Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Switch Adapted Haunted House and Other Halloween Ideas

trick or treat by Colleen McMahon via
When I am working with developmentally delayed students, I am always looking for ways to make age-appropriate activities  Many of my students do not speak, but do have the ability to communicate using some sort of augmentative alternative communication (AAC) such as a one-button switch or a communication device. One of the ways we've been able to incorporate the use of AAC is at our annual Haunted House Party in our school gymnasium. We've been very fortunate to have great community support from local businesses and organizations as well as peer mentors from neighboring high schools. In other words, our haunted house is kind of a big deal for our school.

So, when you want to set up an activity that uses AAC, you have to think of all of the potential communication opportunities that might occur. Halloween is great because it is a social event in which almost all kids participate. I actually thought of an idea while handing out candy in my neighborhood. Wouldn't it be great if kids who didn't speak or who were too shy to speak to have the opportunity to say the obligatory trick or treat and thank you? I get many kids at my doorstep that don't say anything. Some people might take this as the kid being rude or having bad manners, but I see it from a different point of view--maybe they can't communicate very well. I haven't done it yet, but I have considered a two-button switch with trick or treat on one and thank you on the other. So think about it--what are some typical phrases said at Halloween? That's part of the fun.

Okay, now let's get to our AAC equipped haunted house. From a student's point of view, it's a must to record messages either on a communication device that he or she can carry along from station to station.  Or, you can place simple switches at each station with at least trick or treat programmed. We happen to have a bunch of old Superhawks and Cheap Talks at our school. It's been a great way to re-use some older, less techie devices. Another fun way to use these devices is to place them throughout the haunted house with spooky sounds like a witch's cackle or a werewolf's howl. Place them in conspicuous areas so that people come up and push the buttons. Try a sequencer with a bunch of sounds! The kids will love it.

Power Link 3 by Able Net, Inc.
Another cool aspect of Halloween is its huge variety of decorations. Have you ever seen the skeletons that dance when you push a button or when you walk past it? You can hook these up to a PowerLink3 (that's what I have) which allows you to control an electric device with a switch. For example, I've used a Big Mack (with a scary sound programmed) and attached it to a red police light (you know, like a siren). Kids love it because they get both auditory and visual feedback while using a switch for cause and effect. You can use the switch with plug-in jack-o-lanterns too. Really, there's a ton of Halloween decorations that will work.

One of my favorite pieces of technology in our school is the Tap It. If you're not familiar with it, it's a portable touch screen SMART Board. What I've done with this has been a fan favorite for the last few years. I stumbled upon Inclusive Technology's webpage (and apps) and found an AAC activity called "Aunt Maggie's  Recipe".  By the way, this website is awesome for AAC users (that's a whole other blog post)!  Anyway, as people go by, a welcoming boy or girl waves at them. Using the Tap It, students can select worms, eye balls, frog legs, and more to stir into the cauldron. When finished with the potion, they click for the boy to drink the solution and then he changes into a monster and does a silly dance. Really, it's one of my favorite interactive apps. You can, by the way, set it up for switch scanning.

Finally, I couldn't talk about Halloween without mentioning a Jib Jab. It's not necessarily a switch activity, but it is certainly of of the all time favorite activities for my students. The website allows you to insert your face onto dancing bodies. The Halloween ones are great as you can do The Monster Mash or the Halloween Rap among others. Check it out. I guarantee laughter with this website.

How about you? Any creative ideas for using switches? 

