Where have you been all my SLP life?!


Two of the smartest SLPs I know, Lydia Kopel and Elissa Kilduff, have recently become published authors!  The process to publish IEP Goal Writing for Speech Language Pathologists has been daunting, but our county has had the benefit of being the guinea pigs of the draft version of this fantastic resource!  Now before you roll your eyes and dismiss this as just another goal bank, think again.  This little orange treasure chest takes state common core standards (and the Early Learning Standards for PreK) and aligns them to the associated speech-language skill.  The PreK-12th grade resource includes the communication areas of: vocabulary, questions, summarize, main idea and details, critical thinking, pragmatics (YAY), syntax and morphology and articulation/phonological processes. Then, you look at the associated speech-language skill and it further breaks it down into steps to mastery in each area AND the prerequisites needed!

So what can you do with all of this amazing information?  Well, let me share with you how I have used it! It allows me to look at the grade level common core standards that my students are working on, what area of the core it addresses and the related speech-language skills for each standard.  Then, it also allows me to look at each area of communication (see list above) and the pre-requisite skills needed to achieve a goal.  For example, in the communication area of Summarizing (which is embedded throughout the grade levels in reading/literature/listening/speaking standards):

Skill:  Summarize # of details from a story.

Pre-requisite skills: answer questions, sequence concepts, identify narrative elements, retell, identify important/unimportant details.

This helps me identify the baseline of where my student is functioning with this skill, setting the goal and then being able to see how to scaffold backwards to fill in missing skills if my student isn’t progressing, or scaffold forwards to write higher level goals when they meet the initial one.  It is basically a SLP road map to navigate communication skill acquisition in a logical and sequential manner,  with the bonus of facilitating student success educationally!

There is even a section on Pragmatics (hallelujah!). These skills are a different animal of sorts, because social language acquisition is not necessarily linear. Michelle Garcia Winner notes that social language skills are often broadened across time rather than acquired in a progressive, vertical timeline like other areas of language.  Our students may not move on to higher level skills necessarily, but we can deepen and grow the skills that they do have within that skill set.  I love how this book breaks down the social skills into distinct areas with the embedded skills in each area. This is very helpful in talking with parents (or advocates) during the IEP process along with the visual of the Social Learning Tree from Social Thinking®.  I also share with my teachers, to help them understand what we are working on socially and how it may be related to what they are working on in the classroom.   This is a valuable tool to keep me focused and write specific, measurable goals for my students with social language impairments, an area that is often nebulous as compared to language or articulation.

If you make one purchase for yourself in the new year, consider making it THIS ONE as it will more than pay for itself in giving you a clear, well organized road map to making your goal writing and IEPs easier!  You too will be flipping through the pages saying, “Where have you been all my SLP life?!”

*No money or materials have been provided in exchange for this review.  It is simply my heartfelt endorsement of a fantastic product for SLPs!


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!

I’m so NOT a groupie.

so not a groupie blog

In working with students on the autism spectrum, one issue that seems to continue to pop up is working in groups successfully.  Collaborative learning is woven throughout the core from my itty bitties to high school.   I really like the tower of building blocks poster, from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Incredible Flexible You ,  that illustrates all the steps required to be part of a group.

building blocks of social language

There are 14 skills that are necessary to do this effectively. Fourteen including joint attention, joint intention, imitation, attachment and emotional engagement, individual self regulation, language and cognition, central coherence, theory of mind, executive function, perspective taking (sharing space with others), self regulation in a group, cooperation and negotiation, collaborative play/sharing an imagination, and then, learning in a group.  It would be a great visual to share with parents and teachers to show the complexity of what we are asking them to do.  While it is innate in a neurotypical child, these skills often need more discreet teaching, breaking down the steps and lots of practice to help them figure out how to do all the things necessary to be part of a group successfully.

By the time the students are in middle school and beyond, it becomes more evident when there are social weaknesses that impair participation and cooperation in group work. Also, our kids who don’t have these group prerequisites can often appear to be non-cooperative and difficult behaviorally (refusal, interrupting, not being able to accept a differing opinion, no social filter) rather than their class recognizing that these “behaviors” are often part of their social language impairment.  This does not endear them to their peers or teachers. They are often left to fend for themselves as a result, and this may inadvertently reinforce these behaviors to escape the group work for our kids.  It’s a miserable cycle.

