Outside In

outside in

The new Pixar movie, Inside Out, does a fantastic job exploring the inner emotional world of an eleven year old girl.  I knew from the first rumblings of this movie, it would be a social language gold mine!  But what about understanding emotions from the outside in?  For several of my boys that I see, sometimes their outward expressions don’t match their internal emotions, or they don’t give enough clues for the people around them to accurately figure out how they are feeling .

The kids I work with are not all on the spectrum, but all do have language disorders and/or sensory issues.  My social emotional goals for three boys (ages 4-15), have been focused on the language of emotion, far beyond happy and sad.  Per parent report and from my own observations in therapy, sometimes they become overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated, tired and yes, even sad, and shut down.  Head down, arms covering their face, no language.  Sometimes I know the antecedent of the behavior, but a lot of times I don’t.  If I can help them access the language of their feelings, and practice using them outside of these moments, then they have a strategy to pull themselves back together.

funny faces

This week, I picked up the Game “Funny Faces” at a thrift shop (score!) but I don’t follow the instructions to just imitate the facial expressions on the cards.  Instead, we have been labeling emotions and figuring out clues in people’s faces (eyebrows are a biggie!) that tell us how they might be feeling. Speaking of eyebrows, dry erase markers work well on Mr. Potato Head to add angry eyebrows…

Don't make me use my angry eyes!

Angry eyes!

and scared eyebrows…

Summer is half over, I'm scared!!

Summer is half over, I’m scared!!

We also practice matching our expressions to feelings, and use both a mirror and an iPhone camera for feedback.  As you can see, I can scaffold a LOT of social language using this game!

For my little guy who loves books, Karma Wilson’s ‘Bear’ books and Eric Litwin’s ‘Pete the Cat’ series are wonderful resources to work on what a character might be feeling in the story.  I use thought bubble, speech bubble, and heart shaped post -its to encourage my boys to think about what other people might be thinking, saying and feeling. These books also reinforce the idea of perspective and how our words and feelings affect others. I really like Cynthia Rylant’s ‘Henry and Mudge’ series as a resource for early elementary age students to work on social emotional language too.

What other ways do you work on identifying emotions from the outside In?  Share here!

That’s the Ticket!

thats the ticket cover

I came across a packet of tickets at the Dollar Store last week in the teacher section.  They are blank ticket templates for student rewards, but another idea came to mind for me.  Why not use these for reinforcement of social skills that my students are working on, outside of the therapy room?  A dollar for 36 tickets isn’t a bad deal, but over time, it adds up, so I created my own free version and I am happy to share them with you HERE

How can you use these tickets?  I’m glad you asked!  First target a skill, one at a time is PLENTY!  Then meet with the teachers to talk about what the skill looks like (handouts are also a great idea) and give the student’s teachers blank tickets. Once you have teachers on board, prep your students about the tickets and what they mean.

When the teachers/staff see the student using the skill during the day, they can hand them a ticket. This is a fantastic way to collaborate with your gen ed/special ed teachers.  Talk to your special area teachers (P.E., art, music) and include your folks in the cafeteria, library and front office too.  It helps not only the student, but also highlights how other staff are an important part of social language support building wide!  You might see social language support and reinforcement “suddenly” occurring with more than just your student when the people notice how well it works :-)

The student can then bring the tickets to you and you can decide how to reward them. Whichever reinforcer you decide on needs to have a lot of buy in from the student to work.  For example, I am willing to be “taught” the intricacies of how to play Mine Craft for 10 minutes, if that is what motivates my student!! It doesn’t have to cost anything and it definitely doesn’t have to be candy (althougham highly motivated by chocolate).  A few ideas:

  • If you have more than one student using these, put all the completed tickets in a big jar for a week and draw one name for a special treat such as line leader for the day.
  • Talk to mom and dad to see if the reward can be reinforced at home as well with something like 5 minutes of extra technology time ( again, whatever is of value to the student).  This is a great way to reinforce carryover of the target skill at home too.
  • If the student can earn 4 tickets in a month or generalize the skills successfully across 4 settings, then you might consider a bigger reinforce such as a popcorn party, lunch with a favorite teacher (hint: maybe it’s you!), having their ticket posted in a place of honor in the classroom or being the “special guest reader” with a younger class.
  • Consider using this ticket system as part of your data collection portfolio for the student.  Feedback outside of the therapy room is invaluable!
  • Don’t take away tickets.  Positive reinforcement is crucial!

Don’t be surprised if other teachers start asking you about what you are doing with your student and if you think it might work for their classrooms too.  You can just smile and tell them “That’s the ticket”!

Social Skills To Go!

social skills to go

I was chatting with a mom of one of my summer kiddos last week.  She was upset as he was having a rough go in summer camp.  He was getting frustrated, then hitting and pushing the other kids.  My heart went out to her and we talked about how we are working on labeling emotions in therapy, deciding the size of a problem, using words to talk about our feelings, etc..  All that is great, but when real time and emotions collide, sometimes those social skills that are coming together in a therapy session go right out the window.

I was thinking about something that my buddy could take with him to camp to help him remember in those difficult moments what he could do.  It had to be portable, durable, and use clear language for readers.  I came up with a template of cards that could be laminated and hole punched to keep on a ring.  The ring can be connected to a lanyard, a belt loop or even a binder ring in school.

It’s a dual purpose product because it will help adults around the student use consistent language to help kids regulate their social skills in different environments like camp, with a babysitter or on vacation.  The adults may even generalize these skills with other children too. Finally, it gives my kiddos the opportunity to use the tools they have been practicing and build on success with a little visual support.

Here’s what the idea turned into:

photo 2

Cut, laminate, hole punch and put them on the ring!

photo 1

The packet has a black and white option and a color option. There’s also a blank template to customize and make your own cards.

My “Social Skills To Go: What to do when I am frustrated ” is the result and you can get it for FREE HERE  on TPT!   I am working on more Social Skills To Go packets and will post them soon.  Have a social skill you want to see made into a Social Skills To Go?  Leave a comment here!

On the Road Again….

on the road again

I like taking road trips in the summer, especially if it’s somewhere I haven’t been before. Small towns and rolling hills are the essence of Americana to me.  I have an appreciation for road signs and billboards with a sense of humor too.  It’s pretty impressive to make a point in less than 5 seconds among a sea of information along the highways.  One of my favorites I saw this week was a billboard looking for an advertiser that said simply, ” Tall, outdoorsy type seeks a relationship”.  Clever!!

Many of these signs use cultural references, double meanings or inferences to communicate a catchy message.  It got me thinking that for my students with language weakness, specifically my kids with ASD who are very literal, this might be quite tricky. What is intrinsic for typical language learners, needs to be broken down into steps and repeated to build understanding.

My speechie brain is always in gear, so I sat down to create my own billboard activity.  What would the kids need to know?  So I decided to create some billboards as a speech activity in my TPT store HERE .   

clip art from: anniethingspossible.com

clip art from:

This activity includes a model billboard page, 10 billboards to decode and a blank option to create your own. The student has to identify the main idea, what clues led them to that conclusion, the emotions it evokes and who the target audience is.  It’s a great carryover activity for kids to practice while they are on vacation this summer too.  They’ll be on the road to understanding figurative language and inferences on the highway in no time.

What other language ideas do you have for summer time travel for your students?  Share here!

Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know!


This game is an oldie but a goodie!  I took another look at it this month and decided a bit of scrubbing and a few Velcro dots could turn it into a fun way to work on conversational skills and language.  My afterschool kiddos need to move a bit in therapy and this is the perfect solution!

photo 4

For conversation, I start by talking about a picture of a social situation and place it in the middle square (our free space).  We take turns tossing bean bags and if it lands on X, you ask a question about the topic in the picture.  If it lands on O, you make a connecting comment.  You can vary the activity with 2 people in the picture representing an X and O.  When you land on X, you state what the person might be thinking, feeling or saying, and the O represents the other person in the picture.  I use emotion cards to prompt my little guys who are working on developing the language of labeling emotions, expanding way beyond happy and sad!

photo 3

I also used this game to work on description and answering wh questions about an object.  I put a picture on the center square again and we work on describing it by size, color, function, parts, category, etc… with picture prompts on each square. Make sure the pictures aren’t too heavy as the squares won’t spin, although it would be a great opportunity to talk about being flexible and big problems vs. little problems!  As the kids get better with this skill, I can take away the describing prompts and help them internalize these skills.

For answering questions,  I use the same process of putting who, what, where prompts on each square and then fading these cues as they gain confidence!  Predictability is our friend with language, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring!!

Here’s a fun breakfast comprehension activity from the Peachie Speechie  that we used here to work on listening comprehension, categories, labeling, similarities/differences and adjectives!   photo 2

You can generalize all kinds of communication skills using this game: verbs, pronouns, etc..  Tic Tac Toe, now you know!  Share your ideas on how you might use this game here!

Go ahead, you can say the “A” word…


What exactly is the “A” word?   August, of course (what were you thinking?!).  I know, I know, it isn’t even officially summer yet and here I am blabbering on about August!! Take your fingers out of your ears and stop yelling “lalalala!”. Summer is no small luxury; it’s a time of restoration after a crazy year of IEPs, meetings, paperwork, etc. that help SLPs keep our collective sanity.  However, August (or September for my friends up North) doesn’t have to be a bad word!

I used to dread it too, but then I had a shift in perspective.  If I spend a little time (very little) prepping over the summer months, then I can roll into my room with a few cute, color coded file folders and a plan.  That way, when a new IEP magically appears on my desk after I have finished my schedule, no problem.  I have learned the hard way to always start my paper schedule in pencil and when I transition to my computer, add the date on any revisions to keep me sane!  A last-minute, pre-planning advocate meeting on my one free day to set up my physical space?  No tears, just go with the flow.   I try to have a rough idea of what I want on the bulletin board before I leave in May, and since I packed my room up, I have a clean slate to start with.  My theme this year is minimalism…anything pre-2000 is gone (kidding…kind of).

A general idea of themes, if you work in younger grades, works well to plan out the year and themes lend themselves to all kinds of therapy areas.  For older students, getting a feel for the common core in literature and language arts will go a long way in supporting your students. Don’t forget science and social studies, and heck even the language of math can be incorporated into therapy!  My friend Meredith over at Peachie Speechie and Speech Blogs has complied an amazing list of SLP blogs HERE , jam packed with great therapy ideas to align with themes and the core !  If you start thinking of these goals and themes this summer, you can plan what you need for a back to school sale on TPT !

Take a little time to organize games and replace missing pieces. Buy a bunch of plastic sleeves to protect your TPT fabulous finds and store them in labeled binders (by theme, season, type of therapy, alphabetically, whatever makes sense to YOU). Get rid of the unnecessary clutter; if it’s out of date, toss it.  Don’t use it anymore? Donate it to a new SLP (they will be thrilled).  Organize a speechie share and swap for materials and games.  Looking for new(er) games?  Check out thrift stores as you can find gently used or even brand new games (Cariboo anyone?).

So breathe, enjoy the summer ahead and stick your toes in the sand somewhere warm.  August will be here soon enough!   What’s your best summer tip to set you up for success in the next school year?

School’s out, now what?

super summer sleuth

Summer is a fun time and a much-needed break around here, but for some of my students, the downtime is the great unknown.  I have had several conversations with parents about them dreading the break because the routine changes, and for my kids on the spectrum, this rocks their world.  Preparation is the key to success for my friends and my parents are experts on planning!  Here are some things that have worked well to help students with social language challenges (ASD, ADD, anxiety) make a smooth transition into summer:

Prep the kids prior to school ending and plan together so they have an idea of “what comes next”.  You can get a good sense if this talking through the schedule helps or stresses them out, and adjust accordingly!

If you are heading out on vacation to see family, go over pictures and try to connect prior positive experiences for the child. If you are traveling somewhere new, go online together to find out more about where you are headed.  There are many virtual tours and 360 online videos of places from airports to The Louvre!

Summer camps (day or overnight) can also be prepped in advance and toured prior to going to reduce anxiety.  If they are going with friends or returning to familiar counselors, that is helpful too.

Social stories are available on Pinterest for almost every adventure!   Print them out and make a summer notebook with them.

For younger students, continue using a visual schedule over the summer.  For older kids a calendar (paper or iPhone version) will help reduce anxiety and allow you to introduce new activities into a familiar schedule prior to the event.

Downtime is important, so don’t over-schedule your family either. We all need to slow down!

Playdates don’t have to be all day, 30 minutes in the park or at the pool may be plenty to engage with other kids and have a positive, fun experience!  Once you get buy in, then you can extend the time little by little!

Activities with a sensory component are great (swinging, climbing, swimming, cooking) and may help organize and engage the kids more than playing a video game side by side silently.  We want to encourage social interaction with others!

For students who read and write, consider setting up a pen pal with a cousin or family members.  They can email and video chat to talk about their day. It’s a sneaky way to work on conversational turn taking and topic maintenance :-)  You can help kids develop what Michelle Garcia Winner calls “people files”.  Here is my free Super Summer Sleuth activity to work on these skills HERE .

Speaking of MGW, here is a fantastic article to share with anyone, such as camp counselors, babysitters or visiting grandparents, who will be with kids who have social challenges.   It will help them understand why some kids “act like they do” and give them the language from the Think Social program to use for consistency.

Play games together at home.  Winning and losing with grace are hard skills for some kids (and adults)!   Don’t always let your kids win to keep them from melting down, their peers sure won’t do that!  I like this freebie visual on TPT to talk about losing a game.

Take pictures or videos of your summer and share them with your SLP and teachers when you head back to school.  It will help you remember and talk about all the fun you had this summer!