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!

How to be a tightrope walker.



Have you ever watched someone walk a tightrope at a circus or on TV, like Nick Wallenda’s Grand Canyon adventure?   It is a tedious, breath holding process to behold!!  This image came to mind when watching a young lady with ASD navigate the treacherous waters of having a conversation with a new classmate.  She wants to have friends and has been working very,very hard at figuring out all the moving parts to a conversation, both verbal and non-verbal.  I imagine the practice and dissection of conversational skills in speech therapy is like working with a net when you first learn to walk on a tightrope.  You wobble and try to correct missteps, but have the comfort of knowing that if you fall, you are safe. Something (or someone) is there to catch you and help you try again.  But conversations with peers on your own?  That is like walking the Grand Canyon without a net.

For students who do not have social language impairments, they almost effortlessly glide across the conversational ropes, maintaining topics, eye contact, body proximity, tone of voice and humor without even thinking about it.  They learned these skills incidentally and don’t have to think about the moving parts of talking to people and making friends. That’s not to say that these students don’t make mistakes, we all do!  The difference is they can learn and apply these subtle social rules in the moment.  This particular young lady I mentioned has tried to make new friends before.  Her first attempt started with “I know you are new here, but I just want to tell you, you don’t want to make me mad.  I can get very, very mad.”   The new student just stared back at her, not really knowing what to say.

In talking with the young lady later, her thought process was preventative; if I tell a new friend that I can get mad, I am doing them a favor!  Then they will know how to act around me and we will get along great!  She did not recognize that she was being perceived as threatening and sending signals that she is probably not someone you would want to hang around with.  For younger students, I love the book You Will Be My Friend  by Peter Brown.  It offers a good conversation about how the main character wants friends, and the many wrong ways she tries to find one (spoiler:there’s a happy ending).  I have created a lesson to go along with the book here.  For older students, video clips are great examples of friendships.  I love Ned’s Declassified from Nickelodeon.  Here’s a link to an episode on what makes a good/bad friend.  It’s about 12 minutes long, so view it and mark different sections to use.  You can develop a whole month’s lesson plan from this one show!

It’s important to remember that friendship is a high level skill.  We have to focus on breaking down all the conversational pieces needed to succeed and teach them systematically, prior to attempting free range social interactions.  To use the tightrope analogy again, you walk a short rope, low to the ground when you start, not a mile long rope across two skyscrapers on a windy day!  I happened to run into the young lady this week that I mentioned earlier.  She and I had a short conversation in the hallway and she checked in visually with me, demonstrated some new turn taking skills,  and monitored her affect, tone of voice and volume beautifully!  She is still working on maintaining topic (she turned the conversation towards Minecraft, her favorite) but she didn’t fall off the rope, just wobbled a bit.  She is figuring out how to navigate the social world, one step at a time.

You WILL Be My Friend….or else

Peter Brown's book on friendship

Peter Brown’s book on friendship


The Scholastic Book Fair rolled into my school this week for the last hurrah before summer.   I strolled through the aisles looking for this and that when I found the book, “You Will Be My Friend” by Peter Brown.   I read the title first as “Will You Be My Friend?” but when I looked again, sure enough the title was a command not a request!   This book illustrates the difficulties of figuring out how to make friends, whether you are a beast or a boy.  For a lot of my students with social language weakness, friendship is tricky!

One of my favorite students started a conversation with a new classmate this year.  She recounted that she wanted to be friends with the new girl, so she told her, ” I am just going to warn you, you don’t want to make me mad.”  She felt that she was offering good insight on how to be her friend, just don’t make me mad.  She didn’t consider that starting off a friendship with a perceived threat was not a great first impression.  Yikes.

Lucy, the main character of our story, heads out on a mission one morning to find a new friend in the forest.   She bumbles her way into frog ponds, a giraffe’s breakfast and invades the personal space of a local ostrich.     Lucy’s intentions are good, but she struggles on her quest to find a friend.     The illustrations are beautiful and offer great clues on reading body language, emotion and what other’s might be thinking in the story.   It is filled with fantastic opportunities to talk about social language concepts such as whole body listening, personal space, talking too much and being yourself around others!

I have created a three page activity to go along with the story (factual questions and social thinking questions) here

What books have you used for friendship?