I have seen some great strategies that teachers, OTs and SLPs have used to encourage moving towards successful group work.  They include letting the student choose a part of the group work to complete (on their own or with a preferred peer), recording a piece of their research or presentation on an iphone to reduce anxiety with presentation to a class, having the group present to the teacher outside of the class setting (less people, less distraction), or working in a group via technology such as group me (a group text message app that allows a back and forth group discussion), edmodo or using a google doc.  Build up the time they participate slowly and reinforce the heck out of them!!  For my older students, introducing the concept of the “social fake/boring moments” as illustrated in this fantastic poster by Social Thinking (RT) is important. This poster for working in a group is a great resource too.  We need to acknowledge sometimes we need to work, think and talk about things we really don’t care about because it’s the expected behavior in a class discussion or project (and in life).  Here is a video link to a good example of a conversational social fake (and a bad example too)  as well as a great lesson plan from Cindy Meester on talking about the social fake HERE using the curriculum from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking (RT) program. I also really like this TPT game, Phoney Baloney, from Just Speechie SLP to work on this skill too.

Working on the prerequisite pieces, such as self regulation, having a plan of what to do/say when you disagree, sticking to the topic, and the art of negotiation are all life long skills that will build success in group work, far beyond the school years. These are critical skills for success in the workplace and in relationships as well.  Remember, the skills aren’t going to be acquired in a few speech sessions, if that were true they would have picked them incidentally a long time ago from their peers! It’s not just the SLP that needs to work on these skills either, the best outcome results from a team approach (student, family, teachers, peers, OT, counselor, etc..) and a lot of structured opportunity.  I like to think about social language development as more of a crock pot than a microwave.

What strategies have you found work well in group work in the classroom for your students?







Why the Presidential Candidates Might Need A Lunch Bunch…

I was watching the Republican debate the other evening with my 16-year-old son.  About ten minutes into it, he turned to me and said, “I cannot believe that no one has punched Donald Trump in the face.”   After watching Mr. Trump’s posturing, antics and very purposeful lack of social filter, I had to wonder the same thing. Now I don’t believe for a minute that Mr. Trump is unaware of how he perceived or that what he says is unintentionally tactless.  In fact, I think he very purposefully uses his communicative “style” as an attention grabber and knows the value of a shocking sound bite.  His crass act has a communicative function to seek attention and start people talking.  He also knows that his baiting comments and rude body language are going to engage the other candidates and incite emotional responses (interestingly, very much like many of the EBD students I work with).

As a SLP fascinated by social language, I started to watch the non-verbals going on with the candidates:   Dr. Carson using his eyebrows to punctuate his very soft-spoken points, Ted Cruz’s laser eye gaze locked on the camera and not on the people asking the questions, Jeb Bush’s non-aggressive posture, and of course Donald Trump’s direct leaning in towards those he was insulting.  I heard a snippet on the radio the next day by Dr. Patrick Stewart from the University of Arkansas.  He is a political science expert and is a certified Facial Action Coding System coder specializing in reading facial expressions and emotional responses in followers and leaders.

Dr. Stewart looks at several different parts of non-verbal language which he noted accounts for 90% of communicative intent (words are the other 10%).  He stated that non-verbals are how we influence others to do things we want them to do (I love that succinct description).  The areas of non-verbals he analyzes include:  facial expressions (including overt and micro-expressions*), body language, proxemics (how close or far away you are), haptics (touching) and vocalics ( verbal sounds, such as when your mom clears her throat to get your attention).  Micro-expressions are the immediate feeling that shows up on someone’s face, even without them thinking about it, but are usually controlled quickly. Dr. Stewart often reviews video and looks frame by frame to see them, and finds these micro-expressions when the person is not speaking in a debate and the camera is not on  them.  Here is a link to a fascinating research article Dr. Stewart authored on Presidential Speechmaking Style .

I think the debates are a fabulous way to work with older students on reading non-verbal language, identifying emotions and figuring out if what someone is saying matches the context of what they are showing.  Donald Trump is such an over the top persona it might be easier to start with him versus someone more controlled and practiced, like Marco Rubio.  I wrote a blog last Fall about campaign commercials and how to align the study of campaign ads to the common core (7th-12th grade) and questions to use to determine persuasion, bias, point of view, main idea and truth in context HERE.

For your middle or high school students with high functioning ASD, identifying and practicing the areas that Dr. Stewart mentions, facial expressions, body language, proxemics, haptics, vocalics and tone of voice, is like learning a new language.  It’s not learned incidentally, but step by step with a lot of repetition! However, by teaching these skills, the long-term goal is that we are going to help them figure out meaning in communicative context with their peers and gain understanding as to how they are being received based on what they are doing and by what they are saying.

