information and turn it into a response. For pragmatic language, this helps inform turn-taking skills. For articulation, use your best speech sound and use nouns that have your speech sounds in them. Divide yourselves into teams, or just play against each other.
  • Listening to your favorite song
    This activity is similar to the Your Song project I started. Listen to your favorite song. Tell others why you like it and how it makes you feel. Make sure you’re patient and listen to everyone else’s favorite songs too. This encourages explaining, describing, speaking clearly, and conversational turn taking. The best part is having a dance party while you listen, moving around and dancing will make you feel better than sitting on your couch. Bonus creativity points if you make up your own choreography to go with your song.
  • Story time
    Reading is a great way to work on practicing speech sounds and asking and answering questions. Grab your favorite book, and take turns being the reader. The reader chooses where and when to stop and ask questions. After the story is done, The reader gets to ask a listener to summarize the main idea in their won words. This works on summarizing, paraphrasing, asking and answering questions, and turn taking. This can also be done with movies or online videos.
  • Articulation I Spy
    Go around your house and play I Spy with your family only using words that have your speech sound in them. Clues my students like to give are “The sound is at the beginning/middle/end of the word. Whoever guesses the right answer, wins. You get lots of practice with your sound this way. This also gets you up and moving around your house, which is always a plus.

I hope you’re all using the time we have at home to connect with your families and yourselves. Be kind and patient with each other. This is new to all of us. I hope these activities are useful to you. Do you have activities of your own you can share? I’d love to hear all about them in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Fluency · Grammar · Language Comprehension · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

The Season For Dreaming: Making Speech Activities More Abstract

One of my favorite lyrics in all of musical theatre comes from the show, Spring Awakening. “This is the season for dreaming” taken from the song The Guilty Ones, has always felt fitting in January. It reminds me of getting creative and dreaming of beginning again. It has been stuck in my head for a few weeks, and I’ve figured out why it’s been sticking in my brain–it’s telling me to get more creative. I created a few fun lessons out of this lyric while it has been comfortably settled in my brain.

  • Describe Your Dream

    This is a fun descriptive language activity. I have my students describe their dream from the night before, or one they remember. I give them a bank of adjectives and let them tell the group what happened in their dream. Here’s the catch: you can only use each adjective once. It tests the students’ use of vocabulary, knowledge of synonyms, sentence length, and grammatical structure. My students love engaging in this activity because they get to share about themselves and be creative and silly at the same time. This is also a great fluency activity to practice generalization skills for smooth speech.

  • Draw A Dream

    This is a narrative task, best done in groups for expressive and receptive language targets. I do this activity in pairs whenever possible. I assign one student a noun, and they have to create a narrative around it, beginning with the sentence starter “Last night, I dreamt about _________.” The dream can be as logical or abstract as they’d like. The other student listening to the narrative is tasked with drawing the dream in a flow chart I’ve provided them. They’re listening for main idea and key details. After the narrative is complete, they share their drawing while retelling the narrative. The students switch roles after sharing. This can also be modified to target a student’s articulation goal by making sure the noun contains their articulation target. This ensures multiple repetitions for the target sound while I take data on speech sound production.

  • My Dream Day

    This is a great community builder, and gives insight into my students’ interests and communities. I ask my students to walk me through their dream day from the second they wake up in the morning to the second they go to bed at night. These can be as logical as if they’ve already happened or as wild as their imaginations can roam. My only rule is that they must keep the day in order, making this a great progress check for verb tense, grammatical structure, sentence expansion, and sequential vocabulary. After the student shares, the task becomes about pragmatic language. The students who listened must ask three or more different questions about the dream day, or comment on something specific. This makes the experience more communal and the kids get to see what interests and dreams they share.

I am still playing around with this lyric to see what else I can derive from it, and have passed it on to my students as well. After all, I’m always challenging them to get creative, and what better way than designing their own speech lesson? This week, I challenge my readers to choose a favorite lyric of theirs and see how they can apply it to a daily activity to make it more fun. I look forward to hearing all about it in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Grammar · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Let’s Make A Resolution: A New Year’s Speech Activity!

Happy New Year, readers! This week, the Earth took another trip around the sun, and everyone seems to be making resolutions. While I decided on what I wanted as my own New Year’s resolutions, I was trying to find a fun way to bring this into my speech room.

