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

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 · Vocabulary

We Love Words, We Love Spelling

Every speech pathologist has his or her own set of stories that come out of the speech room. Almost every time I have found it to be related to vocabulary. Last week was no exception. This month is the best reason to talk about spelling and vocabulary–thanks, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee! Before I talk about that interaction, I’m going to share some of my previous stories from the speech room.

One year, I had a student tell me “I put Green Bay on my macaroni and cheese because it tastes better.” After much debate on whether or not Green Bay is a city or seasoning (this was a real discussion in my speech room), he finally conceded that he meant Old Bay. This involved me finding images of Old Bay and pointing out his friend’s football jersey. Only for vocabulary’s sake will I debate a five-year-old.

Last year, a student asked me about “that show I’m always talking about.” Naturally, she was referring to Hamilton. She asked me what it was about, and followed with, “If he wasn’t a president, why is he on the ten dollar bill?” Yes, this was where it took everything for me not to start singing the opening number, but I explained to her he established our banking system. Once she agreed that this made sense, she says, “Oh so he was helping out when George Washington was our President in the 1600s.” This resulted in a history lesson, in which I was told I was wrong many times. Again, internet search to the rescue, because why believe me when there’s Google?

Last week, I was working on conversation building when a student asked me what my favorite geometry was. Confused by the question, I answered honestly and said that I didn’t like geometry, that it was too hard for me, and that I didn’t have a favorite. This was asked of me about five more times and I caved and said, “I guess triangles weren’t too difficult in geometry.” The other two students at the table responded with other mathematical answers. I, still finding the question odd, asked the student his own question. The answer I got? “I really like U.S. Geometry and how the country was formed from colonies to states.”

Like the other interactions, I wanted to laugh. The student isn’t old enough to have had explicit lessons on geography yet, but is very curious. He can tell you why Pluto is no longer a planet, teach you how to code like it’s as easy as naming shapes, and I fully expected a response like, “I really enjoy solving proofs.” Instead, I used this as a teachable moment, which I shared on Twitter. I picked up a white board and wrote:

Geometry = math
Geography = places/maps

The student listened as I explained this, and said, “Oh, I meant geography. That’s the word for talk about the globe and other countries. Whoops!” At this point, I told him my favorite piece of geographical information to research is human geography, and how people settled into different areas of the world.

For those of you wondering why my role is important in a student’s education, I am helping them to access the curriculum being taught in class. Through me they are better equipped and able to use the vocabulary taught during instruction appropriately, apply background knowledge, and use a variety of strategies for comprehension of academic material. I also taught the student that there is an exception to every rule, since the default was to lean on the prefixes of these vocabulary words. Mnemonic devices have always helped me, and I’m a visual learner, so this strategy came naturally to me in the moment. Let me know in the comments section what your go-to strategies are for teaching vocabulary.

This week’s challenge is to listen for teachable moments. If you are giving the lesson, think of encouraging ways it can be delivered and best understood by the listener. If you’re receiving the lesson, think outside the box about how to apply this lesson in other aspects of your life.

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

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Vocabulary

Everybody Says Don’t!

In the spirit of Better Speech and Hearing Month, I’d like to highlight some words I don’t allow in my speech room. I’m working on eliminating them from my own vocabulary in everyday conversation. Now, if you work in this field, and even if you don’t, you may know that words have power. This is true, but I’d like to change this to communication has power. Words only have power if you give them  intention and meaning. In grad school, we’re taught about morphology, the smallest unit of language containing meaning, and that the only meaningful language is that born out of intent. Because language is so powerful, I’d like to talk about some every day words and phrases that have no place in my speech room.

  1. “Just.”  As an adverb, according to Merriam-Webster, it means “simply; only; no more than.” This word annoys me, disgusts me, and yet I use it all the time. It is a personal goal of mine to erase it from my vocabulary. This word undermines all that we do, have done, and will do. To preface ANYTHING with this word automatically decreases the value of whatever follows. Examples: “Just another IEP.” “Just another day.” “Just another student.” I have so many issues with this use of this word. Everything we get to do, say, see, experience–they’re all novel, with their own value. I promise you someone in whatever experience you’re currently in values that experience in some way. Using this word to describe said experience is demeaning. To my fellow speech pathologists: How many times have we heard, “It’s just one speech session, can’t he miss today?” No. Because our job and the student’s progress is important. Because an IEP is a legal document dictating a student’s service provision. And how much have you liked being called “just” a speech pathologist? Right–all we do is observe, assess, diagnose, treat, take notes, write progress reports, write IEPs, create goals, make learning engaging, and make the world more accessible among hundreds of other things I am forgetting to include at this moment. Also, no IEP meeting is “just” an IEP meeting. They’re all important, with valuable material to discuss and share with the team, the family, the administrator–you name it. Suffice it to say, we do not use this word in the speech room. My students and myself are more than “just.” See also: “little” as an adverb, “only” as an adverb.
  2. “I’m sorry.” Okay, this phrase has a caveat. This is allowed in the speech room when used to serve as an apology when one person has wronged another. Outside of this use, it’s not permitted in my speech room. This is personally one of my goals for 2017–stop apologizing for myself. People that know me tell me to stop using this phrase on an almost daily basis. I am encouraging my students and friends to do the same. I have found myself and my students time and again apologizing for things that 1) they genuinely aren’t sorry for and 2) personality traits that they shouldn’t be apologizing for. When used appropriately this phrase is absolutely acceptable in the speech room. When I use it to apologize for an action that is a part of my personality or when a student does so, I ask them why. Why do we find it necessary to apologize for something that has created no harm or offense? I’ve noticed my students use it when asking for help, and that makes them feel that asking for help is wrong. We all know this is not the case. I’m fortunate enough to have a support system that calls me out when I apologize for being myself, and I do the same for my students. Be unapologetically you. You are the only you this world has, and there is absolutely no reason to apologize for your personality. Will you fit  in with everyone? No. Should you apologize for this? Absolutely not.
  3. “For.”For wasn’t even on my radar until my most recent guest on the blog, John McGinty, pointed it out. “For is a dangerous word. It means you’re beneath them.” Think about it–when you say “I’m here for you,” you generally mean you’re supporting someone. The goal, I’ve found, in supporting others is helping them carry their weight, or helping them get to where they need to be. Instead, I say “I support you no matter what,” “I’m in your corner,” and “I’m with you on this one.” This way, you are equal to the other person while maintaining that you support them, their needs, and their accomplishments. For my students, I tell them “I’m here to be on your team.” They know we’re equal, and that the playing field is a level one. Neither one of us is any less than the other, and we’re both working towards mastering a goal together.

Are there words you take issue with? What did I leave out? Let me know in comments. I challenge you to go at least twenty four hours without using these words with these meanings.

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