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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