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

Time to Play: How I Use Tatro

Hey there, readers! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this post. It’s been in the making for some time now. I’ve spoken to Will Barrios of Tatro previously on this blog (you can read more here), and I couldn’t wait to get his playset into my speech sessions. The featured image is one of my students’ creations from a recent session. This might be one of the most versatile speech therapy tools I have in my arsenal, and I am so excited to share how I use it with you. In addition, I’ll be sharing what my students thought of the activities and the playset. Spoiler alert: it was a hit and my students did not want to do anything else in speech.

Activity one: Playset building means team building!
Tatro is a playset with a pretty straightforward design. I can say that as someone who has seen the product finished. This playset was new to all of my students, so I decided to try it with a fourth grade group working on pragmatic skills. I laid out all the pieces on the table with a visual of the final product. I asked them how they thought it should be built, and had them work as a team to build the playset. They had to give each other directions–bonus following directions task!–and problem solve their way out of disagreements. The students got to work together until arriving at the correct assembly of the playset. As one can imagine, this took quite a bit of time, so the remainder of the speech session was spent with free play and exploration of the playset.

Activity two: Prepositions Practice!
For those who aren’t familiar, the playset is mostly magnetic. My students were fascinated with this because ” Nothing rolls onto the floor! It’s so easy to play with!” There are a variety of themes to choose from with this playset. At the moment, I own the Matinee Time, Fairytale Village and Castles, and Spellbound Forest Magnet Packs. My students chose to use the latter two packs together to first design a scene, with many magnetic pieces left over. Using the target concepts “on,” “next to,” “above,” “below,” “over,” and “under,” I gave my students directions for how to continue to decorate their scene. This allowed them to demonstrate their knowledge of these concepts through play. Later on in the session, they got to give their peers directions and feedback.

Tatro2

Photo: tatrotoy.com

Activity Three: Playing through Problem and Solution!
Using the Matinee Time magnets and the two characters and movers, I tried a different pragmatic language task. I paired my students up, interchanging partners each turn, and read them a scenario in which they would have to solve a problem. For example, I would say “Pretend it’s recess. You want to play tag, but your friend wants to play kickball. Ready, set, solve!” The students would then create their own mini play and act out possible solutions to the problems I generated. There are plenty of such problem solving activities available on TeachersPayTeachers.com. After this, my students and I talked through how this could be used in their classrooms without the toy. Next steps will be to work on generalizing this into situations they’re already encountering throughout their day.

Activity Four: Recreate and Retell!
Many of my students are working on summarizing and retelling, and this is a great tool for that! I read my students a story–choose whatever is appropriate for your student, and had them use the playset and all of its accessories to retell the story. After this, the students get to create their own story, demonstrating their knowledge of beginning, middle and end. They also have to tell me the main idea of both the story they retell and the story they create through play.

This is only what I’ve used Tatro for so far, and the possibilities are endless. I’m hoping to bring some new magnet packs to speech soon. My students were obsessed with the fact that the toy is magnetic. “We can’t lose toys this way!” “I didn’t know magnets could be so much fun!” “Where can I get one of these for home?” The answer to that last question is Tatrotoy.com. I know I’ll be heading there soon to look at some other magnet packs for my students. Will, my students and I can’t thank you enough for creating this new speech room staple! My challenge to my readers is to create the thing you’re thinking about. Draw, paint, write, choreograph, build—it’s up to you! Make something new and see how many ways you can enjoy it!

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

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