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ryan's Speech Therapy Gadgets and Games 2014

Every year, believe it or not, the speech language pathologists in my school district get money to spend on supplies, activities, and games (and some other stuff).  I often see questions posted online about what games to buy when working on specific skills or grade levels.  So, when this time of year comes around, I like to share with others some of the goodies that I purchased with my budget.  Here you go!
  • Jenga Boom -- I'd have to say that Jenga or Tumblin' Tower have been speech therapy favorites ever since my undergraduate days. I used to tape words on each block, but then I realized that became a hassle (okay I procrastinated a lot). You can use Jenga in so many ways in speech therapy. You can have the person give you repetitions and then give a turn. You can use PECS or AAC to request blocks. Really, my students love any games with elements of surprise. I almost always make it a little suspenseful by counting down or giving them fakeouts. 1...2....Wait!....Are you sure you want me to do this?!? Anyway, Jenga Boom looks to give an added surprise by setting a timer to make the blocks fall on their own.
  • Lego Bucket -- Finally! I realized the potential of Legos in speech therapy. I wrote a post awhile back about using Legos for PECS or AAC practice. The $30 Lego bucket comes with mini directions to create quite a few structures. Again, you could have your students earn the pieces as they provide repetitions or you can have them ask or request specific pieces in order to follow the directions. And, you can have them follow written directions. Really, you can get quite creative with using Legos in speech therapy.
  • Superflex: A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum Package -- I'm really excited about this curriculum.  I'm pretty sure I heard about it from Sean Sweeney at a professional development conference.  This program offers an age appropriate way to teach social skills to students using superheroes and villains.  The program is suggested for students in 3rd-5th grade, but I'm going to use this with my moderate cognitive impairment classrooms as well as my autism classrooms.  Superflex takes on villains who display poor social skills (Mean Jean, Topic Twister Meister, Rock Brain, and many others).
  • Jib Jab --  This might be my fifth year of renewing my online subscription to Jib Jab.  It has been one of my favorite websites to use with the SMART Board. You've probably seen it around Christmas time when you can Elf yourself and your friends. This site is highly engaging as you superimpose your students' bodies into funny videos. Occasionally, they'll even have special videos where students can dance with Justin Bieber or as  PSY in Gangam Style. I mostly use this as a PECS activity to make requests.  This is a student favorite at Halloween time!  Some of the videos are free to try out.   Also, check out their Story Bots.  You can create short stories starring you!
  • iPad tripod bracket  -- I'm sad that my Flip Camera is going out of production.  I've switched over to using iMovie on the iPad to record parts of my sessions to show parents and to create video modeling/social stories.  I decided to step it up a notch and improve my production value by getting this for my speech office.  The bracket attaches to a tripod (which I already own).  Generally, I film short clips of students practicing certain skills and then email them to their families or teachers.

So, what are you buying this year?  Please share!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

ChatAble AAC App

The invention of the iPad has changed the way people access augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).  Prior to 2010, AAC devices were dedicated to speech only and were quite cumbersome to program. The iPad opened the door by creating a multidimensional tool for communication and many of these apps were developed for specific tasks: text-to-speech (TTS), voice dictation, and AAC among others.

When deciding on which AAC apps to use, I look at a few areas: creating and editing buttons/pages, vocabulary page sets available, symbol libraries and importing pictures, vocabulary pages/file sharing, scanning features, and the ease of programming for parents and caregivers.

Therapy Box Ltd. is jumping into the grid type AAC app genre with its new ChatAble app. This app joins their already produced Predictable, Scene & Heard, and Mouse Track apps.  It features quite a few options including a variety of display options such as a traditional grid (see picture above right), visual scene displays, and a hybrid display (both grid and visual scene).  The app includes over 12,000 Widget symbols, which are similar to PCS Boardmaker or Symbolstix symbols.

ChatAble Features:
  • 1x1 up to 8x8 grids
  • Three types of page templates
  • Symbols and words are displayed into message box
  • Use with email, sending messages, Twitter, Facebook
  • Pre-loaded pages
  • Scanning ability

Creating and Editing Buttons/Pages
ChatAble is user friendly and passes the can-a-parent-program-this-easily test.  There's nothing fancy about it.  Find the icon in the user hub and add a button to a page or create a new page.  The simple format makes it easy to figure out with a little practice.  The menu allows you to insert pictures, manipulate the text, link to audio (text to speech, iTunes, or recorded audio), and change the appearance of the button.

