Puzzle it out.

3x3 blog pic puzzles

This time of year is the perfect storm.  IEP season is in full swing, Spring break is just around the corner (woohoo) and everyone is feeling a bit squirmy and squirrelly (including the SLP).  I like to have a variety of therapy options to keep my kids engaged, but my budget is tight right now.  I looked in my magic cabinet of therapy materials to see what I could add to my bag of tricks that wouldn’t elicit groans of “no, not that.”   I spotted a shiny metal box that contained a 30 piece Star Wars themed puzzle and knew I hit the jackpot!

Really, a puzzle?  You put it together and it’s done, boring.  Well, yes, it can be if you use it exactly like that.  How about using the puzzle pieces as a therapy activity to work on gestalt thinking with your social learners?   Show a piece at a time (without showing a picture of the final product) and have them make smart guesses as to what the puzzle might be. Have any friends that focus on the unimportant details and miss the big picture?  Me too, and this is harder for them than you would think!  Add in a little group work razzle dazzle and your students will be working together to problem solve putting the picture together (without a model).  You are embedding the Social Thinking® concepts of turn taking, sharing personal space, regulating emotions (when the pieces don’t fit quite right), thinking with your eyes and sticking with a group plan!

Working on non-verbal skills? Have your students put the puzzle together without talking. They have to watch each other, use gestures and pay attention to cues that it’s their turn to put their puzzle piece in.  For our students with impulsivity or difficulty with emotional regulation, this might be challenging!  Start with short, easy puzzles to help them feel successful and build resilience in these skills.

With younger students or students working at an early social cognitive level,  you can use wooden puzzles with several pieces.  I use the puzzle pieces as a template to cut out pictures from magazines or google images that fit a theme. For example, I might cut out pictures of candy, pumpkins, costumes, October on a calendar and a bat.  Then I ask the students to take turns removing the puzzle pieces to reveal the clues and  make a guess as to what all these pictures are talking about (Halloween).  You can scaffold the picture clues from easy to more difficult as they develop this skill.

Reinforce conversational turn taking by giving each student a few puzzle pieces, with you providing a topic of discussion.  As each student adds a comment or connected question to the conversation, they get to add a piece of the puzzle.  Start with large piece puzzles at first (8-10 pieces) and as your students get the hang of this, add more pieces and change topics within the conversation. You could also choose puzzles that are areas of high interest for your students (Star Wars, Super Mario Brothers, Legos, Dinosaurs) and use the puzzle pieces as reinforcers for maintaining topic during therapy. They earn a piece of the puzzle each time you catch them keeping their brain in the group (or whatever social concept you are working on that day).  If you can’t find a puzzle that matches an area of interest (guinea pigs, for example) just find a google image of said interest, print, laminate and cut into puzzle pieces, voila’!  Make sure you leave a few minutes at the end of the session for the student to put the puzzle together.

Do you use puzzles in social language therapy?  Share your ideas here!

 

 

 

Use Your B.R.A.I.N.S!

8x8 BRAINS cover

I spent the past week at a fun crossroad; posting on the SLP Materials Club facebook page as a guest AND enjoying a hot, fun week at the beach with my family!  It was the perfect respite after a long school year and I even got to read a WHOLE BOOK with my toes in the ocean (“A Man Called Ove”, a fabulous funny/sad summer read that I highly recommend). As we were walking along the Sebastian Inlet, I saw this little piece of coquina rock that frequents the coast where I grew up:

rock brain.jpg

The words “rock brain” popped into my thought bubble immediately! Do you see why I needed a vacation?!  Anyway, as part of my SLP Materials Club week, I posted a new freebie from my TPT store.  I created it to use with my students to work on how we engage other people and show that we are thinking about them.   It includes a flip book for an interview of another person to practice the skills, teaching cards to talk about how we use our brains to think about other and a teaching poster to review the acronym B.R.A.I.N.S. (we SLPs do so love our acronyms). The poster would be perfect to enlarge and hang up in your therapy room, classroom or as part of a fun bulletin board!  What does this acronym stand for?  I’m so glad you asked!

