Grammar · Language Comprehension · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Vocabulary

I Wish I Could Rewrite This Story: Intersections in Spoken and Written Language

If it isn’t obvious by now, I am fascinated with storytelling. Many of my upcoming guests and I will be discussing this particular topic. Once upon a time, I thought I’d write–most likely become an author. At the tender age of seventeen I believed I wouldn’t be creative enough, despite teachers encouraging me in the opposite direction. Little did I know I’d enter into a profession that requires more writing than I can handle some days!

That is not the reason I write this post. I chose to write this post to discuss the translation of spoken language into written language. This is a complicated subject for many of my students, since most people write the way they speak. Their formal writing pieces may be less formal because they’re children, with vocabularies to match. This is not at all a negative, it’s wonderful. Have you ever read a child’s writing? It is straight to the point and you feel exactly what that child was thinking in that moment. Their writing is magical. Through speech therapy, it’s my job to stretch it. Below, I’ve bulleted what my students and I work on to enhance their writing without ever picking up a pencil–thank you, Occupational Therapists!

  • Vocabulary
    It really amazes me how influential vocabulary can be. it takes “good” to “excellent” and “mad” to “furious.” Through teaching with shades of meaning, and emoji images, I’ve taught vocabulary beyond the basics. My students know I have an expectation for their individual vocabulary skills. Usually, I’ll say, “We all know that word, can you give us a new ____th grade word for us to learn?” This gives them the opportunity to expand, practice, and show off their vocabulary. It makes the student feel like a vocabulary rock star.
  • Grammar and syntax
    This is how I teach perspective and pronouns. Are you telling me something that happened to you or your friends? When did it happen? Did you cook breakfast or did your dad? How do you think he liked waking up early to do so? The students know this is where pronouns come into play as well. We explore verb tense and the use of complete, compound, and complex sentences. There is an entire world to explore here that could be another post entirely.
  • Main idea/key details
    I usually get into this when we talk about our weekends in our first session of the week. Each student tells me about one event that occurred during their weekend. I ask them what the most important part of the story was. If they tell me instead their favorite part of the story, I ask if that’s what the whole story was about. Frequently, I’m met with “Oh! No, the story was about how I won my soccer game by scoring the final goal. The goal was just my favorite part.” The trickiest part is differentiation between the two “I”s: Important and Interesting. Important refers to the main idea and Interesting to the details. Once they get this concept, it’s wondrous what the students can unlock in their minds and the stories that come pouring out!
  • Sequencing/Thought Organization
    Every story has a beginning, middle and end. It’s very difficult to teach this skill. I should know, my own stories as a child used to be all over the place with muddled transitions, so this is my favorite area to work on. This is where the students decide how they want their characters to feel and act. We do this with the “Somebody Wanted But So Finally” model of sequencing. There are so many wonderful graphic organizers for this model, and I can always find one accessible to my students. We also get to delve into their intentions, how they want the piece to make its reader feel, how the characters feel, and how we ride that emotion from one wave to the next, and why their emotions change. This is a great opportunity to work in a social skills lesson.
  • Retelling
    I love hearing my students share their final drafts–or any drafts–with me. I get to hear how they want their story presented, including its tone and the structure they’ve assigned it. This lets me peek into my students’ brains and see where their creativity leads them, which is always a magical moment for me. It also gives me a moment to evaluate their strengths and areas of difficulty in the above mentioned areas, which is great for goal-building later on.

I love it when areas of what I love overlap,like in this instance. I hope you enjoy the posts coming your way from some truly amazing and kind guests. My challenge to you this week is to target your biggest challenge currently–in writing, in work, in life–and find a strategy that works for you to help you with it. Mine will be keeping my house clean, just keeping it real.