Vocabulary Page Sets
ChatAble includes a variety of beginner communication pages that feature traditional grids, visual scene displays, and hybrid displays.  These include conversational starters, food/drink, weather, feelings, jokes, and more.  These pages can be easily customized to the user.  For example, I made a Lego page for a student who was working on making requests during a play activity.  Overall, ChatAble gets you started, but it's ultimately up to the user to customize it and make it his or her own.  I'd highly recommend consulting with a licensed speech language pathologist to steer you in the right direction.

Symbol Library/Importing Pictures
ChatAble includes over 12,000 Widget symbols.  This is a great feature for an AAC app.  The symbols easily recognizable and are in the same genre as Mayer Johnson PCS and Symbolstix symbols.  Additionally, you can import your own pictures or take a picture and instantly insert it into the button.

Vocabulary Page/File Sharing
Therapy Box's website offers a couple of grids on their Resource page, which should increase in time.  Many users are limited on time, so this feature will be a big bonus when more boards are added.  I would love to see some core vocabulary pages shared!

Scanning Features
ChatAble has the ability to be used with a Bluetooth switch for those who cannot use direct touch.  The app would be a great way to introduce users to automatic linear scanning (one at a time) or row/column scanning (select the row first then the picture).  You can customize the scanning rate, give auditory cues, and visually highlight the buttons when scanned.

Ease of Programming for Parents and Caregivers
Before programming the ChatAble communication boards, parents and caregivers should consult with a licensed speech language pathologist.  Although ChatAble comes pre-loaded with a handful of vocabulary pages, users will quickly find a need to increase their vocabulary as they become more proficient with the app.

Overall, ChatAble is a nicely designed AAC app.  Its clean and simple design along with its many features makes it visually appealing and user friendly.  ChatAble was well designed by including features that are essential in augmentative and alternative communication.  To learn more about ChatAble, visit their website at

Monday, May 26, 2014

Push-In Speech Therapy Activity for WH Questions

Whole Body Listening Poster by Social Thinking
Recently, I took part in a county-wide speech therapy round-table discussion about caseload trends and therapy approaches.  If you've ever read any of my previous blogs, you might have noticed that I'm a big supporter of push-in speech therapy.  Obviously, you need to consider each student and the severity and type of speech disorder before you make this decision.  I will tell you from experience, though, that by doing push-in speech therapy, you eliminate the walk between your therapy room (closet) and the classroom.  When I do push-in therapy, it is true collaboration with the classroom teacher and staff.  We work on skill building within the curriculum.  Plus, by going in the classroom, you help a lot of other students who need extra help.  I've noticed from other SLPs that they've felt some push back from the teachers, but I can tell you that I have not yet met a teacher who hasn't welcomed (and thanked) me for coming into the classroom.  One of the purposes of my blog is to document and share my ideas as I move along in my career.  This is a push-in activity that works well and keeps the students engaged while working on WH- questions.

Here's my recent schedule of events (30-45 minute session):
Super Duper Ask & Answer WH Bingo
  • Review listening/social language rules.  This covers some of my pragmatic language kids.  We talk about expected behavior during game play (taking turns, raising hands, quiet bodies, good eye contact, body posture, etc.)
  • Phonemic Awareness Warm-up Video/Song (depending on the age of the students).
  • Play WH-Bingo (week 1).  Take turns calling on different students to answer the questions.  Prompt them with the type of answer that is expected.  For example, you might say, "What thing do you wear on your head?" for What? questions.
  • WH- Blurt! (week 2).  I've mentioned Blurt! as being one of my favorite speech therapy games in a previous post.  It's great because it's competitive and there are tons of opportunities for every student.  With Blurt, you put two chairs in the front of the room and ask the two contestants the question.  The first one to answer gets the point.  I'll even match up two AAC users against each other (and sometimes AAC user vs. non-AAC user).
What are your favorite push-in speech therapy games or activities?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