B- Be present in the moment

R-Remain on topic

A-Actively listen

I-Interpret Accurately

N-Non-verbals are important

S-Seek information

You can download this social language freebie HERE .  I know you want to give your brain a rest too and not think about school for a bit, but go ahead and file this away for the Fall now!  Happy Summer!

Deconstructing the Franken-goal.

Franken goal coverI read a lot of IEPs during the school year as I supervise CFs and mentor new hires in my large county of almost 200 SLPs.  I support all areas of communication with my speechies, but social language is the area near and dear to my heart.  Because of this, I see a lot of goals written regarding conversation and turn taking.  Turn taking in and of itself is an important skill, both verbally and non-verbally.  We can’t function as a “me first/all about me” community…unless you have a show on the E! network.  However, I cringe a bit when I come across a goal that looks like this:

The student will participate in 4-6 turn taking cycles, maintaining the topic of conversation and appropriate body orientation, with appropriate greeting/farewell, on three trials each session with no more than one cue.”

To be fair, most of these Franken-goals come with the student from another county or state.  The poor SLP usually looks at me with terror in their eyes when they realize that they will have to take data on this goal (in addition to the many other goals that are also in the IEP).  I suspect an advocate may have been involved in the construction of this mash-up of many different goals into one.  I try to reassure the SLP that we are going to dismantle the goal piece by piece and we will build it back into more functional, measurable and understandable goals. I also include the parent in this conversation so that they are reassured that we are still going to address the areas of concern, and that they are part of our team.  Michelle Garcia Winner’s Think Social materials have a wealth of well written goal suggestions if you need some ideas.

Most of the pieces of this goal are not wrong or bad,  in fact they may be necessary for the student to progress not only socially but academically as well in class discussions. Keep in mind that for our kids with social language impairments, we are measuring their progress against themselves, not necessarily what their neurotypical peers are doing. Let’s start to deconstruct and take a look at the separate areas embedded in the goal:

4-6  conversational turn taking cycles:   Do most adults continue a topic through 4-6 turns?  Not often, but a first grader?  Nope.  Maybe 2-3 at most before the topic changes in natural conversation and definitely not 4-6 cycles, three times in a thirty minute session. We need to break down the steps to having a conversation, practice often, start small and build from there! I have a free conversation football game that includes these steps in my TPT store HERE .

Topic maintenance:  is it a topic of the student’s choosing or a random topic assigned?  I don’t know about you, but I am willing to talk a lot more about something I am interested in.  Are they able to transition to related topics or change the topic completely?  Do they only talk about one topic all the time?

Body orientation can mean a lot of things.  Is the goal to turn your body towards the person you are speaking with?  Turning your face towards the person and engaging in eye contact? Adjusting personal space with other people in the conversation? Whole body listening skills are critical to participating successfully in a conversation.

Greeting/Farewell, ugh.  I really don’t like this as a goal at all and would much rather use peer models and reinforce natural ways to walk into and out of a room.  Very few of us always say “hello” when we walk into a room of our peers and “good-bye” every time we leave.  My teens tip their chin up and give a short, “s’up?” and my fellow SLPS in the building give me a little wave as they walk by me in the halls. We tap into a lot of social skills during therapy naturally, without having to write a goal for each and every one.

Cues:  what kind of cues?  Verbal, visual, tactile?  The goal is independence, so why write in a generic “no more than one cue”?  Note how you are cueing, modeling or prompting your students in your data as you scaffold towards independence.  Don’t forget to share what works for your kids with the adults in their world for carryover.

I really think focusing on 3-5 clear goals is PLENTY, just make them understandable, measurable and functional for your student. An IEP is a fluid document, so I would rather set a few, reachable goals and then meet to add more within the year rather than try to collect data on a bunch of huge goals that may not help our students progress outside of the therapy setting.  No more Franken-goals, they are much too scary!

