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!


How Should I Know??

secret life of pets blog

“They can’t talk, so how should I know what they would say??” This is a quote from a young man I was working with when I showed him a picture of a dog and asked him to tell me what it might be thinking or saying.  He looked at me, arms crossed, with a loud, unsaid “duh!” hanging in the air between us.  Over the next few sessions,  we talked about imagining, wondering, and using context clues to make a guess about what something (or someone) might be thinking, saying or feeling.  I used a scaffold of materials to work on this, moving from pictures, to social scenarios, commercials  and short video clips from movies.  There are lots of great preview clips on Youtube that can be so helpful in working on these concepts!

My own boys are older, but I still enjoy a good animated movie now and again (I am not talking to you Sponge Bob Square Pants). Last summer,  I dragged my 16 year old with me to see Inside Out with the promise of unlimited popcorn (it worked like a charm)! We both ended up enjoying the movie, probably me more than him. There were so many great moments to use in therapy to talk about emotions, predictions, and how our actions affect others!  Is it wrong that I look at most movies like these as possible social language material?  I’d like to think that it’s equal parts brain bonus/occupational hazard, but I’m a glass half-full kind of girl.

secret-life-of-pets_nws2 (1)

         The Secret Life of Pets           from Universal Pictures and Illuminations Entertainment coming July 2016

There is a new movie full of social language possibilities opening this summer, The Secret Life of Pets, from the same people who made the Minion movies.  They have started releasing previews that are hilarious and PERFECT to work on the concepts of thinking, feeling and saying using context clues.   Here is a link to a Christmas card themed clip . There are seven pets getting their pictures taken for holiday cards.  This would be fun to use when we return to school in the post-holiday doldrums of January!

One caveat about this clip:  it lasts 1:46 minutes but I would only show through the 1:15 minute mark.  There is a bit of an inappropriate guinea pig moment with a computer mouse after the 1:15 time that I would avoid!!  Consider yourselves warned!!

Each of the seven pets is featured for about 10 seconds. Show each clip, pause it and then have the students decide what kind of personality traits each pet has (goofy, hyper, clumsy, etc..). Talk about what clues might lead you to make these guesses. You might want to write out the choices on sticky notes for support or have your students brainstorm personality descriptors before/during the activity.  I talk about a time I have seen those personality traits in people I know, including myself.  Building connections between what we are practicing and real life experiences is so important.  Otherwise we are teaching skills that aren’t easily integrated beyond our therapy rooms!

The next thing to decide would be determining how the pet feels about getting their picture taken.  This is a great exercise in looking at facial expressions.  Animation typically over-exaggerates expressions and this is very helpful for our students with ASD! Talk about the eyes, mouth, body posture, all the non-verbal clues that help us determine how someone/something is feeling.  

If my students have pets, I ask them to try and think about these same activities with their own animals.  Again, connecting personal experiences to social language lessons really helps our kids gain a deeper understanding of these skills.  These clips are full of opportunities to talk about how and why questions. You can extend the lesson with your students who have basic perspective taking skills and ask them to guess:

What the pet owners might be thinking or feeling when their pets were getting their pictures taken?

What is the person taking the pictures of the pets thinking/feeling at the end of the clip?

What the people who receive this Christmas picture might be thinking?

They only show two humans in the clip, so this will take some out of the box imagination skills and making good guesses!  It’s much harder to make a guess about things we can’t see but must infer.  There are several other clips being released,  but I hope they aren’t showing all the funny parts now (I am always disappointed when I feel like I have seen the movie before I see the movie)!  You can check out the other preview here and work on related concepts over several weeks!

What the pets do when their people are gone:  (2:40 seconds) Fantastic for prediction and inferences (cat in the refrigerator with food, dog with squirrel),  predictable/unpredictable behaviors (a prissy French Poodle head banging to System of a Down) and comparing/contrasting what the pet owners think pets do all day versus what the pets actually do!

What other movie clips have you used to teach social language concepts? I really like The Dabbling Speechie’s Elf themed ideas for therapy!  Share your finds here!



How do you get from here to there?

picture courtesy of

picture courtesy of

Predictions and inferences are language arts concepts often used interchangeably , but they don’t mean the same thing.  An inference in reading is to go beyond the author’s words to understand what is not said.  A prediction is taking what the author writes and adding personal knowledge to make a smart guess about what might happen next in the story.  The core is filled with standards that align to these concepts, but for our kids with social language impairments, it is tricky territory.  One of my student’s asked me during a discussion on this topic, “How do you know what you know?”  That question is a great place to start.

Using pictures to teach inference and predicting makes a lot of sense.  One of the strategies we use is to make a movie or get a picture in your mind when we are talking about an idea or experience.  Connecting a visual to a language concept is a powerful tool, particularly if someone has weak executive function skills like retrieval and working memory.  Using pictures to make word maps like these at , and show how to connect ideas really reinforces these concepts.

Here area some mini-movie clips that you can use to talk about inferences and predicting.  Pinterest has lots of options for pictures as well as using magazines or commercials.

Help your student make personal connections to what they are reading about.  For example, you student may have never visited Hawaii, but maybe they have been to a beach or have seen a palm tree.  Personal connections make it much easier for students to put themselves in “someone else’s shoes” and they are asked to do this often in language arts literature.

I love using books with minimal words or just pictures to begin working on these skills.  My new favorite is Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack.  This simple book follows the adventures of a optimistic rabbit and his pessimistic mouse friend as they share experiences with very different points of view!

Share your great ideas here!