AAC Strategies from the Mid-Michigan AAC Conference 2014 via Tweets

If you ever get a chance to go to an augmentative alternative communication (AAC) professional development/conference, take advantage and go and see what's new in this genre of communication.  Chances are, the technology and information has changed a lot since the last time you went to one of these sessions.  I had the opportunity to attend the Mid-Michigan AAC Conference held in Charlotte, Michigan last week.  So, I thought I'd share with you some of the things I learned.  By the way, if you wonder how Twitter can be useful (beyond posting a status update), you should use it at every conference you attend.  Tweet useful information, pictures, files, websites, apps, and ideas every single time you learn something new.  Instead of taking notes, I tweeted interesting tidbits of information.  Others at the conference used the hash tag #talkingaac (I didn't realize this until the end of the conference).  When you go to a conference, figure out the common hash tag.  Then follow every one of your tweets with it to share with likewise people and your followers.  If you're new to Twitter, then this is a fantastic way to get started!

Here are some interesting things I learned at the conference as viewed by my tweets:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

PBS Kids Games Galore

PBS Kids All Game Topics
People are always looking for ways to supplement academics with fun computer games and apps.  A great resource for educational games is  It's a great website to use during independent computer time or with the whole class on a SMART Board (or Tap It).  I previously mentioned The Electric Company's Website for speech therapy games.  As a result of my search of speech therapy games, I've stumbled upon even more games.  The site itself is arranged by show, but if you search a little further you can actually have the games sorted by academic category.  Being the speech language pathologist that I am, I am particularly interested in any that work on language, vocabulary, phonetics/phonemic awareness, and literacy.  There are so many more categories though.

Here are a few PBS Kids Games that work on language skills:

Skits Cooks - following directions, verbs
Martha Speaks - Catch - 2 choice receptive vocabulary
Super Why Bingo - opposites - vocabulary
Calliou the Cook - food vocabulary
Between the Lions Alphabet Soup - jokes/riddles - missing word
Martha Speaks Scrapbook - verbs -receptive

There are so many games to see.  This is a great resource!
PBS Kids Vocabulary Games

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Push-In Phonemic Awareness and Articulation Activity Idea

If you're like me, then you love finding activities that are engaging, fun, and educational.  As a speech language pathologist, I get to determine which service delivery method is most appropriate for my students.  And, more often than not, I do more push-in therapy than I do individual or small group.  The nice thing about push-in therapy is that it provides the response to intervention (RTI) services that speech language pathologists are often asked to perform.  So, by doing push-in, you are building skills for all kids--even for those who often fall through the cracks.

Alphabet Song by Have Fun Teaching
(Sorry, I couldn't embed the videos on the blog.
Click on one of the links to view them on YouTube.)
A few years ago, our school district installed SMART Boards (interactive white boards) in all of our classrooms.  This was great because it gave me a whole new medium to present to my students.  What I found with SMART Boards was that the kids were 100% focused on me (the board), front and center.  One of my first missions was to get the classrooms to utilize the boards as an opening language/phonics lesson that they could do on a daily basis.  Through time, I made my way through some pretty entertaining YouTube ABC songs.  Some were okay, some were pretty good, and others were really bad.  There are a ton of ABC songs and videos on YouTube.  

Then I stumbled upon a REALLY good video by Have Fun Teaching.  The first one was the Alphabet Song | ABC Song | Phonics Song.  I really liked it because unlike the other ABC songs on YouTube, it was hip, current, and catchy.  The real value was that it was well thought out in terms of being educational and geared toward teaching phonics.  Once I found this then I was really onto something.  This guy (Mark) actually produced individual videos for every letter in the alphabet!  For instance, when watching the video for the letter M, I counted at least 4 measures (or 64 trials) of producing /m/ in isolation.  Then, within the song he added 2 measures (or 8 trials) of /m/ in the initial position of words for 6 words (that's 48 trials if you're not good at math).  He also added in a little multisensory stuff by having the students "air write" the capital and lowercase letters.  Pretty cool if you ask me.  When it was all said and done, /m/ was used at least 112 times!  Talk about repetition and practice!  All in all, they've produced 27 alphabet videos.

