5 Stories about Friendship

Saturday, November 14, 2020
This year during distance learning, my students have missed their friends! Seeking ways to support not just their speech and language goals, but their social-emotional development, I turn to my favorite tool - stories. Stories have helped my students feel safe tapping into and expressing feelings they otherwise may not have shared. 

Here are just a few preschool and early elementary favorites about friendships weathering the storms of time, distance, differences, and hurt feelings. 

  • "The Scarecrow" by Beth Ferry
"The Scarecrow" is a beautiful story of love between adversaries. All the animals know not to mess with old Scarecrow, but when he helps a baby crow, they form an unlikely friendship. When the crow grows stronger and flies away, Scarecrow misses his friend through the cold winter but is joyfully reunited with him in the spring. 

The language in this story is simple but poetic and offers opportunities to build vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and talk about the changing seasons. If you love this book as much as I do and are looking to dive a little deeper, this story companion offers questions for discussion and interactive visuals to retell the story. 

Themes: overcoming differences, opening your heart, hope

  • "The Lion and the Bird" by Marianne Dubuc

"The Lion and the Bird" is very similar to "The Scarecrow," offering a wonderful chance to compare and contrast the two stories. In it, a lion rescues a hurt bird who stays with him through the winter, flying away in the spring, then returning the following winter. 

This book is minimalist in its language and illustrations, relying primarily on dialogue. Many pages have no words at all, offering lots of opportunities to describe and infer. 

Themes: acceptance, patience, loyalty

  • "Rita and Ralph's Rotten Day" by Carmen Agra and Pete Oswald

"In two little houses, on two little hills, lived two best friends." Rita and Ralph meet every day to play under the apple tree between their houses. They do their special handshake and play their favorite games, until one day Ralph accidentally throws a rock and hurts his friend Rita. 

Rita and Ralph both have big feelings they have to learn to deal with in order to stay friends. Not only are the illustrations in this book adorable, they're wonderful for drawing attention to non-verbal cues and talking about feelings. Rita and Ralph's argument also creates space for students to share personal narratives about a time they overcame a disagreement with a friend. This book gets bonus points because it is also in Spanish!

Themes: forgiveness, compromise, making amends 

  • "Ollie and Augustus" by Gabriel Evans 

When Ollie starts school, he worries his dog Augustus will be lonely so searches to find him a friend. However, "None of the dogs seemed to understand Augustus' favorite things." 

The amusing illustrations offer lots of opportunities to describe what goes wrong on each of Augustus' playdates and make inferences about what each dog might be thinking. In the end, Augustus is ok, waiting patiently with a hug for Ollie to return from school. 

Themes: it's ok to be different, friends come in all shapes and sizes, love endures even when separated  

  • "The Hug" by Eoin McLaughlin

"The Hug" can be read from the perspective of the hedgehog by starting in the front, or the tortoise by starting in the back. All each animal wants is a hug, but Hedgehog is too prickly, and Tortoise is too hard. 

Both animals are rejected several times before meeting joyfully in the middle. This story is perfect for sequencing, retell and talking about attributes like "hard," and "prickly."

Themes: persistence, there's someone for everyone, the importance of connection

*Note: Eoin McLaughlin's latest, "While We Can't Hug," talks about other ways we can show love too! 

Isn't it amazing it how stories can touch our hearts? I hope you and your little ones enjoy these as much as we have. 

Have a favorite story that has gotten your kids through the year? Share it below! I'd love to hear from you!

Kickstarting Conversation

Saturday, September 26, 2020
When I first started working with middle school social cognition students, I struggled! Our social groups felt forced and heavily prompted. I needed a way to motivate, engage, and make conversation skills more concrete. 

After introducing the Conversation Kickstarter I noticed my students taking more initiative. I was able to fade my verbal prompts and just quietly reinforce. Students were motivated to fill up their Kickstarters all the while maintaining interaction and building conversation skills. It was like the expectations had finally clicked!    

This is the tool that helped me do that. 

The Conversation Kickstarter provides 

  • Reinforcement
  • Visual Cues
  • Data

And the best part is it can be used with preschool through high school. Here is how it works:

Each student gets a copy of the Kickstarter and we review the 5 ways to keep the conversation going:

  • Ask a Question
  • Answer a Question
  • Ask the Same Question
  • Make a Comment
  • Ask a Follow-up Question

For younger students, social questions like these are great for getting the conversation started, while older students may benefit from simply selecting a topic

This tool was designed to be used with dot paint markers, however a highlighter or marker may also work. The important thing is that the mark be quick, not to take the focus off the conversation. It is best the therapist hold the marker, at least in the beginning. 

Once a question is asked, the therapist places a dot on the student's page, next to "Ask a Question." When the question is answered, the therapist then places a dot on that student's page next to "Answer a Question." And off you go! 

Even very young students and non-readers begin to understand the conversation expectations - "Each time I take a turn talking to a friend, I get a stamp." Students enjoy watching their pictures fill up and are motivated to keep the conversation going. 

For readers and older students, the words may be pointed to as a prompt. For example, if there is a lag in the conversation, I may point to "Make a Comment," or "Ask a Follow-up Question" to encourage the student to keep the conversation going in one of the 5 ways. This gestural prompt is so much easier to fade than a verbal one!

Different color dot paint markers may be used for prompted vs. independent responses. You may also choose to use a different color for each topic. This is where the Kickstarter comes in handy for data collection. With one look I can see what percentage of the time my students are maintaining conversation independently or how many exchanges they are making. These simple visuals have been wonderful to share with parents at IEP meetings. 