Between the debates and campaign adds to come, you will have enough social language material to last several months.  You could even work with your Social Studies/History teacher to turn this into a collaborative lesson plan!  So search Youtube for video clips, turn off the sound on a debate video and let the students guess what the candidates are feeling.  Have them make note of how they stand, the gestures they use, facial expressions, even the color of their face (Mr. Kasich tended to get very flushed and move a lot when he was frustrated). We have a long Presidential season ahead with many more debates to come. I am looking forward to the gold mine of social language learning that comes with it!!  As for the best candidate for President?  Well, let’s just say that’s up for debate…

Go ahead, you can say the “A” word…


What exactly is the “A” word?   August, of course (what were you thinking?!).  I know, I know, it isn’t even officially summer yet and here I am blabbering on about August!! Take your fingers out of your ears and stop yelling “lalalala!”. Summer is no small luxury; it’s a time of restoration after a crazy year of IEPs, meetings, paperwork, etc. that help SLPs keep our collective sanity.  However, August (or September for my friends up North) doesn’t have to be a bad word!

I used to dread it too, but then I had a shift in perspective.  If I spend a little time (very little) prepping over the summer months, then I can roll into my room with a few cute, color coded file folders and a plan.  That way, when a new IEP magically appears on my desk after I have finished my schedule, no problem.  I have learned the hard way to always start my paper schedule in pencil and when I transition to my computer, add the date on any revisions to keep me sane!  A last-minute, pre-planning advocate meeting on my one free day to set up my physical space?  No tears, just go with the flow.   I try to have a rough idea of what I want on the bulletin board before I leave in May, and since I packed my room up, I have a clean slate to start with.  My theme this year is minimalism…anything pre-2000 is gone (kidding…kind of).

A general idea of themes, if you work in younger grades, works well to plan out the year and themes lend themselves to all kinds of therapy areas.  For older students, getting a feel for the common core in literature and language arts will go a long way in supporting your students. Don’t forget science and social studies, and heck even the language of math can be incorporated into therapy!  My friend Meredith over at Peachie Speechie and Speech Blogs has complied an amazing list of SLP blogs HERE , jam packed with great therapy ideas to align with themes and the core !  If you start thinking of these goals and themes this summer, you can plan what you need for a back to school sale on TPT !

Take a little time to organize games and replace missing pieces. Buy a bunch of plastic sleeves to protect your TPT fabulous finds and store them in labeled binders (by theme, season, type of therapy, alphabetically, whatever makes sense to YOU). Get rid of the unnecessary clutter; if it’s out of date, toss it.  Don’t use it anymore? Donate it to a new SLP (they will be thrilled).  Organize a speechie share and swap for materials and games.  Looking for new(er) games?  Check out thrift stores as you can find gently used or even brand new games (Cariboo anyone?).

So breathe, enjoy the summer ahead and stick your toes in the sand somewhere warm.  August will be here soon enough!   What’s your best summer tip to set you up for success in the next school year?

Speaking the same language…

social language

In IEP meetings, I am finding that many parents have the misconception that there is plenty of time during the day for their children to meet new friends and establish social relationships incidentally.  While school is a social learning lab, we have to remember that many of our kids with ASD are NOT incidental learners.  A typical school day for students includes multiple transitions through academic subjects, with barely enough time to run to their locker, change classes and grab some lunch. Class time is packed with instruction, testing, and classwork. The easy, breezy days of chit chatting with friends in the hall are long gone, and have been replaced with back to back classes, remediation time, and the dreaded R word (rigor).  As a SLP, I can support the skills of friendship and the counselors may offer social groups, but it cannot happen only in school. That being said, there is quite a bit of additional social learning going on throughout the school day:

Collaborative learning and group work in the classroom:  Students have to work with peers, take perspective, listen to and accept differing opinions, and take responsibility for their work in a group project.

Social rules in class and throughout schools:  Students have to figure out the stated and hidden rules of the school, demonstrate emotional regulation, take turns,  demonstrate whole body listening, appropriate tone of voice, topic maintenance and timing for participation in classroom discussions.  They also need to be able to code switch in how they speak to their peers vs. adults.

Language arts/literature: Students need to be able to take perspective, understand differing points of view, understand figurative language concepts, make class presentations with appropriate volume, eye contact, and body orientation, and develop persuasive skills in writing and oral expression.

Transitions/lockers:  Students need to navigate hallways (body awareness, eye contact), wait for a turn at their locker and advocate for themselves if someone is blocking it or taking too long, demonstrate organization and awareness of what you need to do with this time efficiently and get to class on time and prepared.

What is more difficult to do during the instructional day:

Hang out with your friends in between classes and talk about your interests

Talk to others socially and build friendship skills at lunch (too loud, not enough time and you have to eat!)

Make friends and have social conversations during class

We need buy in from the home and community environments to build friendships.  This conversation has to start before we write goals!  Here is the free handout  that I created to bring to meetings/conferences.  It will be helpful when discussing how to support social language across settings and help manage expectations with families when you re developing goals as a team. We all live in a social world, so shouldn’t we be speaking the same language?


Social Thinking also posted this video today of an interview with the fabulous Temple Grandin.  Take a listen to her thoughts on social language across settings and how it has to change, very interesting!