But that's not all!  That's right, there's more.  Have Fun Learning has its own webpage and lots and lots more videos that include: Science Songs, Character Songs, Fitness Songs, Shape Songs, Counting Songs, Kindergarten Songs, and much, much more.  Depending on your budget, you can either purchase the videos or songs on their website or you can watch them for free on YouTube.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Legos + PECS (or AAC) = Great Idea!

Free Lego Instructions from
Why in the wide, wide world of sports haven't I thought of this sooner? Using Legos could be a fun, motivating way to practice the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and AAC. Maybe you're saying duh right now because you've been doing this for years, but it took me one spontaneous moment to realize the potential with Legos. I have this kid that desires so much to communicate with others. He gestures and makes noises better than any kid I know. He is so good at gesturing that most people can decipher his stories. We've been stuck trying to get him to utilize his AAC device.  So, I happened to walk in the classroom as he was trying to build some sort of creation out of Legos and a light bulb went off!  I quickly went back to my office and searched for simple Lego instructions, brought it back on my iPad, and propped it up for our activity.

LEGO® Instructions 0503 Basic Building Set

Next, I showed him what we were going to build (a red car) and the types of pieces that we'd needed.  I held onto the bucket of Legos and then he had to make requests for the pieces.  Now, if you do this, you can modify the type of request to add more details.  Obviously, it depends on the level of student you're working with.  We were working on the motor plan of I + want + (color).  The student was highly motivated with the activity (I already knew this since he was busy playing with the Legos to begin with) and completed it proudly.

This activity could be easily done with the PECS too.  You could have a Lego picture to make a simple request for each piece.  Or, you could have a sentence strip for I want + Legos.  And if your student is even more advanced, you could add qualifiers like I want + red + Legos or I want + small + red + Legos.  You get the idea.

After the session, I got a bit excited and filled out a requisition form to order a bucket of Legos to add to my therapy supplies.  Legos can be expensive, but I found a bucket of Legos for $30 on Amazon.  It comes with basic instructions too for a few items.  

Have you used Legos in any other ways for therapy?  What are some of your go to PECS and AAC activities?

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Better Way to Teach AAC to Students

LAMP Words for Life app
How many conferences have you ever gone to and actually come away with a game changing moment of how you teach or do therapy?  It's happened only a few times so far in my ten year career.  The other day I attended one of those sessions that really left a mark in how I should be teaching augmentative and alternative communication:  Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP).  I'm fairly new to the concept of Minspeak even though Dr. Spiegel tried to explain it to me over ten years ago in graduate school. What it took for me to finally figure it out was when I got a new student with an old Prentke Romich Springboard Lite communication device. There's only one way to learn--get your hands dirty. Actually, that would be the best advice I could give to anyone who has a technology aversion.  And, of course, you should attend an official LAMP training.
Proloquo2Go app "Core Vocabulary"

If you've ever seen AAC devices or software, you'll notice that most of them come with some sort of pre-programmed vocabulary. Some have basic templates where you insert simple wants/needs/feelings. Having this option is very helpful especially for time strapped SLPs.  Maybe you've noticed, but the pre-programmed vocabulary in these devices is actually very purposeful. It is called Core Vocabulary. These are words that are most commonly used in our language. So what's the difference between what I used to do versus what I learned at the LAMP conference? It's all about the Core Vocabulary.

Instead of programming buttons and pages and more buttons and pages, using the Core Vocabulary allows users more opportunities for spontaneous, novel communication. So, by using the LAMP method, users learn how to use AAC through repetitive motor movements. The buttons are in the same location every time.  You teach the sequence. Repeat it. Practice it. Make it automatic.

The reason why LAMP had an impact on me is because it gave me a method to teach AAC. You see, I can make my pages look pretty and logical (to me), but they don't mean squat to the student who needs to be told how to navigate to a specific place every time. With this method, you teach the motor planning to get there. For example, the other day I did an activity with two students. One had to ask, "Do you like (a certain food)?" Then, my AAC user had to respond back with either "I like it." or "I don't like it." We repeated this about 25 times. Now, after one session, my AAC user has learned this motor plan to compose this phrase. And, I might add, she does it really quickly now too. It was a really functional activity. The fun part was that we learned a lot about our AAC user than we had ever before. She told us that she didn't like donuts! Who doesn't like donuts?!
myCore by Saltillo

The beauty of this all is that I am at the learning stage of using this method. By using the guide and watching online tutorials, I now have direction when teaching AAC to my students. If you get a chance to go to a LAMP training, I highly recommend it. You can even take it one step further by becoming a local training resource through a mentorship program.