I was looking for activities and came across this one from Addie Williams. Teachers Pay Teachers is always full of great resources, but none as universally enjoyed as this one by Addie. With her permission, I am sharing how I completed her activity, as well as how to make it work for multiple speech-language targets.

First, let me show you the page I completed as the example (please excuse my spelling errors).

Addie

While my artistic skills are a work in progress, it really helped my students to see the final product before they took on completing the worksheet themselves. It was easily differentiated for each group. Instead of writing goals down, which would be great for older students, I decided to have my students get creative and really use the full extent of their imaginations.

Target: Receptive Language 

I turned this into a following directions activity. I sequenced the events like this:

  1. Read the question.
  2.  Share your response.
  3. Choose a crayon.
  4. Draw.
  5. Answer a question about a peer’s response.
  6. Provide a follow up comment or question.

This was repeated for each item. As students got a grasp on the routine the questions and comments about peer’s choices became more detailed.

Target: Expressive Language

This was similar to how I conducted it for receptive language with a few modifications. All responses had to be shared in complete, grammatically correct sentences. They could only use one crayon at a time so they had to ask peers for materials as needed. In addition to answering peers’ questions, they had to ask them as well as ask and answer questions of mine. They also included sentences with their drawings and/or had to read the prompt and fill in their response.

Target: Articulation

For this, I asked my students to try and choose items for their resolutions that included their speech sounds. After sharing their answer initially and drawing them, they were asked to practice the words in their resolutions containing their speech sounds while I kept track of correct productions and errors.

Target: Pragmatic Language

As my students completed each item, I had them engage in conversation about each other’s goals. What made them choose a goal, why was it important to them, how did they want to work towards it, etc. I also had them ask each other if they could share advice on how to complete the goals the others were setting. This fostered some great conversations between my students.

I absolutely adored this activity and my students loved this method of practicing their skills while thinking about the next year. in hearing their discussions, I learned a lot about my students. I learned that some wanted to imagine ways to change their grades, some to help the planet, some to design video games. I learned about my students favorite book series’, hobbies, and what they found interesting in school. In return, they learned about my interests and goals moving forward, providing me with suggestions on how to accomplish my resolutions. My challenge to my readers this week is to examine your own resolutions complexly, if you have them. What did you learn about yourself in this process? Bonus points if you took the extra step to engage with someone else about their goals. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Grammar · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

My Gift Is My Song: Finding Anthems in Speech

Music makes up so much of our lives. Songs are tied to memories, people, and places, and can transport us to any of those in an instant. Growing up in a big performing arts home, I’ve had song for every feeling, thought, big event and small moment. I was probably always living in my own mental music video, but it wasn’t until my junior year in college that I decided on an anthem.

It was my GRE tutor’s idea; to choose a song that would ease my anxiety and boost my confidence. That was a really big ask of a piece of music. I’d had songs I’ve related to over the years but I don’t remember having one serve such a purpose. I went through every song I knew. I had to find something that would really resonate with me. At the end of the day, I chose Katy Perry’s Firework. It simultaneously acknowledged my current overwhelmed state and reassured me that I was capable of big accomplishments. I had forgotten about my attachment to this song until being reunited with it at Moulin Rouge on Broadway, and it has been back in regular rotation since.

It goes without saying that this time of year is hard on all educators. Sometimes we forget that it can also be tough on our students. For this reason, I’ve started the Your Song project with my students, tackling all of speech and language goals at the same time. They get to use music to relax while working on speech and language at this buy point in the school year. I do this with my students in all grades, adjusting it to the age I’m working with. Yes, a Kindergartner can tell you why they like a song as easily as a high schooler, just not in the same words. I’m going to break it down for you here.

  1. Ask your students what kind of music they like.

    Is it pop? Broadway? Hip hop? Country? Is it fast or slow? How does it make them feel? By going over this, you’re validating your students’ opinions and tastes while they’re describing, explaining, and providing supporting details. At this point, we listen to different types of music and describe as we listen.

  2. Talk about the words.

    What kind of lyrics do they enjoy? Angsty? Spirited? Goofy? Are there words in their genre of choice? Why? Again they’re explaining and making text to self connections. Bonus points for learning about their peers in this exercise and encouraging conversations (and thus conversational skills).

