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

Articulation · Fluency · Inclusion · Interview · Language Comprehension · The Human Connection · Vocabulary · Wise Words

Why We Tell the Story: A Conversation with Shockwave

As a speech pathologist, I am very fortunate to work with a vast array of students, all of whom have unique abilities that set them apart from the rest of the student body. Because of this, I also get to help them achieve their goals both within and outside the realm of speech. A large portion of my caseload are students working on their articulation skills, be they fluency, oral-motor function, or speech sound production. Because these goals can take some time to accomplish, I am always looking for ways to motivate my students and keep them engaged. One of the tools I’ve used in my speech room is beatboxing—no I don’t personally beatbox, but I do use videos to show my students all that they are capable of.  It occurred to me during planning that I always go back to what’s age and grade appropriate, that I was going back to  Chris “Shockwave” Sullivan’s work, especially from hos work with The Electric Company and his live shows for kids. While I was getting ready for this academic year to begin, I thought it would be fun to talk to someone who came from the world of beatboxing, and Shockwave was generous enough to speak with me about his experience as a beatboxer, what the culture is about, and how he incorporated it into educational programming with the reboot of The Electric Company.

S: Beatboxing seems like a solo act, but you’ve done it with other performers. How do you take something so individualized and make it into a collaborative effort?

S: There’s a solo element to beatboxing, and there’s a collaborative element. I’ve performed with both soloist beatboxers and musicians who are beatboxers. Keep in mind, beatboxing has its roots in hip-hop, and there’s a sense of competition in that that’s just inherent, and that can lend itself to beatboxing. If you’re performing with someone who’s more of a soloist, it can be more challenging because they could choose to zero in on skills they know are impressive. I’d like to consider myself more of a musician in terms of coming up with my own material. My goal is to find the fit somewhere in between being the soloist and being the musician. There are thousands of videos online where I could learn how to do sounds, but I would rather improvise and create something that feels natural to me than learn that way. I’m more interested in telling a story and the theatrics of beatboxing. To me, that’s more exciting.

S: In order to do what you do, you really have to think outside the box. How do you come up with new sounds to add to your repertoire?

S: Truthfully, a lot of it is from improvisation. My first real job as a beatboxer was as a house band  for a variety show for performers and comedians, so I did the music for their entrance and exit. Every show I got  a chance to perform, and that was based on a word from the audience. Say the word was snowstorm. I’d get up there and act out what it would look like and sound like if I were going through a snowstorm from walking outside to opening the door to coming inside and warm up. So it really is storytelling. The sound I’d make for the door opening would come from the back of the throat, and other sounds come from here as well, like a baby crying, and some of this I didn’t realize until I was improvising on the spot.

S: For the majority of my students working on speech sound production R is the most difficult to produce because it’s not visible like /p/ or /b/. Is there a sound that’s difficult for you in beatboxing?

S: I always thought /th/ was the hardest sound.

S: Really? Harder than vowel sounds? I teach that one as if you’re biting your tongue, but that’s probably too over-exaggerated to perform. Are vowels or consonants more difficult?

S: Well, in beatboxing it’s different. There are sounds I hear other people make, for example really deep bass sounds, that don’t feel like they fit with my personal style. What I like to do are more drum-like sounds, keeping a rhythm, knowing when to become quieter or just a sound that’s crazy. To me, that can be a distraction and takes you out of the performance, especially because I like to accompany others rather than be that soloist. I’d rather keep the focus on whoever I’m working with; that’s just my style. I like to save the sound effects for storytelling elements.

S: Do you have any tips for maintaining speed and rhythm and staying intelligible. This is something a lot of my kids are working on.

S: The Electric Company is a wonderful thing. We made a bunch of lessons on everything you could think of, including how-to’s and explanations. There is a skit out there themed around taking your time, and it’s not really any different when you’re speaking or beatboxing. This video was actually for reading comprehension purposes with a focus on breaking the reading wall where learning to read turns into reading to learn. It explains that it is not only acceptable but necessary to slow down and take your time.

S: We say that all day, every day in school.

S: Another thing they can do is break the words into chunks. Break the words into chunks and then put them together chunk by chunk until it sounds like a word, and then the kid will never forget the word.

S: What about getting frustrated?

S: My first instinct would be to take a break so you don’t have a negative outlook on the task. Go do something you know you can do, and come back to it with a fresh take. And this is for anything, really.

S: Yeah, my go-to is usually going back to a sound the student has mastered to build confidence back up, and come back later or maybe even in a future session. Do you ever get frustrated when you’re trying to add something new to your skill set?

S: When I was practicing music, I’d have moments of frustration. Honestly, I’m not practicing beatboxing an hour a day anymore. I really like for it to be natural, and I guess with that there are fewer opportunities for frustration. I could go online and learn from other people, but I like this part of my talent to remain as pure as it can. I work with what I have and prefer to discover that in my own way.

S: To completely shift gears on you, like everyone else I am a big fan of Hamilton. What was it like for you to record your part of “An Open Letter” for The Hamilton Mixtape?

S: I got a demo version of the song, and it was just lyrics. It was what Watsky recorded as a raw data file. Figuring out what the beat should be for that track took some time. It then occurred to me to contact Bill Sherman, who is the Musical Director for Sesame Street, and worked on In The Heights and I worked with him on The Electric Company and we figured it out together. I started with a sample that became more complicated as the song went on, and it only got better by working with Bill and getting his input.