Have you attended the LAMP training? What did you think?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Great Games to Practice PECS

If you're in Autism-world, then you've probably heard of the Picture Exchange Communication System, otherwise known as PECS.  I work with students with cognitive impairments along with speech and language deficits.  Although PECS is generally geared toward students with autism, it can also be very effective with all different types of students.  In a nutshell, PECS is a system in which the user initiates communication using picture cards.  The overall goal is to have the student independently gain the attention of a communication partner and then initiate an interaction either by making a request or by commenting.  I highly recommend formal training through Pyramid as you will get the full understanding of the program.  You can read a little bit more on my PECS page or you can go on YouTube to get a general understanding.

With PECS, it's important to practice with lots and lots of repetition everyday.  An easy way to start is to pick something that is highly motivating with many opportunities to interact.  That means you need games, activities, or snacks with lots of pieces.  Snack time is an easy way because you can get a bowl full of Goldfish crackers and have 30+ turns.  Remember--one of the most important components of using PECS, though, is making sure the activity is highly motivating to the student.  As time has passed, I've come across some games that are proven winners with my students.

Here a few games that I like to use with PECS:

Buckaroo by Milton Bradley

Buckaroo is a saddle stacking game in which players choose various pieces of equipment to put onto the back of the prospector's mule.  You can begin by keeping all of the pieces and having the student make requests with a single "Buckaroo" card or you can have cards for each piece to make choices.  Kids love this game because of the element of surprise.  If you get too many pieces on him or wiggle just too much, then he'll buck.  If he bucks, you're out of luck!

Pop-Up-Pirate is another game with many opportunities to practice PECS.  This time students can request a sword or a color.  As the student progresses, then you can add the color qualifier to the request.  "I want the yellow sword."  This game also has an element of surprise.  Every time you insert a sword, you never know if the pirate is going to pop out.  I always make this game very suspenseful with a lot of drama and fake outs.  Kids love the over emphasis.  1-2-3 BOOM!

My other favorites include KerplunkJenga, and Tumblin' Monkeys.

Do you have any fun PECS games or activities?  I would love to hear some new ideas!

Friday, February 14, 2014

AAC Bingo Activity and Ideas

Over the past few years, I've gotten quite a few augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users. While there are many different devices and software out there (my students included), almost all communication devices are set up similarly (there are definitely exceptions). But, for the sake of this blog post, let's say that your users have page sets with various vocabulary, expressions, and personal information (likes/dislikes, wants/needs, vital information).  The nice thing about most communication devices (apps/programs/software) is that they have pre-programmed pages.  So, what's the hard part for teachers?  Getting students to turn on their devices and use them functionally during classroom discussions and activities.  My job is to show, teach, and collaborate with the classroom staff on how to program and actually use the communication devices.  If you've ever programmed even just one, then you know how time consuming this can be.  So, what I thought I'd do is share with you some ideas on how to incorporate AAC into an activity.

Print 'N Play by Mayer Johnson
One of the vocabulary games that I see (and play) often in the classroom is Bingo.  I bought the Mayer Johnson Print 'N Play Games which works along with Boardmaker.  The nice thing is that I don't really have to create any boards and that most communication devices already have these PCS symbols or other similar ones.  Don't forget to check Boardmaker Achieve (formerly Boardmaker Share) or Pinterest.   There's a ton of free stuff like this on there!  What's great about Bingo is that the entire class can play.

