Labels, Clues and Hipsters


Our family is fortunate to attend a really creative church.  On a recent high school retreat, my son came home with this bingo board (see above).   My social language brain lit up like a Christmas tree! Hipster bingo was played as part of a discussion on what people perceive others to be based on what they see.  In the age of ever-present social media, right or wrong, labels and perceptions often define this generation.   While the social commentary on what a hipster is (or isn’t) is interesting, I thought of how this could be used in a variety of ways to connect the clues we see in others to make smart guesses about who they are.

Students with social communication impairments often miss the big picture.  They may notice individual details, but to pull those details together and make a prediction from that information is a huge leap.   A smart and creative colleague of mine was working with a young lady with ASD and showed her an advertisement of a young woman rollerblading in a park.  When she asked the student what could she guess about the person in the picture, the student commented that she must be a mom about 35. When she was asked about the specific details of the picture, the student could identify them appropriately but kept referencing a mom with kids but not the target idea of exercising or being healthy.  Puzzled by this response, the therapist probed further and soon realized the student was making guesses based on what she knew of her own mom, not on what she saw in the picture  (a healthy, exercising, young woman).  She was missing the forest for the trees.

These connecting ideas are difficult and weakness with this translates academically into students having a hard time summarizing, identifying main ideas, predicting and being able to talk about a ‘big picture’ idea in literature/history/science in the classroom. It also causes kids to misread social situations with their peers and adults.  Here are a couple of ideas to work on this skill:

You can use a concrete visual (this would also be great with cause and effect and turn taking in conversation too), for example links of paper:  paper links

The student could look at a picture like this:

boy hurt

+ identify important clues on each link of the chain: basketball, doctor, sports jersey, bandage on arm, sad face on boy  = smart guess?

                                              CONCLUSION he was hurt playing ball                        

Another concrete option is to look at a picture together and talk about what information you know from what you see. Then cut the picture into 4-6 puzzle pieces and write down an important detail you talked about on each piece. Next, your group could make a guess about what the big idea/theme will be when you put them together.  Assemble the clues and see if they were right!  If not, it’s a great way to review what they misinterpreted and talk through the process together.

Last but not least, the bingo board is a way to work on making a smart guess about a big picture idea.  There are several bingo boards here on Pinterest that allow you to create your own.  I have found Nerd bingo, selfie bingo and Macbeth bingo on this site!  You could create one for your students with pictures of how they would like to be perceived by their peers (happy, smart, athletic, kind…) or with character traits/nonverbals for how you wouldn’t want to be perceived (angry, sneaky, selfish…).  For your older students, you can use it for themes in literature, for example the key theme of hate in Romeo and Juliet and how each character was affected by or contributed to it.

That’s my big idea today social language hipsters, what’s yours??

What were you thinking?!

Group of five children thinking

My 9th grader had to write an article on the government and differing points of view on who was responsible for the fiscal cliff issues.  For most adults, this would be a difficult task to sort out, particularly because most of us would write with a bias towards our belief in who was at fault!!  He struggled to get started and asked for a little help, so I sat down with him and puzzled out the players and their roles using a graphic organizer.  It really helped him sort and clarify ideas and relationships before he started writing.  I love using visuals, especially graphic organizers, and mentioned using them in last week’s blog related to history.

Here’s an example of the  graphic organizer I completed with another high school student I worked with and here’s a link to a FREE blank template in my TPT store (customize away!).

I have used this technique with many students with social language weakness as perspective taking does not come easy.  We would take newspaper articles, current events in the community or clips from TV shows and movies (check out ) to practice.  You can use this same idea when discussing historical events or in literature using a whiteboard or smartboard for whole class participation.

  • Our first step is to identify the main issue ( examples: soldiers in Afghanistan, ice storms in Atlanta, the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets).
  • Then we identify all the people who could be involved in this issue.
  • Next we talk through how the people are related to the issue and what their point of view/perspective might be.  This is tricky and it might be helpful to limit the number of points of view (pov) to three when you begin, or with younger students.
  • Last, we connect each of the povs to the main idea. I then ask the student to tell me what their perspective on the issue is, based on what we talked about. There is no right or wrong answer, and letting them know this ahead of time reduces anxiety.
  • I try to include visuals or ask the student to get a picture in their head to help them take another person’s pov.  I list character traits and emotions for the students to refer to with this activity.  Sometimes when we ask kids to brainstorm, the retrieval process gets in the way of the ideas, so make it as easy as possible!
  • This is a great gateway activity to start working on the concepts of opinion/beliefs, the persuasive writing process and learning to listen to and accept ideas that differ from your own.  It also opens up discussion on which topics may be more volatile and why they upset people.  example: religion, money, voting .