  3. Choose the song.

    This is the most difficult part for the student. Settling on one song when they enjoy so many different varieties of music can be tough. I’ve found it helps if you let them know this isn’t permanent, and that it’s for this activity or for fun. The only stipulation I put on this project is that the song has to be appropriate for school. Other than that, it’s all up to my students.

  4. Have a listening party.

    This last bit I do the speech session before winter break. My students get to share their music. This involves recall (the memory connected with the song) expressing opinion and supporting reasons (why the song was chosen) engaging in conversation around each other’s music and preferences.

I love getting to learn about my students through music, and I always make sure to share my music, too. It shows them that you’re just as much of a person as they are. You could do this project any time of year, but I like to do it as a reflective project during the holidays. It lasts over a few sessions, and is universally liked by all ages. Readers, I’d love to know which songs resonate with you–please share in the comments. My challenge this week is to really get into someone else’s perspective by listening to music they love. I can’t wait to hear what you learn about your loved ones this way.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Grammar · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · Vocabulary

And If We Gain Our Independence: Fourth of July Speech and Language Activities

Hey all! I hope all of my readers are enjoying the beginnings of their summer. I just got back from vacation and will shortly begin doing summer speech. This post will be on the shorter side, but I thought I’d share some Fourth of July themed speech activities involving little to no prep, and can be some solid family fun, not just summer practice.

  • Descriptive day journal

    This is a fun activity that engages all of the senses, encourages language expansion, and some writing practice. In a notebook or on a piece of paper, write about your experiences through sensory experience. For example, “I saw bright, sparkly blue fireworks. I heard loud music and booming fireworks. I felt the soft grass under my blanket. I tasted sweet red, white, and blue popsicles. I smelled hot dogs cooking on the grill.” This is an activity that can be adjusted to fit your day and allow for more details and encourage family discussion and sharing, turn taking, and active listening skills.

  • Menu sequencing

    Planning for a special meal on this holiday? Ask your child what could be included on the menu. After you’ve done that, have the child explain why that food should be included, and how to prepare it. This allows for asking and answering questions to be practiced, sequencing of food prep, and for the child to take on a leadership role in helping plan the meal. Going to a party instead? Ask for predictions of what will be on the menu, and why your child thinks that way.

  • Research the day

    Why not dig deeper and do some investigating on the founding of the United States? I like to do this with my younger students, and it’s a good break inside on a hot day. Using books or the computer, I have the student answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions for the day by using kid-friendly research sites. After that, I let them research whatever they’re interested in learning about regarding the holiday. This works on asking and answering questions, language comprehension, expanding utterance length and turn taking skills.

  • Patriotic I Spy

    What can you spot that’s red white and blue? Can you spot something patriotic using your speech sound? This is an easy game to play anywhere to target articulation, expressive language and pragmatic language. You can use the holiday as your theme, or play the game as originally intended.

What are your go-to Fourth of July activities? Are there any in this list you’ll be trying? Let me know in comments–sharing your ideas expands everyone’s activity toolbox. This week, I challenge you to spend time with others, unplugged from technology. That’s how I intend to spend my holiday, and I hope you have a great week!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Grammar · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

How Lucky Can You Get: St. Patrick’s Day Speech

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope everyone is wearing their green and having plenty of family fun. This holiday was celebrated in the speech room a little early this year, since it fell on a Sunday. Here are a few of my activities.

