Monday, November 26, 2012

Keeping Age Appropriateness with Students

There's one thing for sure--kids, no matter their ability, should be treated with dignity and respect.  It becomes increasingly more difficult, however, when you have older students with cognitive and developmental disabilities.  This holds true with students who may be in regular education classes, but display other disabilities.  It should go without saying, but I think it is important to repeat.  Students should be treated just like their peers no matter what their disabilities are.

It's taken me time, but I do see how Barney & Friends can be educational.  I have three kids under six years old and they enjoy it.  I, myself, am just old enough to have missed the Barney craze as I was raised with Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, and the Electric Company.  It really irks me though when I see Barney used as a theme or as a supplement to teach manners or social skills to older kids.  What's really tough is when you have a student with autism that has been attached to a character his whole life and now it is no longer age appropriate.  I can't say I have the answer to that one, but I can say that there are alternatives such as transitioning it into something more appropriate.  Lucky for you--there are lots of resources out there for finding age appropriate games and activities.

If you're stuck on characters for your games and activities, consider researching and finding ones that are liked by others in the same age group.  You could do a Google search or you could go right to the source and find some kids.  I have a couple of go-to sites that narrows the search by age, subject matter, media type, and common core standards.

Much of what I do applies to both classroom teachers and speech language pathologists.  As always, it might take some flexibility and creativity to work it into what you're already doing.  I tend to use technology for a couple of reasons.  First, the resources are limitless if you know how to find them.  Second, kids love SMART Boards, iPads, computers, and other technology. I use these to supplement curriculum vocabulary, content support, visual examples, interactive activities/manipulation, following directions, and showing experiments to name a few.

Here are a few of my favorite sites that you can find age appropriate activities including videos, interactive games, and other great information.

Common Sense  Media is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide kids and families trustworthy information and education in the media world.  The site ranks games, apps, movies, tv shows, websites, books, and more.   Most of the media is rated by both adults and kids.   They rank the educational value, positive messages, positive role models, violence & scariness, sexy stuff, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs & smoking.  That pretty much covers what adults are looking at before introducing it to kids.

Here's what I really like.  I'm always getting asked by teachers, parents, kids, and anybody else about which apps are best for this or that.  "Do you know of any apps for middle school language?" or "I'm looking for a math app for my middle schooler, but I don't want it to be to baby like."  Common Sense Media has a feature called Learning Products Quick Finder where you can choose the age (2-17yrs), category (apps, games, websites), subject (language & reading, math, science, social studies, arts, and hobbies), and skill (thinking & reasoning, creativity, self-direction, emotional development, communication, collaboration, responsibility & ethics, tech skills, and health & fitness).  Follow them on Twitter for up to date information @CommonSenseNews.

These three sites are similar in that they've taken out the middle man and have already sorted and categorized the media for you.  All you have to do is search and select your areas of interest.

If you're an educator, then you've probably heard of Discovery United Streaming.  This website is a collection of educational media resources for different age groups and subject matter aligned with core curriculum standards.  Included are curriculum resources such as a lesson plan library, weekly thematic focuses, and even professional development.  This website does require a subscription.  You should check with your school because it is likely that they subscribe to this service.  This site is a major step up from YouTube.  If you're thinking of looking something up on YouTube, try Discovery Education or one of the following websites.   Follow them @DiscoveryEd on Twitter.

PBS Learning Media is another great site for finding age appropriate activities for students.  Again, you can narrow a search by age group, and media type.  I probably stumbled upon this site searching for some Bill Nye "The Science Guy" videos to supplement some weather activities for my severe cognitive impaired students.  Being that PBS caters to kids as young as pre-school, you can find activities for all age groups.  PBS Learning Media also provides documents, audio files, images, videos, and interactive media.  It's amazing to find activities that supplement what you're doing in the classroom.  I found one that you have to find the right clothing for different types of weather called Gerald's Weather Wheel.  What's great about PBS Learning Media is that it is free.  You do have to sign up for an account.  I love this website and use it all of the time to search for age appropriate games and activities for students of all abilities.  Go on there and search your current subject to see what appears.  Follow them @PBSLrnMedia on Twitter for more information.

Watch Know Learn is another great site to supplement classroom activities with videos.  These videos are taken from various sites such as YouTube and TeacherTube and are organized by age group, subject, and common core standards.  This site along with the others that I mentioned above are great ways to find age appropriate materials.  Follow them @WatchKnowLearn on Twitter for up to date information.

Hopefully, this will give you some ideas of where to look for age appropriate activities.  Get creative.  Think of ways you could incorporate interactives, videos, and games into your lessons.  

This blog post is also posted as a guest post on  Be sure to visit their website for innovative ideas, resources, and employment opportunities.  Follow them @PediaStaff on Twitter for more information.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Happy Place

Have you ever been to a funeral of a person that you've never met?  Well, I just did--on purpose.  It was a clown funeral.  Yes, you read that right.  I can't really explain it, but if you know me then maybe it would make sense.  I'm 36 years old and I went to a clown funeral and it was probably the best funeral that I've ever been to.

When I was a kid, I used to go home after school and plop on the couch to watch a show called Happy's Place.  I think that as a kid I was mesmerized by talented entertainers. When I say talented, I mean jugglers, unicyclers, dancers, magicians, and stunt performers.  Just the other day I was showing kids videos of Felix Baumgartner and Evel Knievel   Creativity is an art form.   When you're able to creatively draw kids to you, then you have an opportunity to teach.

At the life celebration, several people spoke about Mike Fry (aka Happy the Hobo) and how he influenced them.  Here was a guy whose self proclaimed job wasn't to be a clown or inventor, but to "make smiles".  It touched home for me.  Life really is all about the people and relationships you build.

What made me drive nearly 4 hours to go to the life celebration of a man that I've never met?  It had to be his energy.  His message.  And his positive outlook on life.  
Wake up and have fun.  When you have fun, kids have fun.  I guess my reasoning for writing this post is that without even realizing it, I was influenced by a person whose mission in life was to make people smile.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Survey Says: Engage Your Students with Vocabulary Games

The idea of push in wasn't really a choice for me when I took my first job as a speech language pathologist out of graduate school.  I like to think that the school district that I worked for in Colorado was ahead of the game by using speech therapists as actual "teachers" and co-teachers.  Put it this way--instead of 20 minutes once or twice a week in a cramped speech therapy space--I got to work with the same group of students for two hours per day for five days a week.  That's unreal!  Guess what?  I had to figure out ways to "do speech" for those kids as a whole group.  That experience changed how I work with students in schools today.  Of course you will always have the kids that need individual intensive therapy.  If they need it, then they get it.  Let me also say that many of the kids with speech therapy services in high school have likely had them since elementary school.  With that said, many of them are tired of "going to speech".  

Okay, what's next?  Where do I get my material?  First off, my best resource is the classroom teacher.  Why reinvent the proverbial wheel when the class is already working on something.  I like to call myself a "skill builder".  I come in and supplement what the teacher is already doing--vocabulary, paragraph writing, character maps, and so on.  Ask your classroom teachers for their lists of vocabulary and try to adapt some of these games to fit their needs.

These are my 3 favorite vocabulary games to play with a whole group:
Blurt! is a game that I stumbled upon in an old therapy 
materials closet.  The game cards have brief definitions of words (two per side).  One side is easy and the other is more difficult.  I like the game because it supports what I teach the kids in regards to defining words.  It states the category, descriptors, and examples.  Like most games, you have to adapt it so that the entire class can play.  I usually divide the class into two teams.  Sometimes I play the game with only the cards themselves, but other times I add in curriculum vocabulary directly from the classroom teacher.  I previously talked about how learning vocabulary The Crucible can be (i.e. boring) for students (especially boys, in my case).  When you add a game component, it suddenly becomes fun.  It's a hidden trick.  Don't tell them.  To spice up the look of the game, I make scoreboard on the SMART Board using a real scoreboard (Google Images) from a favorite team (usually the Detroit Tigers for us).  In SMART Notebook, you can search "scoreboard" and import it on top of your picture.

Most people have heard of Scattergories.  This is a fun way to get the entire class involved in another game format. If you remember the official rules, you have about two minutes to come up with one answer for twelve categories in about two minutes (and to add to the difficulty all of the answers have to start with the same letter).  Well, if you know "speech and language" kids like I do, then you know that this task is very difficult.  I throw all rules out the window and make up my own.  The biggest change that I make is taking the time limit away.  I present one category at a time and then walk around the classroom with a pad of sticky notes in my hand to write down words if anyone has difficulty spelling.  If a student needs help, I provide them with the type of prompting required.  I tell the kids that spelling doesn't count, so long as they know what they wrote.  I work with a wide variety of skill levels and some students need more assistance than others.  I've even got students that use communication apps on their iPads.  If I have kids with communication devices, I make sure that I pick words from their vocabulary files.  You can either buy the game and use the cards or you can find just about any list of categories online or in speech therapy language books.  We use copies of the answer form, but you can easily just have the kids number their papers to ten.
Here are the rules in a nutshell:

  1. Write one word for each category.  You want to try and make your answer uniquely different from the other students.
  2. If you have the same answer as someone else, then cross it off.  If you are the only one with the answer, then you circle it and you get a point.
  3. The person with the most points at the end wins!
*You can score each round one at a time at first.  I usually do this for the first couple of categories and then I transition to doing six rounds (i.e. halftime) before we go over the answers.

Family Feud
There are several ways to play Family Feud.  This is most definitely a class favorite.  Believe it or not, there are so many ways to get the game.  Here's how you can get it:

I'd personally suggest one of the online versions to play.  The Powerpoint template is good if you want to personalize it to something specific.  For example, I did one for Huck Finn vocabulary and comprehension questions.  It went well.  It did, however, take me forever to figure it out and make sure that it ran well.  You can probably find templates out there if you look--maybe in SMART Exchange or Boardmaker Share.  The only caveat of playing the game is that you don't know what questions you'll get.  That makes it interesting and also makes you think quick on your feet.  We usually pause the game to give no time limit.  If the computer wins the face off, then we pause and brainstorm all of our possibilities if we get the chance to steal.  I also like Family Feud because many of the questions open up opportunities to solve everyday problems.  Overall, it's a great language game to play with students in lieu of paper and pencil tasks.  