The Kickstarter is also helpful in looking at how students are keeping the conversation going. Many students are great at asking and answering questions, but often don't reciprocate, comment, or ask follow-up questions. Having this visual reference can guide my goals, as well as providing helpful feedback for my students.

Ok, now I know what you're thinking. That sounds great, but how am I supposed to use this during distance learning? I get it. Pragmatics is one of the hardest things to target remotely! That's why I created this free digital version of the Conversation Kickstarter. 

Now while this digital Kickstarter works a little differently, the concept is the same. Each time the student keeps the conversation going, the therapist drags a soccer ball into the goal. Just one Kickstarter is used for the group, and students work as a team to score. 

Hope you find these tools as helpful as I have. Stay fired up!


Speech Simplified.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

I believe hard things happen in order to bring about a greater good. One silver lining I discovered during shelter in place was the value of SIMPLIFYING. 

Working from home, meant working with what I had. No more scrambling to gather materials between sessions. And eliminating the excess to focus on my students, I actually found a greater sense of calm, despite the turbulent times. 

This got me thinking: How can I continue to keep speech simple when school reopens? 

I'll start by focusing on those tools that give me the most bang for my buck. The ones I can use with multiple groups to target multiple goals throughout the year. Here are my Top 5. 

  • 5-Finger Stories The beauty of this no-prep, all age activity is all you need is your hand! I picked this little gem up at a writer's workshop training and it's been a go-to in my speech room ever since. In a nutshell, students use their 5 fingers to retell a personal narrative by starting at their thumb and telling what their story will be about, adding three details as they touch their next three fingers, then ending at their pinkie with how it made them feel. If you're interested in learning more about this "handy" speech tool I have blog post which goes into more detail here. 

  • Super Simple Story Frames This Summarizing Graphic Organizer from Speech Time Fun follows the 'Someone-Wanted-But-So-Then' framework and can be used to summarize practically any story. I love using it with my older students who are working on using complex sentences. Here is another simple story structure freebie for younger students getting familiar with the parts of a story.
  • Fold & Draw When time allows, story frames can also be created by folding and drawing. These homemade story frames can be used when retelling stories but also work great when recounting a series of steps. Here a student drew and dictated the steps he used in making a cupcake on an iPad app. These are wonderful for sharing with families for continued language practice. 
  • Conversation Kickstarters Believe it or not, I've used this Conversation Kickstarter with preschool through middle school students. And while pragmatics has been one of the most challenging areas to work on during distance learning, we even found a way to adapt with this interactive version. Students practice keeping the conversation going 5 ways - Asking, Answering, and Reciprocating Questions, Making Comments, and Asking Follow-up QuestionsConversation Kickstarters simultaneously offer visual reinforcement for students and data collection for therapists. It's a win-win.

  • Aesop's Fables I can't tell you how much mileage I've gotten out of this ONE book. During distance learning these stories were amazing for targeting inferencing, context clues, making predictions, and finding the main idea with my 3rd through 5th graders. Students enjoyed guessing the moral and talking about what the stories meant to them. I love that the lessons in these 2,500 year old stories are still applicable today. 

Since I'll be starting remotely this year, I like that most of these resources can be used virtually as well. By simplifying, I hope to have more time and energy for the things I love - getting outside, reading, and cooking.  

Has distance learning changed your approach? What are your favorite tools for simplifying? Let me know. I'd love to hear from you!

Stay fired up!

The Amazing 5-Finger Story

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Imagine a speech tool that requires no prep, no materials, and can be used with any age. Welcome to the beauty of the 5-Finger Story. 

In a nutshell, the 5-finger story uses each finger of the hand to retell a personal narrative. Students start by touching their thumb and describing what their story will be about, then move on to the index, middle, and ring fingers as they state 3 supporting details, before ending at the pinky with how it made them feel.

Simple right? But here is why it's AMAZING! With the 5-Finger Story you can . . .

  • Target a variety of goals. From formulating grammatically correct sentences, using descriptive details, fluency, articulation, and even pragmatics, these stories can be adapted to address it all. 
  • Foster connection and community. Kids love sharing! And I love getting a peek into their interests. We often use these stories as a jumping off point for conversation by asking follow up questions and making supportive comments. If you're interested in even more ways to keep the conversation going, check our these free digital and print resources.  
  • Keep students on track. The visual and tactile component of the 5-Finger Story helps students stay on topic. For students who are less verbal, it encourages a longer response, while for students who have a hard time knowing when to stop, it can provide a clear ending point. With only 3 fingers to provide supportive details, these students must focus on the most important ones! 
  • Build emotional vocabulary. Use each story as an opportunity to move beyond "happy." Talk about degrees of emotion, that's it's ok to not feel happy all the time, or find a synonym using this emotion wheel.
  • Create a simple speech routine. Simplifying is the name of the game for me this year. Not to mention my students find comfort in routine as well, which may be why this is one of their most requested activities. We often start our week with a 5-Finger Story about the weekend. It's important to reinforce the story can be about a big or small moment. 

When shelter in place began, and I was scrambling to create an online learning platform, you better believe I pulled this little gem out of my back pocket. Here's a video I made for my students our fist week of distance learning, if you're interested in seeing the 5-Finger Story in action. 

Hope this helps keep you and your students fired up this school year! If you decide to give the 5-Finger Story a try, let me know! I'd love to hear how it goes! 
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