Improv · Inclusion · Performances · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection

Comedy Tonight: Freestyle Love Supreme

Hi readers! If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I had the opportunity to see the unbelievable improv musical comedy crew Freestyle Love Supreme in DC. If you’re not familiar with Freestyle Love Supreme, here’s how their website describes them:

FLS is a freestyle (hence the name), improvisational, hip-hop comedy show. Every night the performers take suggestions from the audience and spin them into instantaneous riffs and full-length musical numbers. Every night is different: no two shows are the same. We don’t know what we’re rapping about until YOU tell us!”

The crew has a rotating cast of characters, but I was fortunate enough to see Anthony Veneziale aka Two-Touch, Chris Sullivan aka Shockwave (whom I have interviewed about beatboxing here), Andrew Bancroft aka Jelly Donut, Ian Weinberger aka Burger Time, and Chris Jackson aka C-Jack.

FLS
Photo Credit: FreestyleLoveSupreme.com

You might be wondering why a blog with a focus on speech pathology and Broadway is writing about her night at an improv comedy show. This group of talented performers put together an experience that is founded on trust, the power of yes, and open communication. If I could take my students working on social pragmatics to see anything, it would be this. The performers were entertaining each other as much as they were making the audience laugh. The audience was as much a part of the show as the people on stage.

If you’re familiar with this group you know that the entire evening is built on the relationship between the performers and the audience members. How is that different from any other performance I’ve seen? Great question reader–this show only works if the audience and performers can work together. It was the coolest experience I’ve had of an audience being fully present and actively engaging with the folks onstage. There was no fourth wall, everyone was there to have a good time, especially the performers, and it was such a relaxed atmosphere, you felt like you were in a room full of people you already knew. Unlike a scripted show, each performance in completely unique to its audience.

This got me thinking about conversational speech and pragmatics, and how they are unique to the people participating in them. Sure, you can tell someone about a conversation you had with a friends, but it’s never the same as being there. That was exemplified by the friendship between the performers and by how inclusive they were with the audience and between one another. The exchanges are quick but meaningful, funny without picking on anyone, and easy to follow but entertaining. This is what I want all of my students to know about interpersonal skills and conversing with one another. There is no room for ego in this group, and all topics and ideas get treated equally, the same way they should in any conversation. The transitions were logical and smooth, which many of my students are also working towards. I couldn’t help but notice all of these parallels and had to share them with my readers.

The best news I can share with you? Freestyle Love Supreme is going to broadway for 16 weeks beginning September 13, 2019, and you can get tickets at FreestyleLoveSupreme.com. I cannot encourage you to see this enough if you’re able. If not, there are some episodes of this crew doing what they do best on Amazon Prime, but be in that room and feel a part of the community of the audience if you can–there’s nothing like it. This week, I challenge you to engage in a conversation and stay in it–no distractions, no tech, no interruptions. Stay as in tune and present with your conversational partner as possible, and just have fun.

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

Grammar · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Summertime And The Livin’ Is Easy

As you amazing readers are viewing this post, I am enjoying my summer break. It was my first year juggling multiple schools, learning new age groups and programs, and learning to respect and be educated by new students and colleagues. It certainly wasn’t an easy year, but definitely one that was worthwhile.
My students are beyond ready and excited for summer, whether they have no plans or a packed summer schedule. Some are attending camps, both recreational and academic, others are enjoying time with their families. While I don’t send home structured homework or practice for my students over the summer, I always recommend a few things to my students and my families. I’ll be sharing those with you today.
  • Keep Reading!
There is a clear connection between language and literacy, language comprehension, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, etc. I encourage my students to complete whatever summer reading they may be required to do in addition to reading for pleasure. I still learn all sorts of new vocabulary and turns of phrase from the books I read year-round. I encourage them to ask questions about what they’re reading to enrich their understanding and encourage advocacy on their part.
  • Speak Up!
Talk to your family and friends. Engage in conversation on subjects you find interesting and subjects that are new to you. Educate others on what you know, and ask questions about what’s new to you. Learn and understand new perspectives, and share your own. Involve your families, friends, and folks in your lives across generations. The more you ask of people outside of your immediate perspective, the broader your worldview will become. Participating in these conversations increases length of utterance, encourages clarity in asking questions and increasing language comprehension, involves vocabulary building, and social skills interactions.
  • Go Play! 
Make your own games. Get creative. Learn your friends and family member’s favorite games. Pretend play is a great way to practice expressive language, turn-taking, social skills, perspective taking, language comprehension, and individual creativity.I loved making up my own dramatic play as a kid and have used such strategies in my own therapeutic sessions when appropriate. This also encourages the human connection and allows for so much interpersonal growth.
Those are some of my summer recommendations. I’m sure I’ll be expanding on these as the summer goes on. Let me know which you plan to try and what your summer plans are in comments.
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

Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection

Let The Sunshine In: The Optimistic Friend

Happy Speechie Sunday! This is the second post in my Circle of Friends series. The first of which can be found here. This is a series of posts inspired by ongoing discussions with my students and what they wish other people knew about their personalities, especially their friends. Today, I’m talking about the optimistic friend.

To some, this person may be an idealist or dreamer. This person’s goals and dreams have no limits and no rules. According to my students, this person helps you see the good in any situation and never wants you to feel sad or bad in any way. They make you feel like anything is possible and are ready to be your number one fan at all times. They appear to always see the glass as half-full, and often times will tell you how cool that glass looks in the first place.

When my students were asked what they would want other to know about this kind of friend, here’s what they said. They want others to know that just because they can find something positive doesn’t mean they believe the world is without problems, or that this specific problem doesn’t exist. They want you to know that they do, in fact, have their own problems and that their lives aren’t all rainbows and sunshine. They need their own cheerleaders and positive people, too. Sometimes their optimism comes naturally, sometimes it takes work. They want you to know that their grand views and big dreams don’t make them unrealistic, it makes them imaginative.

This week, I challenge you to take some time in this friend’s shoes. Be there for this friend they way they’re there for you. If you are this friend, I encourage you to find your own optimistic friend and recharge your own optimism.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the Stage SLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Pragmatics and Social Skills

The Things I Never Said: Nonverbal Communication

In the field of communication, it’s easy to suppose that my job is to get someone to use their words, or understand the words of another. This is actually a pretty large portion of my job, but truly there’s so much more. Have you ever thought about what you are communicating when you’re silent? When you’re leaning forward? When you’re drumming your fingers on the table as you’re listening? All of that is communication–and you haven’t spoken a single word. This is why “see what I’m saying?” works as an expression–so much of communication is seen but not heard. Here are some examples:

When all you have to do is give your friend a look.
And they know exactly what you want to say. How does that work? More likely than not, the expression is on your face and in your eyes. Your eyes widen in excitement, maybe you roll them in annoyance, but the other person has received your intended message.

When you cross your arms.
I’m guilty of this actually being my resting posture and am working to stop this one. Crossed arms communicate having some kind of barrier or wall up. You’re protecting yourself from the words your hearing or situation you’re in–you’re literally blocking your torso with your arms in defense-mode. The next time you find yourself in this position for no reason, try dropping them to your sides.

When you lean in.
You are actively engaged in what you’re experiencing. You’re actively listening and genuinely want to know more about what’s being shared with you. More often than not, your communicative partner feels that they’re really being heard, because they are.

When your feet are positioned away from the conversation.
You’ve already checked out. Studies have shown that your attention and focus rely on where your feet are planted. Imagine you’re standing and talking with a group of friends in a circle. If your feet are pointed inward, you’re likely invested and engaged in this conversation. If you have one foot facing outside the circle, you’re likely waiting for your turn to speak or looking for an exit. Think of the student in the classroom at her desk. The one ready to answer all of your questions has her whole body facing you. The one who is ready for recess likely has her feet facing the door.

When you move your eyebrows.
You read that correctly. Your eyebrows communicate more than you realize. When raised, they communicate excitement. When furrowed, they communicate a question or confusion. Eyebrow positioning can actually be crucial in using correct vocabulary in American sign language.

When you’re drumming your fingers.
This action can be a focusing tool, so I wanted to state that first. This action can also indicate boredom or annoyance. To my fidgeters, try this action on the underside of the table, in your desk, or on your knees.

It’s amazing how much we’re saying without speech. My challenge to you is to keep this in mind as you go into your week communicating with your various conversational partners. Let me know what you notice in comments.

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

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