So, how do AAC users come into play?  
Let them be the Bingo caller!  
Depending on the level of the student, I do this in one of two ways:
SMART Notebook
  • One-button switch users--For these students, I'd either use a Step-by-Step Switch or a Bluetooth Super Switch. Using a Step-by-Step Switch is fairly simple.  All you do is record every vocabulary word.  Then have the student placed in front of the room and prompt them to "call" the Bingo words.  Now, if you're talented, you can use a one-button Bluetooth Super Switch paired with a computer that is hooked up to the SMART Board.  I do this one often because it's both very visual and there is an auditory component (it sounds like the Price is Right wheel).  To do this, you hover the cursor over the "select" button and make the switch a mouse click.  Obviously, you'd have to have a SMART Board (and a Bluetooth Super Switch) to do this.  If you do have SMART Notebook, then you can search for "random image chooser" in the gallery.  You can drag and drop pictures quickly into it.  (If you don't have SMART Notebook, try the free online version SMART Notebook Express.  Here's the Winter Bingo file to download beforehand.)
  • AAC device users--This provides a lot of repetition for finding the correct page and locating the vocabulary word.  Of course, you'd want to set it up to the user's level--meaning, you might only have one page available (e.g. Bingo page).  For more advanced users, you could have them navigate each time to the word.  I've done this with students using Proloquo2Go app, Prentke Romich software, GoTalk Now app, The Grid 2 software, and Tobii software.  Again, you could either provide them with the prompt (which word to select for the class) or you could let them randomly choose the words.  It really depends on the student.  If you were really savvy, you could even make a scene page using the actual bingo board and make hot spots for each picture.  
Playing Bingo isn't just about saying or locating the words.  Think of all of the social pieces of playing the game.  What else do people say?  How about the Bingo caller?  All right everyone,  does anyone have four in a row? Anybody getting close to a Bingo?  We've got a Bingo!  Get creative and make it fun!  
Do you have any activities or games that you use to get your AAC users involved?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Using Podcasts in Speech Therapy
I don't think I've always been so techie.  I guess when I look back in time I did go to computer camp in 1985 with Mr. Linson.  I did have an Atari 2600 with a keyboard.  My dad had a Tandy 2000 (yeah, that was a computer brand) and it came with a super sweet dot matrix printer that my brother and I used to use Print Shop to make banners to hang up around the house.  The funny thing is, now, I still own a Dell computer with a 3 1/2" floppy drive (What's that?) and I still proudly use a dumb phone.  Yet, here I am teaching and informing people about technology. Luckily for me, my school district is beyond generous in its ability to provide students and staff the technology tools they need to succeed.  I think my curiosity with technology continues to evolve as we have entered a new stage of technology:  Web 2.0.  The funny thing about that term is that it's probably already outdated.  In a nutshell, Web 2.0 is a newer version of the internet and how we interact and collaborate.  The old internet was a one-way street--you visited website, read information, and used it accordingly.  Now, with Web 2.0, it's all about collaboration, sharing, and interacting with one another.  
The Print Shop by Broderbund

Now you're probably thinking, "Wasn't this supposed to be about using podcasts in speech therapy?"  Yeah..yeah, I'm almost there.  Anyway, I took two courses in Educational Technology (highly recommended) and learned about new ways to use the web to create projects with students (much like my old Print Shop activities from computer camp).  One of the tools that I learned about was using podcasts.  When I started to learn about podcasts, I quickly found out that people listened to them for entertainment, education, and leisure.  Then it hit me--I can use podcasts as a tool to get students to record, reflect, and improve their speech and language skills!

It took some time to figure out how to record into my computer and then upload them onto a podcasting website.  It helps if you like to sit at a computer 24/7.  If you're not like me, however, you can figure it out by watching tutorials on YouTube or other websites.  That's the technical part you need to learn.  I know that sounded way too easy.  Hey, you have to figure out some of it on your own!  The real meat and potatoes of using podcasts as a tool in speech therapy is to figure out how you are going to use podcasts in speech therapy.  Man, I'm good!

