Social Language and Literacy (part 2)


Last week, we talked about using books for social language concepts with younger students in part one of this series.  This week, I want to talk about using literature to work on these concepts with your middle and high school students.  I had the opportunity to be invited to at TPT brunch recently in Atlanta.   (Side note: if the TeachersPayTeachers brunch rolls through your area, grab an invite and GO!  There were so many great ideas shared and it was fun to connect with TPT people in real life!) One of the speakers was a fabulous local TPT teacher, Heather LeBlanc of Brainy Apples .  She shared about how she uses literacy across the curriculum with her students.  Our conversation sparked some ideas on how to use literature with my upper grade students with social language impairments.

Heather explained how she used The Diary of Anne Frank  as part of the difficult unit on the Holocaust in her social studies class.  In addition to the novel, she found some amazing resources in our local community through Kennesaw State University including the library lending actual materials (Traveling Trunks) from that period of history and providing connections to survivors of the Holocaust to come speak to students.  How amazing to hear the story of someone who was witness to these historical events! From a social perspective, connecting a personal experience to our thoughts and feelings in deeper and more meaningful ways to words in a book is a powerful teaching tool.

Her great ideas caused me to think more about the literature ¬†that is used in our upper grades. ¬†The stories are often complex and require a lot of background knowledge to understand the stated themes as well as the more subtle ones that are woven through the books. ¬†For example,¬†my own high schooler is reading¬†A Raisin in the Sun. ¬†This story¬†contains themes about dreams, hopes, racism, poverty, pride, family and suffering. These are concepts that often pose a challenge to our students with social language impairments, and frankly can be difficult for even our neurotypical students to understand. We often ask our readers to take the perspective of other people or experiences that our students haven’t had. ¬†Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is hard work socially!

Breaking down these bigger concepts into the basics of what the characters (and we as people) feel, think and say, can help us understand the character’s actions, motivations and point of view more accurately. ¬†Cause and effect (walking through this step by step), identifying problems and possible solutions and discussing how a character’s actions impact other characters in the story all have a social language basis. Graphic organizers are an effective tool to pull apart these social pieces for your students and there is a great set for free from The Curriculum Corner HERE¬†. ¬†While this set is for 4th and 5th grade students, I use them with my older students with social language impairments as they are clear and organized well for the concepts. ¬†Take a look at the Common Core to see how much is already embedded in the classroom ELA standards for our beginning middle school students!

I love using the resources from¬†Sparknotes¬†and Schmoop¬† to help my older students understand the themes and social meaning of stories. ¬†Schmoop even has a video summary (Schmoop tube), in a three-minute condensed version using student friendly language, of many of the literature units for middle and high schoolers. ¬†As I was Googling A Raisin in the Sun materials, I happened to stumble across this class assignment for students to develop a play list of music that would align with the themes of the story. What a great way to demonstrate understanding of these themes! ¬†You can get pretty creative in working on these skills but don’t reinvent the wheel, look around for lots of great ideas that are already available. ¬†Great SLPs (and teachers) work smarter not harder, right?

What are some ways you work on social language concepts with the upper grades ELA curriculum?  Share here!







Social language and Literacy (part 1)


I love to read. ¬†My ¬†perfect day would be spending it in a library filled to the 3rd floor with real books, comfy reading nooks, unlimited coffee, tea, and hot cocoa, ¬†and with a librarian that looks like George Clooney…ahhh. ¬†So it is no surprise that I use books often in speech therapy, particularly social language therapy with my kids. ¬†There are many options for younger students, such as picture books ,Cynthia Rylant’s Henry and Mudge series, ¬†or any of Peter Brown’s books¬† (You Will Be My Friend is one of my favorites) that align beautifully with social language concepts! ¬†I have a Pinterest board for stories HERE that you are welcome to peruse.

The social language concepts of prediction, inferencing, point of view and emotions are embedded in stories. ¬†What does this look like? ¬†Let’s start with the covers. ¬†Having our students make what Michelle Garcia Winner refers to as a “smart guess” based on a title or picture, is the first step. ¬† Helping our kids look for clues in pictures or words, “think with their eyes”, and then making a leap to guess what the story might be about is hard work for those with social language impairments. ¬†Don’t gloss over this step, remember our students are not incidental learners!

The next step is to read through the story together, stopping to make a guess about what might happen next.  Prediction and listening comprehension go hand in hand.  If there is novel vocabulary, pause the story and talk about what they think those words might mean (hello context clues!).  You might ask your older students keep a personal dictionary, like this freebie from Natalie Snyders,  as we read to help them in discussions along the way. Your younger students can use a composition notebook to journal pictures of story vocabulary if they are not yet strong writers.