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

Broadway · Interview · Language Comprehension · Performances · The Human Connection · Wise Words

Pick Up A Pen, Start Writing: A Conversation with Nik Walker

Writing is not always easy. Personally, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed and have always done. I saw it as a means of expression, of creativity, of escaping my bubble and traveling elsewhere. One of my high school teachers once told me I should be an author, since I loved to read and write so much—who knew I’d be writing this blog some years later? She and I are still in contact, we now work in the same district, and constantly swap book recommendations. Now that it’s my turn to help my own students write, I can see how much is involved from an objective standpoint. I recently mentioned a playwriting assignment my students had to complete, and was surprised at the expectation level that had been set for them, especially for my students with language comprehension needs, difficulty with perspective taking, and my literal thinkers. Nothing I said to them made sense—organizers, outlines, I did it all. And then it occurred to me, I need to talk to someone who knows the world of writing and perspective-taking.

Enter Nik Walker, who has not only done some writing of his own, but who made a video that helped my students understand what storytelling through this medium could sound like. He is currently playing Aaron Burr in the Philip Tour of Hamilton: An American Musical. That’s right, I got to learn even more about my all-time favorite character from a musical (sorry, Elphaba), and the three other tracks he covered while in the Broadway cast of the show. Ready to read for yourself? Let’s go!
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Stef: You came to mind because of this writing assignment my students are doing. They’re writing a play, and the expectation set for them would be challenging for anyone, let alone third and fourth grade kids. I sat in on the lesson and heard the expectation myself, and I didn’t think I’d get a passing grade on an assignment like this, as someone who enjoys writing and theatre. I know you have some experience with writing plays, and what I used to help my students was your Free Speech video about your Blockbuster store.

Nik: Oh wow. I’m so glad you were able to use that. That’s really wonderful.

S: My student said, “I don’t think he was talking about a store. I think he was talking about people’s behavior. Like, is your behavior kind enough to go into his store?” And I hit the table I was so excited, because this student who has been working on perspective taking and nonliteral language for years just understood your imaginary world. So please know, you’ve reached some kids in my little speech therapy room.

N: No way. That’s so cool to hear.

S: So, after hearing that, I told the students that was how we were going to write. We scaled it back and made it work for their level. That is when it occurred to me to talk to someone who lives in this space, because IU can’t help my students with something that I don’t know or understand. They want to know what you do when “You can see it in your head but you can’t figure out how to put what you see on paper.”

N: I think anytime you’re writing you’re sharing a part of yourself and that’s kind of the beauty and the curse of it. You’re sharing something so raw, why would you make it accessible. What I always think about is ‘What am I trying to communicate? How do I want the person to take what I’m saying?’ Now, you can’t control how an audience understands your message, but you can know your end-game. If you want people to feel or think a certain way, that will give you a direction or goal to work in. It’s a process for kids and adults alike.

S: I love this as an assignment but not as a grade.

N: Yeah, I can understand that. They’re just trying to figure out what it is. Grading it explains that there are rules to this, and there are so many more possibilities than there are rules, and I hope they know that.

S: A lot of my older students are very familiar with Hamilton; the younger ones are because of me and my obsession with the show. My one Hamilton-obsessed student wants to know how you always seem to be the target for practical jokes from James Monroe Iglehart and Michael Luwoye. She really feels for you.

N: First of all, all of that is done in love. I am the eternal younger brother, and what ends up happening is that, with both Michael and James, we bonded over being playful people. It’s not like that with everyone, but most people know that our friendship is getting closer when I tease them. I do not ever tease to hurt, I would never do that. I grew up with witty barbs thanks to Indiana Jones and Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club. But these people know that I love them, pranks, scares, what have you—it’s all done in love.

S: After  covering Aaron Burr, George Washington Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, and Man 6 in the ensemble,  you’re playing Burr full-time on tour. How does your prep change from four roles to one?

N: You put in the same amount of work for each track you cover. The unsung heroes of theatre are the swings and understudies. The whole point is that they go on and you don’t know the difference. It’s not an impersonation, but the whole reason you have them is because they’re just as good if not better than the people they’re covering. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of my heroes and mentors this way, how to make this show happen eight shows a week. This is the first time in my Broadway career the only role I only have to worry about what I’m doing. For me, it’s knowing I am enough and knowing that the show will still work. I am not Leslie, I can’t be him, but I can be me, and I just want to do the show to the best of my ability.

