Monday, January 23, 2017

"Yaks Yak" Awesome Book for Teaching Multiple Meaning Words! Free Printable Visual Supports

I totally love children's books, and am always visiting our local public library to find new ones.  I look for clear language in a book, but the book also has to actually help to teach concepts, vocabulary, feelings, social skills, and myriad other goals that are part of a child's IEP. I was so excited when I found 'Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs', written by Linda Sue Park.  This is a wonderful book to introduce multiple meaning words.

The pictures are funny, there are only two or three words per page, definitions of the words are provided, and I think you and the kids will love it.  You can read about the book here at Amazon.
You can also view sample pages on their website.

Today is your lucky day.  I have made a set of visuals for you using Smarty Symbols to print, cut out, and have the students match to the pages in the book. I'm sure you will also take the time to discuss and demonstrate the meanings.  My students often need the added element of manipulatives to focus their attention, and to offer a visual representation for each word in the pair.  I admit that it was sometimes hard to find an adequate picture, but it's a good effort on my part.  (e.g. There is no picture symbol for 'craning a neck', so I went with a photo.) Smarty Symbols is an awesome set of clip art. I pay a subscription to share my materials with you.  Please use the clip art here only with this book, and don't reuse in another way as it is copyrighted by Smarty Symbols.

Personally, even though Amazon says this book is for ages 4-7, I would plan on using it with language impaired 3rd through 5th graders.  Some of the vocabulary would be difficult for the littler ones.


Retirement looms in 4 days!!!   With more time, and lots of ideas, I still plan on blogging.  I have many SLP friends and special education teacher friends who like my work.

It's Florida in two weeks, wine tonight, and just a few days left in my cinder block cubicle!


Monday, January 9, 2017

Helpful Tips for Teaching a Language Group for Students with Severe Communication Challenges

Here in North Carolina, no school has been happening for several days.  We had snow, and when that happens, we become shut in---no school, no shopping, no driving.  The power has stayed on, so I'm happy to blog, check Facebook, work on school work and babysit our granddaughter.  Lovely!

  In spite of our school vacation, I wanted share an important part of my job today.  For the past 24 years, I have worked in our self-contained classrooms and taught weekly language groups, many times co-treating with our occupational therapist.  Some years have been easier than others, but I have felt committed to these groups.  I often work with the children from the group at other times during the week for individual or small group services, but the language group has remained a permanent fixture.
     This group is important so the teachers and assistants can see what I do with the students.  I model the use of communication systems, show staff my interactive books, show how to reduce language input a little to elicit more language output, and demonstrate pragmatic functions of language.  We have fun with crafts, games and simple recipes.

Over the years, I've developed a little repertoire of helpful tips that anyone doing such a group should think about.  Keep in mind that my students are either nonverbal or emerging communicators in an elementary school setting.

1. The adults running a group need to look about five times as enthusiastic as they may feel.  Smile, look like you are having fun, read with expression.  This is often hard to do if you are dashing in from a previous school or session.  Why is enthusiasm important? You are the 'feelings model'!  You want the students to want to be at the table, and kids mirror your expressions and feelings. You want the student to know that you like being there, and then they will like the group too.

2. The more linguistically challenged students must have access to some type of communication system.
 Examples are picture exchange, a communication notebook, a core board, a simple voice output device......if they don't have verbal skills, make sure you give them tools.  Ideally it would be the same system they use throughout the day (which is not the same for every student). You may need to make a few boards for very specific activities. That shouldn't happen too often.
Dreidel game vocabulary
    I have just been awarded a grant for a group PODD for each classroom, and this will be perfect for a language group. The PODD will stay in the room, so the teacher will watch me use it with the kids, and then she'll also use it in subsequent lessons.  Prior to getting the PODD, I've always made sure that visual displays are provided with books, crafts, and games.  Students have their core boards and notebooks.

3. Even during the group, the adults need to use verbal modeling or aided language stimulation.  My students simply don't know what to say.  The adults (could be an assistant or teacher or SLP) need to show them.

4. Keep sidebar conversations to a minimum.  Unfortunately, when several adults sit at a group with a group of low verbal children, conversation begins or comments about totally unrelated topics crop up. Weather, retirement, weddings, hated administration policies.....words fly over the students' heads. I've been guilty, but these sidebars don't help. An SLP in charge of the group needs to redirect adult conversation to the lesson.

5. Schedule---I try to present a visual schedule to the students of  what we are doing.  Usually I draw it on a small whiteboard.  Another option is to use photos or icons with velcro.  Keep your routine similar each week.  A predictable routine really helps with behavior management, student anxiety, and building on language/social skills.

6. Goals--The goals are centered on students' IEP goals, but with a group, it's difficult to work on very many.  My priorities are pragmatics (engagement), literacy and language, and simple concepts. The last few years, we have been enticing the students to the group with music (often a YouTube video), then use an interactive book where they take turns reading the page, adding icons, and answering questions. If an OT is working with me, we then have the students complete a related craft.  If there is no OT, we either play a game, or complete an activity where students need to gain attention and request needed materials to complete a simple worksheet or coloring activity.

7. Pace yourself---For each 30 minute group, there needs to be three to four different activities.  Music, interactive books, hands-on activity, game---attention can wane; use all the senses!

8. Share the wealth--I leave my materials in the classroom, and share all of my interactive materials with the teachers.  Although I sell items on Teachers Pay Teachers, anything I create is provided to staff I work with.  They are grateful, and sometimes have requests for a unit or a new item.  Sometimes, I laminate books for the teachers or send a book home with the students.  It's all good.

9. Don't be discouraged--During my groups, kids may scream, accidents happen, things get spilled. What I have seen is that students learn the routine, you learn them, and over the course of the school year, magic happens.    I love the kids, love the groups, and enjoy the teachers.  I especially love our current and past occupational therapists who have added so much love and expertise.

So I'm actually writing this for SLP who is taking my place starting February 1, and am hoping she won't freak out at the prospect of teaching these language groups!!!!  Yes, a wonderful person has been hired, and I'm counting down to retiring from this NC school system, which has had its awesome moments and flawed moments. I've seen it all from an SLP perspective, from a parent perspective and from a mentor perspective.  I'm not leaving Chapel Hill and I'm still a mentor, so I'll still be acutely aware.

 I will dearly miss my little tender mercies, the sweet children who have been such a part of my life at my school, and especially my more challenged kids (and I'm not religious except that working with these kids can draw it out of anyone with a heart).  I know I'll have new opportunities (since my school is a mere speck in a world of needy children), but tears flow.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Academic Skills or Social Skills---Sorting Activity and Game

Here's a product I have to offer:  A unit on social skills vs academic skills.

Some students I've taught really have no clue why they are in a social skills group; they really don't know what social skills are.  They confuse it with social studies. (Although some our current leaders in the social studies domain need more appropriate social skills, for the purposes of this unit, the two areas are separate.)
This product helps with students learning the difference between academics and social areas.

This is offered for a very modest price on Teachers Pay Teachers, and includes a sorting activity (four pages and headings for sorting 'academic skills' and 'social skills', a board game with 36 cards for students to determine what are 'academic' or 'social' skills, and a simple pre/post measure.

I have used this at school, and kids really like it and learn why they are coming to the group.

Here's the link!

(Some of you may have bought my old version.  If you bought it previously, send me an email at if you would like the updated version.)


Board Game!

A personal note:  I have 29 days until retirement from my current school system.  I'll still blog and post materials; perhaps even more with my more flexible schedule.  I'm not leaving speech; just leaving my job.