I laminate a large heart, thought bubble and word bubble to use with our story too. ¬†We use these templates to talk about what a character might be thinking, feeling or saying in the story. With my older elementary students, you can compare and contrast character’s emotions and expand the conversation into point of view. Venn Diagrams are great for this! ¬†We talk about identifying the problem and possible solutions in the story (there might be more than one), and can extend this skill to explaining which one would be the best solution.These skills are embedded in the Common Core curriculum from K on up, by the way (take a look at the ELA standards for literacy).

With my younger students, we draw pictures to sequence and re-tell the story.  They love to act out the stories and what a great opportunity this is for learning to work in a group, negotiating, sharing personal space and turn taking!  We also brainstorm after we read the story, and talk about what expected or unexpected situations occurred.  Did the characters act in predictable or unpredictable ways in response to these situations?  This provides an opportunity to talk about expected/unexpected behaviors and help our students connect their personal experiences to the characters.

This is not a one time lesson.  I use stories over several sessions, and can extend the social language concepts over a month of speech.  These are great lessons to use during push in groups or whole class lessons as well. Pre-teaching these skills before you take them into a whole class will give your students the vocabulary and practice to participate in whole group instruction more successfully too.  I created a packet of ten templates that you can use with any story to work on these concepts HERE in my TPT store.

What stories or author’s do you love to use in therapy? ¬†Share here!

The Masks We Wear

mask blog template

My school has a self contained program for students with significant autism and emotional/behavioral disorders embedded in a general education elementary school.  We are lucky enough to have fantastic adaptive p.e., art and music for our students and these teachers come up with some amazing activities for my friends!

This past spring Mr. Rob, our adaptive art teacher, started making these cool masks with our kids. ¬†They picked a color palate of tissue paper and created the masks using forms. ¬†These got me thinking about the figurative masks we all wear. ¬†How do we want the world to see us ? ¬†For my kids on the spectrum or those who struggle socially, this is a hard question. ¬†Emotionality is often what others see first in my students, but this isn’t all of who they are, just a tiny piece of them. ¬† I adapted this great art activity to put a social spin on it.

For my late elementary kids (on up), we talk about the characteristics that define people: personality traits, physical characteristics, etc..  We use cartoon and movie characters to walk through this process together as they are often over-exaggerated personalities, and this is an easier way to start.  You can use movie or video clips for this as well.  I have a social videos board on pinterest that you are welcome to look through for some ideas.

Next, we make our masks. ¬†If you don’t have the forms, you can make your masks flat on paper or let your kids brainstorm ways to give their masks shape (party stores have plastic masks that you can use as well). You can even take pictures of your student’s face (with parent permission) and print them out. ¬†We label all the positive characteristics that we want others to see in us on the mask itself- you can write on the paper along the edge of the mask, use tape, stickers, draw pictures, etc..

With my older students, we also talk about the difference between being fake and what it means to “put your best foot forward” with others. No one is happy all the time, no one has it all together and definitely, no one is perfect! ¬†This can be a pretty difficult concept to grasp, so this may extend your prep time and therapy discussion beyond one session, but that’s okay! ¬†This can lead into making a plan on how your students are going to help others see the best in them. ¬†Partnering with materials from Social Thinking and the Zones of Regulation curriculum is really helpful in formulating how to do this successfully (and what to do when things don’t quite go your way), but that’s another post for another day!

What are your thoughts on talking about the masks we wear socially?

Agree to Disagree

8x8 cover agree to disagree

We are in the thick of election season and it’s getting pretty ugly. ¬†Just watch the news for an hour and you will see people, who are typically reasonable and ¬†who have social awareness, losing their minds when discussing politics. ¬†I find that some of the “reasoning” in these disagreements is the same that I hear in my older students when they are arguing with each other, their parents, their teachers or even with me. ¬†Often their default strategy in a disagreement is that whoever yells the most and the loudest “wins”. This is the model for conflict resolution that we frequently see on TV and in movies. Should we be surprised that culturally we struggle with this life skill¬†?

For my kids with social language impairments (and it’s far more than just students with ASD), learning how to “fight fair” and resolve conflict is a difficult lesson. ¬†This skill requires being able to take the point of view of another person, even if you don’t agree with them, listening to what is being said instead of just preparing a rebuttal in your head, and using self regulation skills to stay calm in emotional discussions. ¬†A lot of adults have a hard time doing this, so it’s imperative that we start teaching these skills from a young age and modeling them for our students. ¬†SEL (social emotional learning) lends itself beautifully to embedding this in our schools, and is just one tool that we can use. There are some great resources at Edutopia and Social Thinking to get you started. ¬†Chat with your school counselor and OT too for some great ideas¬†to support your students SEL skills in the classroom. ¬†I’m guessing that your SEL squad will become rock stars in your building when your teachers see the positive benefits of their students learning and implementing these skills successfully.