S: I love that you weren’t afraid to ask someone else’s opinion. That doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

S: Yeah, that’s important.

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

S: I’d challenge the students to think of their own character or alter-ego who also is working on what they’re working on. This way they accept the character, accept their challenges, and identify the steps the character takes to work on that skill. So, if it’s R, they accept that it’s okay not to get it right all the time, and they set their own goals as to how the student can work towards making it their superpower. It shows them it’s okay not to figure the skill out immediately, they just need to be determined. They can draw the character, write their story, and really get invested in the character they’ve created. And if these kids are friends with each other, maybe they can find ways to intertwine the story, so they interact and help each other. This way it becomes more lighthearted and engaging.
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I hope you all got as much as I did out of this conversation. Coming from the speech world, I thought this would be a conversation that focused on articulation and the mechanics of beatboxing. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Shockwave’s approach to the medium, and using it in comedy and storytelling. Our conversation gave me some exciting ideas for lessons for all of my students, and I cannot wait to watch my students embody the alter-egos they’ll create with this challenge. It gives my kids a sense of ownership over their skills and their goals, and provides a visual component to assist them as they continue their work in speech, in the classroom, and in the community. I’m taking it on myself for some of my professional growth goals. I linked through the videos we mentioned throughout the article–do yourself a favor and go check them out. To learn more about Shockwave and his work, please visit his website at www.shockwavebeatbox.com.

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

Articulation · Fluency · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Today’s Gonna Be A Good Day and Here’s Why: A Letter to My Students

Dear Students,

There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to express how excited I am to start a brand new year with you. There’s something special about the start of the school year; you get a new teacher, a new classroom, and all new supplies. You’re reunited with your friends and get to see all of your previous teachers. For my Kindergartners, everything is new for you, and how exciting that must be! I’m here to tell you that this year is going to be a good year. How do I know this? Well…

We are going to learn about each other and really make connections this year. I have worked hard this summer to learn new strategies to help all of you, and cannot wait to teach you. I was so excited, in fact, I even redecorated my classroom! Why is it covered in stars, now? So you know to shoot for your highest potential, and I will lift you to make sure you reach them. You are all speech stars, and you shine so bright, you’re out of this world!

Speaking of potential, we are going to work together this year to create and accomplish goals. That’s right, I said “we.” You teach me just as much if not more than I teach you every day. I’ve set some goals for myself that I can only accomplish by doing my absolute best with you. You are capable of so much, and I can’t wait to watch you have those breakthrough moments.

This year, we’re getting outside of our comfort zones. We’re going to complete every challenge the people on this blog have given us. We’re going to laugh and play and learn. We’re going to work hard, and it might get frustrating for us both, but we’ll get through it together, and we’ll be better for it. If you’re feeling a little anxious about this year, that’s okay. I feel that way too. Why? Because new things come with the feeling of uncertainty, but we should both remember that excitement is just nerves mixed with optimism. And I’m optimistic about this year.

I can’t promise you I’ll have all the answers, but I can promise I’ll do my best. I can’t promise it’ll be all fun and games, but I can promise we’ll be silly while we work. No matter what, I can promise beyond a shadow of a doubt that i will always be in your corner, that my door will always be open, and that you can always come and talk to me. Whether I know you as one of my speech students or a student in the building, you all matter to me, and I will make myself available to you. I may not tell you what you want to hear, but I can give you the tools and strategies that fit you. I cannot wait to see how your amazing personalities have developed over the summer, and to encourage your growth all year long. Welcome to the new school year!

Sincerely Me,

–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Fluency · Inclusion

Hello, Dolly!

Growing up, I had an American Girl doll, like many other children. I chose the doll that looked similar to me, and accessories similar to my personality. My doll had a stage, a swan lake costume, dance warm-ups, clothes in my favorite colors, you name it. I treasured this doll because I found her to be similar to me. She still sits in my childhood closet.

Last week, American Girl debuted their Girl of the Year for 2017. Her name is Gabriela, and I’m not ashamed to say I am in love with her. She is a dancer, as I made my own doll to be, but this is built into her story. She’s very creative and enjoys writing poetry. This also resonated with my inner 12-year-old. What I adore most about this character is that she is a person who stutters. From what I can tell of her story, she is working on her public speaking for a good cause, and this is admittedly difficult for her. Yes, I will be buying the books for my speech room. Yes, I’ve already told my students about her. American Girl is using this doll to help so many children find and use their own voices, and to understand that they are not alone in what they experience when they speak. They’re also offering a perspective on disfluent speech for readers who may be unfamiliar with it. By doing this, they are helping to create an inclusive community.

This is not the first time this brand has been inclusive. They now offer the following for any doll: a diabetes care kit, hearing aids, a wheelchair, glasses, and crutches. My students have told me about Gabriela, that they want her, and that they identify with her. My students often feel underrepresented or overlooked, and the idea that people might understand them better through a toy amazes both them and me. I always loved dolls growing up, and I had more than my fair share, but I can assure you I’d have added Gabriela to my collection as soon as possible.

My challenge to you this week: think about ways you can foster an inclusive environment. This may involve speaking to new people at school or work, giving some people the benefit of the doubt when you feel slighted, providing a welcome distraction for someone who might need a break from their every day lives, or anything else you can do to include someone from beyond your usual social circle. Who knows what kind of relationships this could foster–try it and see what comes of it.

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