I came across a great idea in Games (& other stuff) for Teachers: Classroom Activities That Promote Pro-Social Learning that used empty boxes to touch on theory of mind perceptions. Theory of Mind is the developmental concept summarized as “Do I know what you know is different from what I know?” Many students with ASD have difficulty with this concept and it negatively impacts their communication and social skills daily. The gist of the game is to present students with a variety of boxes and ask them what they think is inside. They will most likely predict the food or items that are represented on the box. You, sneaky therapist that you are, will have switched the items inside before the students arrive. The goal of the lesson is to start a discussion that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover (or a cereal by it’s leprechaun).
I think that’s a fabulous idea, and it gave me another idea when I was observing a therapy session with a student who has ASD and theory of mind (formerly known as an Aspergian). He kept launching into discussions about basketball without giving a referent to his poor therapist. He was going to talk about what he was going to talk about, therapy plan be darned!! A lot of our students have this issue of speaking without context, leaving peers, parents and teachers confused. This often translates into written expression as well. So how can cereal boxes be used to teach context?
I think you start the lesson the same, with guessing what’s inside the box. You can’t know what another person put in the box if you weren’t there or they didn’t tell you, right? Our brains and thoughts are the same. I can make a smart guess about the topic of conversation based on your words and expressions (the cover of the box) but I can’t know what you are thinking inside your mind (the cereal box) or when you switch the topic (cereal) either unless you tell me. It would be great to include items such as toy cars or paper clips that aren’t at all what is shown on the box to illustrate the discussion. We need to teach our students to give connecting thoughts to help others know what they are thinking about. We also need to practice maintaining topics of conversation (even when it’s not what we are dying to talk about!) and asking connecting questions to show we are interested in other people’s thoughts and ideas. Michelle Garcia Winner has a great activity for a visual conversation tree to illustrate these skills.
What other magically delicious ideas have worked for you to teach context?