Share your great ideas on how to develop perspective taking in the classroom!!  I would love to know what YOU are thinking 🙂

Cabin Fever Conversation Connection

connect four

Connect Four, Milton Bradley TM

Cabin fever has set in at my house after we survived ice and snow for a few days in the deep South, so I am getting a little crazy and posting a mini-blog between Saturdays!  Here’s an idea that came from a conversation with a smart and enthusiastic CF I am supervising at one of my schools.  We were brainstorming on visual support for conversational turn taking and topic maintenance (I know you fellow SLPs are giddy at the thought LOL!).  I love using Connect Four as a visual representation.  And yes, there is even an app for that for you high tech folks. I prefer the click of the chips and the crash of them spilling out with the real game, but to each his own!

I give each child their own color chip and I either put a sticker on my chips or spray paint them if I have forethought energy to prepare ahead of time.  We have a pile of topic cards and take turns drawing one to start the conversation.  If your students are at a higher level and can generate a topic on their own, fantastic!  As someone comments, they put in their chip, then the next makes a connecting comment.  I switch things up by changing the topic and if the kids can maintain the conversation until the board is filled, they win a prize (chocolate or Marvel superhero tattoos are a big deal in my room).  I like the buy in that the kids have to work together to get the prize 🙂

BUT, if they don’t maintain the new topic, the bottom slides out (via me) and we have to start all over again…  NOOOOOOOOOO!   Caveat:  if your kids are not able to handle the frustration level of this activity, don’t do it.  The point isn’t to frustrate them needlessly,it’s just to give them a visual representation/fun way to see what conversation looks like in a structured situation.  Have fun and let me know if you try this out.  Oh, and think spring!

Why more is not better with social studies.

picture courtesy of

picture courtesy of

Many of my teaching friends have noted that the social studies curriculum (even before the core) requires kids to remember LOTS of people, places and dates in a short amount of time.  I remember when my boys were in fourth grade and the long list of explorers and dates they were required to study, remember and connect made my head spin!  For our kids with language weaknesses and social language impairments, memorizing the information is tricky but understanding the historical significance of events and their connections to other people is especially difficult.  The curriculum requires our kids to be able to understand motivations as well as cultural and social climates to figure out WHY someone traveled across the world or intervened on behalf of another country. (I will be posting some graphic organizers to help compare, contrast and connect historical figures soon)

As with most concepts, I find that pairing visuals and simplifying language is helpful.  This is true across all academic content; more is not better.   Repeat that statement with me:  more is not better.   Kids with language and/or social impairments can easily lose the big picture in the midst of too much information.   They are already asked to be able to identify what the main idea is, what is important (and unimportant),  to compare and contrast, make inferences, sequence, accept other people’s opinions (especially when they differ from your own thoughts or beliefs) and be able to summarize information in their own words. Ow, I think I sprained my brain after processing all of that!!

Creating timelines is one way to hit the “highlights” of an important historical figure or event.  They can even be used for literature in establishing sequence/time of a story or major events with the characters.  What is important is to give a visual support with the concepts, like this one for Jimmy Carter:

I have several timelines aligned to the social studies curriculum for Georgia posted in my TPT store including  FDR, a Civil Rights timeline, Georgia Becomes a Colony, Thomas Jefferson, Harriet Tubman, Lewis and Clark and a few more here:

Share your thoughts and ideas on how to simplify the curriculum!  See you soon…

How the last week in Atlanta taught me the value of social connections

photo courtesy of the AJC

photo courtesy of the AJC

The past week in Atlanta has been shocking. Tuesday brought a little bit of snow and a whole lot of of misery due to ice, gridlock and a general sense of being unprepared. My friends were stuck in their cars for 12+ hours trying to get to their homes and families less than 5 miles away. The news has highlighted several stories of true southern hospitality.  People were handing out hot chocolate to stranded motorists, opening homes to cold and hungry strangers, and creating websites like snowedoutatlanta to get help to those in dire straits.

I ran across this great blog while following facebook during the past few days and it dawned on me that the skills this teacher is so brilliantly working on in her class are the crucial life skills that will help us in the tough times, like this week.  We need other people and we need mentors that will teach empathy and compassion.  This is far more important than test scores and academic skills (gasp!).  In the worst of times, social connection is our saving grace.