So, how can you use podcasts?  How about for articulation in connected speech?  Speech fluency.  Reading fluency.  Prosody.  Phrasing.  Rate of speech.  Conversational skills.  Volume control.  Topic maintenance.  Topic shifting.  Turn taking.  Self-reflection.  Self-correction.  Recording language samples.  Documenting stuttering moments.  Keep thinking.  There's more!

I really like the podcast format because it's current.  It's age appropriate. It's interesting.  If you let the students take the lead on the topic, then you've got buy-in.  For instance, I had a rather quiet high school student with moderate speech articulation errors in connected speech who didn't really participate much with his speech therapists.  (Hey, he was in high school and he wasn't really motivated to go to speech therapy.)  So I asked him what he liked.  Zombies.  I knew absolutely nothing about zombies.  This was perfect because he could tell me everything about zombies.  Guess who was excited to create his very own podcast about zombies?  Hook, line, and sinker!  We recorded at least four podcasts about zombie rules and zombie survival skills.  We even spent two to three sessions coming up with an intro to our podcast using Hells Bells and Thriller as our theme songs.  Get creative!  Recite poetry.  Tell jokes.  Read lines from Shakespeare.  Do a product review.  Interview guests.

Pointers for creating podcasts:
Free Podcasts
  • Download some podcasts to listen to for fun.  Explore and see what they sound like.  If you have a smart phone/iPhone/ tablet/iPad (anything that I don't personally own), you can download them and listen at your leisure.  I do have a school issued iPad, by the way, which is how I do it.  
  • It will take time, but you can download Audacity (and Lame for Audacity) and learn how to use it.  It looks very technical, but with a little patience (and YouTube tutorials), you'll get the gist of it.  I haven't done it yet, but you can also record in the Garage Band app.
  • Practice recording tracks on your own.  My first project was reading a chapter at a time from my Educational Technology book for my class.  I played around until it made sense.
  • Write a general script/outline.  Interview your student.  Have the student interview you.  Pre-write the questions.  You know those dumb questionnaires that are always floating around on Facebook?  Print one of those off and ask questions.
  • Find a free podcasting site.   I use Podbean.  It's free.  There are others out there.  Most of them are fairly cheap.  But if you want to practice without paying, try Podbean.  
  • Keep confidentiality in mind.  That's a big one.  Obviously, you shouldn't post anything online without permission from the person/family.  My former student gave me permission to post our podcasts (see below), but if you didn't want to actually post them, you could send them home via their mp3 players (I know that's outdated) so that they could share with their families.
Here are a couple our podcasts (with permission given to me by my former student):

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fat Cat Snappy Chat

Fat Cat Snappy Chat
by Point-and-Read, Inc.
I have no idea how I stumbled upon this app, but I've found it to be quite humorous and age appropriate for some of my students.  Fat Cat Snappy Chat is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app that gives users opportunities to communicate common (and sometimes funny) greetings, questions, and responses.  Ideally, this is the type of app that you'd want to use with an iPhone or iPod Touch, but you could also utilize it with an iPad. The messages, for the most part, are how kids actually talk. 
What's happenin'? Get out of here! C'mon, you can tell! Chill out! OMG!  Who cares! Seriously! Like,whatever! Hello?!

You know what I like the most about it?  It's age appropriate. The kids using this app require some basic reading ability, but could learn the buttons pretty quickly even if their skills were too low.  

So here's the gist of it:

  • Fat Cat Snappy Chat features 160 phrases that focus on casual language for kids.
  • Users can quickly "snap" phrases to participate in everyday social communication.
  • The phrases can be sent as text messages (instant messenger), SMS text, and even Tweets.
As a disclaimer, there are a few phrases that might be a little "older" for some kids.  Words like poopy and booger make appearances.  The app features parental controls so that you can adjust it to the user's liking.

Believe it or not, I use this app with a student who happens to be very verbal.  He struggles to code shift with his peers and often talks very formally.  After playing around with this app, I've seen him independently use some of these phrases very appropriately with his peers!  We've used it many times to differentiate how you talk to peers versus adults.  It's been very effective so far!  Hey, for $.99 it's worth a try!  
I'm outta here!  Later.  Gotta run.