  • Write your own limerick
    This activity can get as silly as you want. First I teach the structure and rhyme scheme of the limerick and have my students repeat it back to demonstrate comprehension. From here, they can choose their own topic, and I target the writing process to what they’re working on. Is it vocabulary? Then they have to use content specific vocabulary. Describing, as many different adjectives as will fit. Articulation? Use as many words with you speech sound as possible.
  • Design your own leprechaun
    For this one, I print out a picture of a leprechaun, after explaining its sneaky characteristics. I then pose the question to my students: If you could make your own leprechaun, what would it be like? How would they act? Why would they act that way? Would they have powers? What would they look like? This activity is great for expanding utterances, answering WH questions, describing and explaining.
  • Sequencing a story
    I like to use the story, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed A Clover to teach sequencing. While reading the story, I have my students retell the sequence as we read, and again after we read. I have a companion worksheet for them to sequence the events in the book, using the book to check their own work.
  • Holiday hypotheticals
    Hypothetical questions are a great way to get at abstract thinking. I like to ask my students what they’d do if they found a pot of gold. What would you do with it? Who would you tell? Where would you hide it?I also like to do this with the question, “What would you do with a four-leafed clover?” This speaks to language comprehension and expression, length of utterance and can be a great conversational topic for social skills work.
  • Describe your own traditions
    Not everyone celebrates this holiday. After using St. Patrick’s Day as an example, ask the students to describe or explain a tradition they have in their family. I use the example of having a family game night, complete with junk food and everyone choosing a favorite game. This gives the kids insight into the lives of their peers and allows them to appreciate the differences of those around them. You can also choose to talk about holiday traditions.

These are a few of my go-to activities. I challenge you to find a new way to incorporate different cultures into your speech work this week, and see what you learn about others.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Broadway · Inclusion · Interview · The Human Connection · Wise Words

Can Your Friends Do This: A Conversation With James Monroe Iglehart

Have you ever seen a performance in which you’re completely blown away by one specific performer? The performances that really make you pay attention to what they say and do and track them onstage. When it’s over, the only thought your brain can come up with is “How did they do that?” That’s what it’s like to watch James Monroe Iglehart shine onstage. I have been fortunate enough to see him in both Memphis and Aladdin. He is currently starring in Hamilton as Lafayette/Jefferson, and from what I hear, he is nailing this role. When he’s not busy onstage, he sharing onstage mishaps and jokes with his friends on social media. His energy is infectious, and we got to chat about work/play balance, the theatre community, staying intelligible and maintaining vocal health in some of the most vocally and physically challenging roles on Broadway. Enjoy

S: I have to start by asking, did Susan Egan call to congratulate you when you won the Tony for playing the Genie in Aladdin?

JMI: She did. She sure did. She was right, and she did call me.

S: My dad and I came to see that show the week it opened, and we loved it. She and I were there on the same night. There is nothing about that show that I didn’t love. It’s still my favorite Disney movie. There was so much Disney royalty in that theatre.

JMI: It was such a trip for her to come see the show and to talk to her. I’m such a fan. because not only is she Broadway’s Belle, but she’s Megara from Hercules. She is amazing.

S: She and I were talking and she started reciting some of Meg’s lines and I had to remind myself, in that moment of “I can’t believe this is happening,” that I can’t lose my mind over this, because we had only just started talking. It was an extremely cool thing to hear.

JMI: I get it. That’s exactly what it’s like. To hear my favorite Disney legends talk is such a trip. To hear Jonathan Freeman as Jafar and to get to work with him was something else. I would impersonate him to him, which was crazy! I would tease him, it was great!

S: It was amazing to see my childhood nightmare-inducing villain onstage. He IS Jafar. Just him.

S: I am just going to jump in on “Guns and Ships”, which you get to perform every night in Hamilton. Every speech-language pathologist wants to know how this song works. This is what we go to school for, and if we can understand it, we can teach are kids who have a difficult time speaking clearly how you all do it. How did you learn it?

JMI: Well the first thing I learned is that, with the French accent, they roll their Rs and they don’t use Hs. I learned the lyrics first. I had to go over the whole script and take out the Hs and the Rs, I didn’t realize how many Rs and Hs I was saying. Then I went back and put the French accent on it. I’ve had people who are native French speakers tell me that my French accent is really good. I’m very proud of it. Daveed Diggs and I talked about it for a long time.

S: I’m serious, if you knew how many of us were trying to dissect this, because it really should make sense to us. We can’t turn off speech brain, it doesn’t happen.

JMI: Once you get the rap, then add the accent, it’s about being understood. I ran it by my wife multiple times asking her, “Can you understand me? Can you understand me because it’s clear or because you know what I’m saying?” You have to have that feedback.

S: Yeah, I record my kids and ask them if they can understand themselves or if they just remember what they said. That’s their feedback.

S: Everything I’ve seen you in, and in your current role in Hamilton, you have always had such an infectious personality. How much of that is you, and how much of that’s what’s written?