S: When I saw the show, Jon Rua was on for Hamilton and Austin Smith was on for Washington.

N: You saw Austin? He’s amazing!

S: He is. And I loved seeing their performances. I went into seeing the show cold, and had no expectation for what I was seeing. I was concerned that I’d hate that show. I loved it, but I know I love the performance I saw more than the cast album I hear. I think it’s more fun to see something without an expectation, and I loved getting to see something different than what the world thinks they know of this show.

N: Definitely. And you saw a great group of performers. It isn’t the recording, but that’s what makes live theatre interesting. Only the people in that room that night get to see that production of that show.

S: How did you get into theatre? I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this question.

N: As a kid, my mom wanted me to focus. She thought theatre would focus me. I had too much energy, and she had me audition for a kid’s production of Winnie the Pooh at Wheelock Family Theater. I fell in love with the community of it, it was pretty automatic from what I remember. I loved the idea of people coming together to create something. I went deeper because of my love of stories, especially Mark Twain. His storytelling was just so organic, and I spent my elementary school years seeking out storytelling. I listened to albums by The Who because all of their albums tell stories.

From there, I got into film. I watch film incessantly. It’s just spectacular, especially Tarantino, Scorsese and Spielberg, and their stories defined who I became as an adult. I think the acting part of it just came out of studying that; in college it was Shakespeare and words and how to do something with words, which really drew me to theatre, but the backbone is still that love of community. Acting is like a sport to me. There’s nothing like engaging with and reacting to your scene partner. It’s like tennis, and there’s nothing better than that. There’s nothing I love more, and I am so fortunate that I get to do what I love.

S: The song Wait For It changed everything. I had a favorite show and song before I saw it; and this changed that. How do you do that eight shows a week?

N: Leslie has said “Everything you need to know is in the text,” and that’s the gift of this musical. Musicals aren’t often about the words, they’re about the music. This show isn’t like that, because words, text and dialogue are at the forefront. For Wait For It, I ride the wave of the word. I really like the idea that this is a man who is trying to believe in the mantra. It’s not like Burr hasn’t had success in his life, but Hamilton shows up and everything he does raises the bar. His thought process has to be, “With all my knowledge, how did I not come up with that?” We all know that person who always manages to beat you to your goal.

S: There’s always one!

N: Yes, there’s always one. I think that song is him convincing himself he’s playing the game correctly. Stick with what you already know, because it’s worked for him so far over time. The energy of that song is incredible.

S: That’s the song that made me relate so closely to the character and to the show. I felt like I knew those experiences, because the role is so human, and I had never related to anything more.

N: I think that’s what’s so beautiful about the show. It has these human truths. People come into this show thinking they’ll hate Burr, and they end up sympathizing with him. It’s so human. What could be more human than making the biggest mistake of your life, never being able to take it back, and it ruining both characters’ lives

S: Between protecting your voice and your body, how do you play this role eight shows a week?

N: Doing Burr on Broadway is hard. Doing Burr on tour is nuts. Every place is different—the weather, where I’m staying, what I find comfortable. The biggest thing is not to second guess your comfort. If you’re feeling tired, you go rest. If your voice is tired, there’s technical stuff—straw and water technique, steaming, taking care of your voice. You prioritize your comfort to keep your instrument at its best. It’s a sport, you train and take care of yourself. My body and my voice are my job.

S: I’m a former dancer, I totally get that.

N: This show is so hard on your legs, and I wasn’t fully aware of that when I joined the company. You’re always standing in the period costumes and period shoes. It’s tough. I started doing dynamic stretches to take care of myself and check in with where my body is that day. It’s actually really relaxing. Also, you can’t be afraid. Four the tour, I’ve talked to a lot of the actresses who’ve played Elphaba, to see how to do this eight shows a week. They’ve told me getting used to it will take time, but once you’ve settled, go out and do things wherever you are, and trust that you do know how to do your job.