On a side note, you can play the computer version and project it on a SMART Board.  You can also use an iPad and travel around to each student and let them type in the answers (word prediction feature included).  Sometimes I use a document camera to quickly project the screen on the SMART Board.  Get creative.  Think of ways to have the students involved and interactive.

*By the way, I play this game at nursing home facilities too.  They still love Richard Dawson.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Very Visual Vocabulary

If you are like me or like my students, learning vocabulary can be tedious and boring.  Have I said that before?  Boring.  Fresh off of a conference called Dynamic Vocabulary Instruction in Secondary Classrooms by Dr. Anita L. Archer, my confidence in what I do with my students was reconfirmed.  In a nutshell, she spoke about engaging the students and providing "student-friendly" explanations of vocabulary.  I must say that she was the queen of classroom management and keeping the students engaged.  She was able to use techniques to get the students to think for themselves, stay on-task, and actively participate.  Her techniques also gave students time to work with partners and give each student the opportunity to develop answers, which puts the kibosh on that one student that always answers every question.

I'm a big proponent of using visualizations when learning vocabulary such as real pictures and student drawn illustrations.  After introducing the word and introducing the meaning of the word comes the time to illustrate the word with examples.  Dr. Archer suggested using concrete examples, visual examples, and verbal examples for checking comprehension.  With that said, I'd like to show you a few websites/activities that are both engaging and a great way to illustrate vocabulary.

Shahi is a visual dictionary that pairs definitions of words with images from Flickr, Google, and Yahoo.  The free online dictionary uses some sort of fancy, special formula to bring out the definition plus images using Princeton University's Wordnet, Wiktionary (a wiki-based open content dictionary), and Flickr (plus Google & Yahoo).  However they do it, it's pretty cool.  Another neat feature is that it keeps a running log of the words you look up.  So if you type in your 10 vocabulary words, they'll be on the same page to view.  As with anything you look up on the web, you should be wary of inappropriate pictures when you use online sites.  You should be careful and pre-screen your words just in case.  I hardly have any issues, but it's always good to err on the side of caution.

Tag Galaxy 
Tag Galaxy is another great way to put pictures to words.  It's a very visual way to present pictures to students using Flickr photos.  If you don't know what Flickr is, it's a social photo sharing website.  Basically, you post any of your pictures and then tag them with any associations that the picture may have. You can leave your pictures out there for anyone to use or you can have copyright restrictions if you'd like.      .

Well, Tag Galaxy takes it to the next "galaxy" by allowing users to search a term or "tag".  What's really cool is that you can continue to travel through the galaxy by narrowing your search.  This is great for a couple of reasons. First, it teaches students how to improve their searches using the internet.  And second, it provides words that are similar (i.e. synonyms).  For example, after doing a lesson on Felix Baumgartner, we searched the term "skydiver".  We narrowed our search by adding the tags "parachutist" and "skydiving". Once you find your desired result, you click on the planet.  After clicking on a planet, a disco ball-like planet appears with your photos intact.  You can rotate the planet to view more photos and click on individual photos to enlarge the view.  This would be really cool on a SMART Board.

Many people have heard about or seen Wordle.  It's a super creative visual way of displaying ideas.  There are limitless possibilities on how to use this, but I'll tell you a couple that relate to vocabulary.  In order to use Wordle, you need to compile a list of words (or tags).  You could do this as a classroom activity or with just one student.  Think of synonyms, examples, and associations.  Have the students brainstorm and write as many words that they can that they associate with the term.  Do this as a class or have each student pick one vocabulary word and then have them present it to the others.  Print them all off and copy a packet of vocabulary Wordles for each student.  The other way that I use Wordle is to have the students look up the words on various websites.  You can use a variety of online dictionaries or wikipages.  Copy the text from that page into the Wordle and see what appears.  As a side note, the more the word appears, the more prominent it will be in the Wordle.  I would suggest typing the vocabulary word many more times just to add an emphasis on your Wordle (see my example below).  The result is pretty cool.  You'll see a great visualization of your vocabulary!  If you want to try something really cool, then copy and paste a student's essay into Wordle.  It will immediately visualize the entire paper!

Tagxedo is just like Wordle, but with different options.  You can actually put your words into a shape.  Not only can you use one of their shapes (heart, cloud, Lincoln's head, & etc.), you can actually import any picture and make your words take the shape of the picture.  Another feature is the ability to insert a webpage's URL and Tagxedo will automatically import the words to make the picture (see the example below from using  Another addition to Tagxedo is the ability to hover over each word with a mouse pointer (or on a SMARTBoard) to highlight and emphasize a particular word.  

Get creative!  Think of how you might have your students create and demonstrate vocabulary.  Think of how you could use it across subject matter like science or social studies.  Have the students create these instead of copying down definitions.  I can tell you from experience that you'll have much more engagement and participation from students when you use creative visual examples.