Shark Bites.

shark week blog

With two boys of my own, Shark Week has always been a big hit around my house.  It’s coming around again this month for 2016 and we will be sure to watch!  I have seen some really cute craftivities on sharks that I will be using with my summer kiddos including these great ideas from Sunflower Storytime  and their free shark mouth template PDF !


shark template.jpg

I was thinking about how to apply Shark Week fun to social language concepts using the shark mouth pdf, and I came up with this:

shark activity.jpg

I printed the shark outline on cardstock and laminated it to make it more durable.  Next, I put stick on velcro dots along the edge of the mouth (you could use tape, glue or even lay it flat and just put the teeth along the edges.  I used Word and copied as many triangles onto the page as I could since the pdf only had one tooth that I used for sizing.  Then I printed the teeth out on card stock and cut them out before the activity.  This activity is appropriate for late elementary ages on up but could be simplified for younger kids too.

Before making our shark mouths, we talked about how “sharp” words can be (just like shark teeth).  They can cut and wound people when we are being mean or not using our social filters (think it vs. say it).  I asked the kids to share some words that would be hurtful to them or the people that they care about, and we called them shark bites. We brainstormed on a white board first to talk it through. I like to have a visual model (Sarah Ward’s executive function workshop opened my eyes to beginning with the end visually for our kids), but I don’t want them to copy exactly what I have written.  BTW, I always have that one kid who tells me, “I don’t care what people say about me”, so we talk about it from a cartoon character’s perspective instead (Sponge Bob and Squidward are great examples).  This is a little easier for some of my students with ASD, to talk about difficult subjects or feelings from someone else’s experience, not their own.

We also practice sorting out teeth that I have written on prior to the lesson, onto thought bubbles and talking bubbles.   This is a great companion activity to work on the concept of not saying everything that we are thinking, because it can be hurtful.  I extend this concept to include the idea that just because something is “true” doesn’t mean that it is okay to say it, if it hurts someone.

shark bubbles.jpg

That’s how we are diving in deep during social skills shark week!  How are you incorporating sharks into your themed therapy (social skills or otherwise)? Share here!




Emotions Foldable Lap Book

lap book for emotions

I have had the great opportunity to present on our professional learning day to a group of SLPs and teachers of autism classrooms in my county this week.  One of the things that we wanted to do was to have a make and take idea for usable materials.  I came across several pictures of lap books when I was looking for an idea.  While it is simple, I love that it is portable, able to be personalized and can be modified to whatever you are working on from Prek-young adults (think project rubrics for class presentations, strategies for Zones of Regulation, theme books for unit studies in science or literature).

I wanted to show you how I put one together to help a student who often became frustrated and shut down when challenged with a difficult task.  All you need are standard size manila file folders, glue, a ruler and your imagination!

lap book steps 1 to 3

We brainstormed ways to calm down when we are frustrated.  We practiced using the  words “I am frustrated” instead of getting angry or putting our head down on the table and refusing to work.  It was a lesson that we practice over a few weeks.  I have this freebie that I created for him HERE in my TPT store.  There is a color and black & white version as well as a blank template.  I used the blank in the example above so that we could draw representative pictures of each step.  I then glued the written words inside the flaps (so that teachers, paras and family members would know what the pictures meant and could reinforce the social language).

lap book example 2

Have you used lap books in social skills therapy?  Share your ideas here!!

Theory of Mind and Cognition

tom and cognition

My metacognitive skills have been getting quite a work out lately. Thinking about thinking is exhausting, but it’s one of the many things I find amazing about our brains!  These past few weeks have been full of opportunities to talk about Theory of Mind with a variety of my favorite SLPs. If you haven’t downloaded this FREE ToM assessment, click HERE (you’ll thank me later)!   We have been chatting about how our kids with language impairments, ASD, mild cognitive impairments and Down Syndrome perceive sarcasm, tone of voice, perspective taking and Theory of Mind tasks differently.  I started googling to see what research is out there, particularly in regard to children with DS.

I came across a few articles (including THIS one) that speaks to beginning research on Theory of Mind in kids with mild cognitive impairments vs. children with Down Syndrome, functioning in the same cognitive range.  The preliminary findings suggest there is a difference in perception, and that while both groups have the desire for social engagement, children with DS have a more difficult time taking on another person’s perspective and switching their behavior because of it.

I see four very verbal boys with DS and feel that this may be a piece to some of the social behaviors they struggle with.  They understand that sometimes their choices are not making others happy, but have a hard time changing their behavior to affect others in a positive way.  They get stuck and often it’s written off as ‘stubbornness’ that people assume is part of DS, but I suspect there might be more to it than that.

I use a LOT of visuals and activities that center around emotions and problem solving strategies in our therapy sessions.  Giving language to feelings helps keep my boys from shutting down as often and gives them the tools to talk about what happened (after the event, not in the moment).  That’s the first step.  I then try to get them to connect other people’s feelings, what others might be thinking and how what we say/do can change that.  This is a BIG cognitive jump and isn’t going to happen in a few sessions, it’s an ongoing goal.  I try to follow a visual template when we talk through an event, like this one:

DS social language template

*If it’s too much visual information on one page for your student,  fold it in half or cut the steps apart to sequence one at a time.

I also printed out these cute clip art emotions I bought from Whimsy Clips to use when working on problem solving, emotion identification and Theory of Mind activities. You can find them HERE or use actual pictures of your students.  A visual representation of someone physically leaving a social scene can help our kids connect the idea that when everyone doesn’t have the same information, you may have an incorrect perception based on what you do know.  I cut out the people and glue them to upside down solo cups to make them moveable on a table, but you could put Velcro buttons and use a flannel board, magnetic tape to use on a white board or craft sticks to make a moveable puppet show.  As low tech as these are, you can use them in a million ways in therapy!

Do you work on ToM and social language with your students that are not on the autism spectrum?  Share your thoughts here.

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!

What does language have to do with math?

language of math

With the new core being implemented across the country, I am hearing more often that students are struggling with math.  Why does this bother a speech language therapist?  Because math concepts are language based and that is really difficult for many of our students, particularly kids with ASD.  I had the opportunity to present at an autism workshop in my school district and heard a great behavior professional mention that many students on the spectrum think in pictures not words (Temple Grandin ring a bell?).   This, of course, got my brain humming.  How can I help with math?

I used Boardmaker to create visuals to correspond with the math concepts.  I also created a visual dictionary to give kids the visual framework that math concepts, such as subtraction, have more than one word to describe it.  Flexible thinking with language is tricky!  What does this look like?  Let’s take subtraction as an example. It can also be phrased as: take away, less, how many more, how much more, decomposing, difference, fewer.   Can you see how easy it is to get confused?  Here is the link to my free visual dictionary page:

I included a column for a visual example, a place for the student’s example and an area for notes or questions, but you can create your own and customize to your student’s needs!

I have also uploaded language of math visuals to my TPT page here for first grade core.  I will be creating and posting more grade levels throughout the next month:

In the coming weeks, I will share more on the language of math, particularly how to help kids identify key words, sequence and be able to explain (yikes!) how they got their answers.  Graphic organizers and highlighters are going to become your new best friends.   I would love if YOU would share any tips and tricks with the new math core that help your students or children as well!


linky social