It’s an Ice Cream Social!

ice cream social

In my neighborhood, we used to have an ice cream social for all the kids when they got off the bus the last day of school (we also drenched them with Super soakers, but that’s a topic for another day)!   These fun memories led me to create my new TPT social skills packet, “Ice Cream Social”.    I made this packet with elementary students in mind, however, there are several templates that would allow you to modify and add questions/scenarios for older students too.  I like to laminate the answer templates so I can write on them with erasable markers and use them in flexible ways with different ages/abilities. With Earth Day approaching, this is also a good way to save paper and trees!

What does this packet include?  Over 25 pages of print and go materials to address:

-matching tone of voice to words/emotions
-identifying expected/unexpected behaviors
-ice cream themed books to extend expected/unexpected
-comparing good/better/best solutions
-Brain Freeze, a game for questions, comments and topic maintenance (is your brain in    the group?*)
-identifying the size of a problem
-fact vs. opinion

As the end of the school year starts to approach, this is a tasty theme to explore social language skills and concepts with your students!  It has some figurative language sprinkled in (hint:  look at the titles of each activity), and can be used as a fun way to look for generalization of the skills your student is working on outside of your therapy room.

How could you generalize this? You could  extend the activities in this packet and collaborate with your general education teachers and families. Print and laminate pieces of an ice cream cone or sundae and have the teachers (or parents) give your student a piece when they “catch” them using the targeted skills in class or at home. It’s a good way to open up a dialogue about what social skills you are working on with the kids and how they can help carryover these skills.  When your students collect all the pieces, you can have a ‘Popsicle party’ or ‘sundae fun day’ to celebrate!!  Your classroom teachers may even decide to generalize the social language skills with ALL of their students!  Now THAT would really be the cherry on top 🙂

* “Keeping your brain in the group” is a concept from Think Social materials by Michelle Garcia Winner.

Where did my brain go?

is my brain in the group.pptxI was working with one of our fantastic SLP-As last week in a small social group.  One little guy just could not do what Michelle Garcia Winner refers to as  “keep his brain in the group”. When asked what the group was talking about, he would make a tangential comment related to himself but not maintain the topic that his friends were talking about. Close but no cigar! From working with many friends like this little guy, I have found that visuals (instead of more words) really help.

I decided to make a visual to go along with the topic of conversation and the concept of “keeping my brain in the group”.  It requires printing off THIS VISUAL (or making your own) and a big plastic bag or clear binder pocket. Yup, that’s it!! photo 3

Cut out the center of the page and attach the plastic bag to the back of this window (or slide the whole page into a clear binder pocket). You can laminate the visuals to make them last longer, and I would recommend printing the visual on heavy cardstock too, but regular letter size printer paper will work. Lastly, I put a piece of tape on the back so I can post this on whiteboards, file cabinets, doors, or whatever surface it will stick to where we are working!photo 5

For some friends, using pictures to represent the category of conversation (for example:  a picture of blocks represents that we are talking about our favorite toys) is too literal. These kiddos are not flexible thinkers yet and may not generalize that we aren’t just talking about blocks, but the broader category of toys.  I find that if they are readers and I write the word TOYS, this works better for them and they don’t get stuck on the item in the picture.

You can check in with the students who are working on the goal of maintaining a topic throughout the therapy session or class discussion.  If they can’t remember or are off topic, point to the brain visual to give them a clue.  I don’t need to say it or elaborate with language, that just muddies the water. Quick, clear, and we are back on track.

If the kids are able to tell you the topic, demonstrating that their brain is in the group, you can reward this accomplishment with cool brain erasers (from Oriental Trading Co.,about 5 bucks for 24), let them hold onto this cute little fidget brain for a minute, reward them with a Smartie candy or even a super budget friendly high-five.

What works well for you to help your students keep their brains in the group?

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!