JMI: It’s my personality. That’s what I enjoy doing, bringing as much of myself to the show as possible. With Hamilton, I knew I couldn’t do what Daveed does. Our styles are different. Daveed told me to do my thing. And it works. This is the second time I’ve stepped into a role people have called “iconic,” and both times I’ve been given the space to bring myself to both roles.

S: What’s it like being told repeatedly how big these roles are?

JMI: The fun part is people telling you, as if you don’t know what you signed up for, but the challenge is, “What can I bring to this?” The Genie and Goofy are my favorite Disney characters. I had to do that role. With Hamilton, I wanted a challenge. I auditioned the way I would do it, and if they liked it, great. And they did. What I get to bring is my baritone voice, where all the other male leads are tenors. So Jefferson now sounds very different. And it’s so much fun to play both roles every night.

S: My students and I want to ask you about Burr’s Corner. They’re so impressed that you’d share a mistake and own them on social media. They want to know how you build that confidence.

JMI: We find it hysterical. We know Hamilton has a strong social media presence. We enjoy people knowing how the show works, because people want to know what the onstage mishaps look like. It was created by Brandon Victor Dixon while playing Aaron Burr. We all went with it. Other shows do it too to explain mishaps now. When someone messes up, most of the time the audience doesn’t know it, but if they do catch it, we can explain it in our own comical way. We know exactly what was supposed to happen. It’s our way of explaining it. Messing up is a part of life. You’re gonna make mistakes. You may as well learn from them and laugh at them as well. So, you got up in class and said the wrong thing; it’s fine, it’s funny. Be able to laugh at yourself. We enjoy laughing at ourselves because it’s funny. Enjoy it and have fun with it.

S: The rule in the speech room is that you have to be able to laugh at yourself. We don’t take ourselves seriously.

S: I feel like I’d be able to recognize your voice anywhere after Memphis and Aladdin. How do you take care of it, especially in these shows with these big performance numbers, or Hamilton which is just going a mile a minute for over 2 hours?

JMI: I learned that one of the best things for your voice is sleep. I’ve realized that with microphones, you don’t have to project too much. I can belt with the best of them, and I can be loud, but the reason Jefferson speaks in a lower register is partially to protect my voice. I make sure I warm up before and after the show, and I’m pretty chill once I’m home for the night. I also have a wonderful voice teacher who helps me.

S: What is the work/play balance between you all—we’ve seen the pranks and scaring each other on social media! Especially with scaring Nik Walker.

JMI: We play for a living. It’s recess for a living, but we have to take it seriously. Have fun with the job. In high school, I scared people for fun. That was what I did. Now keep in mind, I’m scared of everyone. I watch horror movies only in my own home where I can scream at whatever happens because I’m loud and it’s scary. I’m so aware, because I’m looking for it, of people trying to scare me. The fun part is, Nik has been trying to get me back since the forst time. I have now scared him officially on social media seven times. The best part about last night was he saw me, he caught me, and he made the fatal mistake of turning his back on me. I’m fully expecting to get it back, though. And I think Don Daryl Rivera will help Nik. Because I scared Don Daryl Rivera for three years over at Aladdin.

S: Was it you who inspired LJ to do it?

JMI: Yes. That was my doing. Because once I left, DDR didn’t have anyone to scare. And you have to have fun in your job. Especially when you’re doing a serious show like Hamilton, you have to have some levity. Did you hear about the fly incident?

S: Yes, you told that story on The Hamilcast.

JMI: It happened again! Same scene, this time with Daniel Breaker. He said the same thing happened in Chicago. Same audience reaction. We did our best not to break, and we didn’t stop rapping. Turns out, flies are attracted to shiny things, and when you’re bald, the light reflects off of your head. Same scene, same place.

S: Since I’m already talking about The Hamilcast, you brought this up when you spoke with Gillian. I didn’t know how much I needed you and Lesli Margherita to do something together. Can that please happen?

JMI: We want it to happen. We’d have to be onstage together. We wouldn’t be able to follow each other. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but it’s going to be fun.

S: You guys were onstage at different times at BroadwayCon.