My students are not incidental learners of social rules, particularly hidden rules¬†(check out this ¬†fabulous post series from Chris Reeves of Autism Classroom Resources).¬†Frankly, many of our general education friends are not picking up these conflict resolution skills either! ¬†I find that walking students through the steps of how to resolve conflict, discussing what is predictable and unpredictable, and then allowing them to practice, often helps them integrate this framework into their daily lives. ¬†It’s why I created this Agree to Disagree product in my TPT store. ¬†I also created a companion product, Apology:#Sorrynotsorry to work through the steps of a sincere apology when we stumble in our attempt to resolve conflict or disagreements.

It’s not a one time lesson however, and we need reminders and practice along the way. This election season is a great teaching tool (just search Youtube videos and preview) for older students about what NOT to do in disagreements. ¬†Your older students will be using conflict resolution skills in academic debating, writing and presenting persuasive essays or having to work on a group project with differing points of view. ¬†However, we shouldn’t wait until high school to teach these skills. We will be resolving conflict for the rest of our lives in way one or another, so we need to start early with our PreK babies on the playground and scaffold these skills as they grow and the problems become more complex. ¬†I think that’s something we can all agree on.

How do you teach conflict resolution skills?  Share here!




Say Cheese!

photo booth props blog

I was wandering through our local thrift shop this summer looking for new therapy games when a photo booth kit caught my eye.  It was a whopping $1.50, so I threw it in my cart not knowing quite what I was going to do with it, but I was absolutely sure I was going to do something with it!  By the time I got home, an idea popped into my head.  What about using these for social language concepts to figure out what someone might be thinking, saying or feeling?

I let each of the kids take turns picking a prop and standing in front of the backdrop, and imagining a feeling they wanted to convey (angry, silly, scared).  I cut thought and speech bubbles out of poster board and pinned them to the backdrop, but you could also attach them to wooden dowels and make your own props with them.  If you are printing out the pictures on paper, you can use post it notes in these shapes (how cool are these?) for your thought and speech bubbles or you could put the pictures in a clear plastic sleeve and write on the outside using a dry erase marker to make them reusable.

After I snapped a few pictures on my phone (you could prep and print them out before hand too if you are more organized than I am), I asked them to figure out what each other might be feeling, thinking or saying.  No helping from the person in the picture was allowed before we made our guesses, but their input definitely was helpful in the discussions afterwards.  We also had some silly fun to work on identifying what was unexpected or unpredictable in a picture (example:  a girl with a mustache).  You can extend this activity to make guesses about where the person might be going or even make your own photo booth props for seasonal fun!

Have you ever used photo booth props in therapy?  Share your ideas here!


Fits to a T

T shirt blog template

With the Presidential election around the corner, I have noticed quite a few slogans on T shirts that make me laugh out loud or cringe in embarrassment. ¬†Whoever you are voting for, there is sure to be a T shirt to make a statement! ¬†This got me thinking about T shirt slogans and the thoughts we have about the people wearing them (well, at least I do!). ¬†What a fun way to talk about the social language concepts of inferences, conversation topics and being politically correct in today’s world (and the hidden rules that go along with this)!

I found this great freebie on TPT from Cara’s Creative Playground with a variety of clip art baseball style T shirts. You can make your own slogan activities for your late elementary through high school students to figure out the meaning of the slogan or guess who might wear these shirts. ¬†If you don’t want to make your own, the internet is FULL of great examples (preview first my friends, preview first). On a related note, I also¬†found a cool website, Stereotype Design, that gives a few sentences on a T shirt and you have to guess the movie ( well,¬†hello¬†figuring out the big picture from details!).

You can create a whole Pinterest board of t shirt slogans to work on these skills as well (or just click for my board here; it’s a growing work in progress, just like me). ¬†Walk them through a few examples to practice together, then see how they do!

The questions you can pose with the slogans could include:

What do you think the message means/intent?  

Is this literal or sarcastic? 

Who might wear this shirt?  Who would NEVER wear this shirt?

What do you think other people might think or feel when they see this shirt?  

Where would it be okay to wear this shirt?  Where would it NOT be okay to wear this shirt? 

What first impression do you have of someone wearing this t shirt?  

What background knowledge might you need to understand the slogan?

Would you wear this t shirt?  Why or why not?

If you disagree or are upset with a t shirt slogan, should you say something?  Why or why not?

*Ask your students to take pictures of any other interesting t shirts they see to extend this activity. ¬†You can call it “operation slogan sleuth”! I would clearly state the rule that the slogan can’t have any profanity, especially with your middle schoolers on up.

Any good slogan t shirts that you have seen recently?  Share here!