S: Yeah, if you’re scared, that’s when you get hurt. At least in my own experiences.

N: Yeah, you can’t come from fear. Be confident that you know what you’re doing. Find the version of the show that gets the story told without maxing out after two shows.

S: That makes so much sense to me. As a part of a really collaborative show, what’s collaboration like for you? You collaborate with everyone you work with when you’re a part of any show.

N: Listening is the number one skill. People are waiting for their chance to speak rather than truly listening and taking in what the other person is saying. That’s all collaboration is—people talking from different places and styles and bouncing ideas around and seeing what sticks. You can’t learn the other person’s way of thinking if you’re always in the spotlight. Some of my favorite parts of the show are when Burr is somewhere listening.

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

N: That’s a great question. Honestly, this is gonna sound kind of crazy, but read a book a week. I say that because books are the gateway to understanding cultures and stories that are vastly different from yours. I think that reading is the ultimate test if empathy. Find a book that you wouldn’t normally read, and just read it to see what someone else is thinking about and feeling. I think what that’s gonna do is help others to understand we’re all looking for the same things in life. And it will start to show you what you’re capable of, which is the best part of getting out of your comfort zone, and flipping what you thought you knew on its head.
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In case it’s not completely obvious from our conversation, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk with Nik Walker. Full disclosure: this conversation took place the week leading up to Christmas, and he was so generous with his time during this interview, that it felt like I was talking to someone I’d known for years. To those of you who are going to get to see Nik’s performance on tour, you all a re not ready and are going to experience something unique and so smart. I haven’t had the opportunity to see him yet, but I know this because that’s what was running through my head. If you haven’t seen the video mentioned in the beginning of this post, do yourself a favor and check it out. If you have to look up what a video store is like my students did, that’s fine. You can follow Nik Walker at @nikkywalks on Twitter and Instagram. Personally, I can’t wait to hear about what everyone decides to read for his challenge. Don’t forget to comment with the books you choose!

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

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

Articulation · Language Comprehension · Summer Speech · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Too Darn Hot

Now that it’s summer, I’ve had many parents ask me about what kids can do over the summer for speech maintenance. Personally, unless the student will regress, I don’t encourage speech during summer break, or any break. I come from the school of “let kids be kids.” They’re in such a rush to grow up, and this is the time of year when no academic demands are placed on them. That said, speech can be practiced without explicit therapeutic instruction during this time. This is what I would recommend.

  • Play pretend
    Every time a child plays pretend, they learn how to take the perspective of another. They learn to switch between being themselves and taking on the mindset of another. Kids do this without realizing it–careful, don’t tell them it’s speech or they’ll run back to the iPad. Bonus points if they’re creating their own characters and world and backstory–we’re raising the next generation of thespians.
  • I spy with my speech sound
    For my articulation kiddos, a game of “I Spy” always does the trick. To give them a clue as it gets more difficult, tell them the ir speech sound is somewhere in the item you’ve spied. When they pick the item, have them choose one wit their speech sound. As you play, let the child focus on the production of the target sound. This is a speech room favorite.
  • Tongue Twisters
    Also great for my articulation students. This gives them practice without having to be correct. They can get the rhyme and words wrong, because they’re still practicing their sound! Pick your favorites and have a great time!
  • Summer reading
    I am a bookworm, and I know most schools assign summer reading. In addition to completing the reading assignment, ask about the book. Favorite part, what was boring, which character is most like the student? This is a great check-in for language comprehension.
  • Make up your own games with your friends
    This exercises the creativity muscles in your brain! How do you teach kids to be flexible and follow the rules? Games. Especially when they have the freedom to create it around their interests with their family and friends. This also teaches temporal sequencing, and encourages retelling when the game is over.
  • Write a letter
    I spent many summers at camps, and we wrote letters home. Have your child write a letter or email to his teacher, a friend, a family member. This is a great way for your child to share what the highlights of the school year were, or the excitement only summer can hold has in the future. This is also a great way to look at sentence length and structure, grammar and subject-verb agreement, as well as verb tense.

I hope these tips for summer speech are useful to you. My challenge for you this week is to implement one of these tips or one of your own in place of screen time for the family. Summer memories are often the sweetest–make the most of them.

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

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Language Comprehension

Careful The Things You Say, Children Will Listen

Language comprehension is one of the aspects of my job I find explaining to others the most. I find that anyone who hears my title associates what I do with articulation disorders primarily, followed by working people with limited verbal output, and then working on pragmatic/social language. Language comprehension is relatively straightforward in its definition, but is a large umbrella for what it can entail. It is the understanding of the rules of language in order to effectively participate and express oneself in said language. Where does this breakdown occur? This varies, but most of my students have difficulty with comprehending abstract concepts, like inferencing, predicting, reading body language and social cues, and reasoning. This is my personal breakdown of language comprehension:

  1. Hearing versus Comprehending
    These are two different things. The student did hear everything you said, but they didn’t execute the direction appropriately. Where was the breakdown? For this, consider the following: how was the material presented? Was it new information? Is it a new skill? Most students find new material challenging regardless of comprehension skills. If a student is struggling with comprehending new material, consider breaking it down into smaller pieces, or checking for understanding. The question “What did you think it meant?” will tell you what the student understood, and often provides a great starting point for supporting the student appropriately.
  2. The “why” struggle
    Abstract concepts and reasoning are by far the most challenging for my language comprehension students. Give them a why question, and I get “because that’s what it says.” On the days that isn’t the response, I get “because that’s what happened.” Why is abstract concept. It requires thinking beyond what’s already been seen or discussed, and often with unfamiliar topics. Some of my more rigid students have figured out that “why” questions should be followed with a “because” reply–listen to what comes after the magical word, “because.” Frequently, it is not a reason or an opinion, but a what-doing response disguised as a why response. “How” is very similar in response, which leads into my next point….
  3. Use your words
    Ask the student to use their own words to tell you what you said, what they think they’re supposed to do, or to explain. This allows you to understand their thought process as well as better probe for information they have versus information they need to focus on. The more you understand each other, the better you can accommodate and structure the student’s ability to succeed in the classroom. This is also a great strategy to use when checking for understanding in any subject.
  4. What’s the main idea?
    This is where things get tricky. You’ve just asked them to retell what they understand. In many cases, this includes detailed play-by-plays of everything said and understood. If I’m working on retelling with a student, I ask them to tell me the three most important parts of the assignment, and work from there. From here, I can provide choices, such as “Is that what the whole story was about, or is that just something that happened?” “Oh, you liked that part, but it’s not the point of the story? I liked that part too! That’s what we call a key detail.” From here, I provide examples of main idea and key details, followed by scenarios where the student has to identify whether I’m discussing a detail or the main idea. Have more than one student with you? Let them be the leaders and quiz each other. This gives them ownership over the skill, and will lead to better generalization practices.
  5. Get the picture
    In my speech room, I am all about the visuals. I do not present any information unless it is presented with a picture or object, since my students are all visual learners. This also helps to make the abstract idea more concrete. I can ask you to describe a basketball, or I can bring a basketball into the room and say “Tell me everything you know about this thing.” The same task gets accomplished (describing) but I’ve changed the method of delivery. Working on written language? Graphic organizers are your friend. I like the “Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then” model for my students. For opinion pieces, I like the hamburger model. For retelling, I always have the source material for the student to refer back to, be it a story, picture, or informational text.

These are just a few strategies that work for my students. Let me know in comments if these work for your students, along with any I may have missed. I challenge you to focus on your own comprehension strategies–do you understand better when you take notes, doodle, associate words with pictures or mnemonics? Everyone’s learning style is different, so we all utilize different strategies within our repertoire.

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