JMI: BroadwayCon was the best time. That is something that’s just gonna keep getting better and bigger every year, because everyone is going to want to be a part of it if they’re not already.

S: Have you always been really good at rebounding from onstage mishaps or was that learned?

JMI: I’d been doing that since I was a kid. I did improv and you have to be able to bounce back since I was a little kid. With freestyling too, you can pretty much get out of any situation if you’re thinking fast on your feet. That’s what improv and freestyling is.

S: Every week I challenge my readers and students to get outside of their comfort zone. What would you have them do?

JMI: I’d challenge them to do what they’re procrastinating doing. What they want to do, but they say they don’t have time to do. Make the time and see what happens. After they try the thing, they’ll actually know how they feel about whatever they’re putting off to later.

S: I can’t wait to share that with my kids. They’ll all learn something from it, especially the kids who don’t love hearing “no.” I’m so grateful I was raised being told no.

JMI: What’s interesting is the real world doesn’t say “yes” all the time. And I’ve also learned your parents aren’t intelligent until you get older. When you’re a kid you know everything. The older you get the smarter your parents get. And your feelings as a kid are certainly valid, because they’re yours, but we all learn as we grow up that our parents know what they’re talking about.
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I had so much fun with this conversation, and a lot of it reminded me of how I found my love for theatre initially and why I continue to love it. It’s the people who make you lean in, take note, and take action on what you really believe in. I am eager to see what my students stop procrastinating on, what I myself stop procrastinating…that’s a never-ending list, and what you all decide to do next. I will be here cheering you on every step of the way.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

 

 

Articulation · Fluency · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Superboy and the Invisible Girl: Lessons for All

As we all grow up, most of us realize that most superheroes don’t wear capes. True as it may be, it’s still fun to pretend! Over the summer, I developed some themes to support the mentality in my district: All Means All. My first venture in lesson theming was superheroes. Best part–if I have a group of kids working on a variety of skills, I can use the same theme for all of the students.

Superhero Articulation:

Have the kids write down a list of as many words as they can think of containing their speech sound and set a timer. When the timer goes off, pencils down.  Each child is now a superhero whose name includes their target sound or sounds. Using the lists they made, go around the table and have each child describe their superhero using the words they generated. At the end of the session, have the students act out a skit working together using their sounds to save the world–or the speech room, whichever comes first! This was a real hit with my students, and it works for all ages. Let them be silly and have fun with it while they give their best effort practicing their targets. Bonus points if you also take on a sound of your own!

Superhero Sequencing:

In this activity, the student is in charge! Let them make up a superhero for you or another student to portray, and a story to go along with your character. The student must tell your story using sequential and transition words (first, next, then, after, finally) as you act out the story. Here’s the catch: the student has to use the sequence correctly and appropriately in order for the other person to act the action out. Don’t stop the story, or you have to start over from the beginning! See how many times you can get from beginning to end!

Superhero Language Comprehension:

Have the students choose a superhero and give them some time to write down what they know about this character. When they’re done, they share what they’ve written with the other students in the group. The student sharing is given 3 index cards with the following questions written on them: “What is the main idea?” “What are three key details?” “What do you think will happen next?” The reader asks these questions of the other students, and is responsible for the correct answer. Give them creative liberties to make it multiple choice, use a lifeline, etc. This encourages teamwork, which leads me to….

Superhero Social Skills:

Have two students at a time act out superheroes they’ve made up. It’s up to them to figure out how to work together to save the speech room/school/world. Let their imaginations run wild and see how many different ways the students can work together. If your students are up for some healthy competition, see who can come up with the most examples of teamwork.

Superhero Grammar:

Let the students create their own superheroes, and one at a time, tell you their stories. Depending on your target, these stories can happen in the past, present or future. Similar to sequencing, don’t stop the story! Keep it going with correct subject-verb-object structure, noun-verb agreement, and appropriate sentence length. Get creative and have fun!

My challenge for my readers and students is twofold this week. Part 1. See how many of these superhero themed activities you can complete. Part 2. Accept yourself for the superhero that you already are. You don’t need a cape to be super, and it costs nothing to be kind, collaborative, or creative. Let me know which activities worked for you, and if you’d like to see more of my thematic series. Do you have any suggestions or additions? I’d love to hear them in comments or by email!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP