Lights, Camera, Action!



We are crawling towards the last week of school in my county.  When I ask everyone how they are, the response is the same,  “I’m hanging in there” they reply wearily.   There is a light at the end of this school year but we aren’t quite done.   In one of my classrooms I am working with, an amazing resource teacher has used the lesson plans, handouts, videos and activities I have given her to work on 3 areas of social language that her students struggle with including:  whole body listening, humor, and appropriate commenting.  This should frankly be a curriculum in every middle school as far as I am concerned as 99% of students struggle with these skills!

The lessons are finished for this year and this fabulous teacher mentioned how they benefited ALL of her students, not just the students with ASD (hurray!).  As Michelle Garcia Winner so aptly noted, social skills are life skills.   Everyone needs to work on these skills to get along in a world with other people!   The next step was how to wrap up these lessons.   I thought and thought. and came up with a class project (or as it is known in the Post-core-curriculum world, a “cumulative project”).   The students would create a short video on one of the three areas taught this year.  Their target audience would be other students and they would have to not only create the video but demonstrate and apply the skills they have been working on all year.   Jackpot!!  Here is the timeline of the project:



Activity Social area addressed notes
April  28th Video groups/ideas Cooperative work in a group with peers
Team meeting Problem solving
Divide responsibilities Whole Body Listening
Storyboard development Perspective taking, humor
Storyboard development Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
May 5 Develop script Cooperative work in a group
Develop script Problem solving
Develop script Whole body listening
Develop script Perspective taking, humor
Develop script Sharing Ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
May 12 Start filming videos Cooperative work with peers
Filming Problem solving
Filming Perspective taking, humor
Edit Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
edit Whole body listening
May 19 VIDEO SHARE in class Whole body listening, perspective taking
VIDEO SHARE in class Sharing ideas, remarks and opinions appropriately
Class vote/awards Humor

Students will create a short video on one of the three areas of social thinking introduced this Spring




Students will be divided into teams and given the task of creating a  3-5 minute video about one of the three topics above.  The target audience for the video is other students.   Each team will follow the time line for dividing responsibilities, creating storyboards (ideas and pictures that represent the sequence of the video), developing a script, then filming their videos.  The last week of school, the students will show the videos to the class and vote on superlatives:  funniest, most creative, best use of theme, etc..

I am bringing the popcorn and awards for the viewing this week, and can’t wait to see how the videos turned out!  I have a sneaking suspicion that videos made by kids, for kids, will be really effective and I plan on getting permission to use them in other classes around the county.  Happy (almost) summer and I am off to the red carpet….

How have you generalized social skills into your classrooms?



You WILL Be My Friend….or else

Peter Brown's book on friendship

Peter Brown’s book on friendship


The Scholastic Book Fair rolled into my school this week for the last hurrah before summer.   I strolled through the aisles looking for this and that when I found the book, “You Will Be My Friend” by Peter Brown.   I read the title first as “Will You Be My Friend?” but when I looked again, sure enough the title was a command not a request!   This book illustrates the difficulties of figuring out how to make friends, whether you are a beast or a boy.  For a lot of my students with social language weakness, friendship is tricky!

One of my favorite students started a conversation with a new classmate this year.  She recounted that she wanted to be friends with the new girl, so she told her, ” I am just going to warn you, you don’t want to make me mad.”  She felt that she was offering good insight on how to be her friend, just don’t make me mad.  She didn’t consider that starting off a friendship with a perceived threat was not a great first impression.  Yikes.

Lucy, the main character of our story, heads out on a mission one morning to find a new friend in the forest.   She bumbles her way into frog ponds, a giraffe’s breakfast and invades the personal space of a local ostrich.     Lucy’s intentions are good, but she struggles on her quest to find a friend.     The illustrations are beautiful and offer great clues on reading body language, emotion and what other’s might be thinking in the story.   It is filled with fantastic opportunities to talk about social language concepts such as whole body listening, personal space, talking too much and being yourself around others!

I have created a three page activity to go along with the story (factual questions and social thinking questions) here

What books have you used for friendship?




A mom, a teacher and a speech therapist walk into a bar….


Humor is not a one size fits all concept.   For the students I work with, it’s often the way they try to connect with their peers or gain their teacher’s attention.  It’s also one of the things that get them into trouble at school and in the community.  From the eye rolling knock knocks to the more nuanced yo mama jokes,  being funny is a high level skill.  Michelle Garcia Winner describes it beautifully in discussing her Social Town Unthinkable, WasFunnyOnce.   This character gets a random laugh for something they say or do, and then repeats it to everyone’s annoyance over and over again.  We all know this person, don’t we?  We might have even been this person (I apologize sincerely).   This annoying orange video is a great illustration (and a bit creepy).

So how do you know when it’s okay to be funny?   MGW’s  guidelines have three questions to ask:

Is it with the right person/people?  Hanging out with close friends, check, but meeting the Pope? Probably nope.

Is it the right time?   If it’s recess, go for it, but during the middle of a big test?  Not a great idea.

Is it the right place?   Sitting around the table after dinner is okay, but sitting in the Principal’s office? Uh-uh.

I created this free (PDF)  humor powerpoint to use in class with a fifth grader on the spectrum, however, it really benefited everyone in the class.  I have always believed that social skills are a people thing, not an ASD thing.  My kids with ADD, LD, super bright arguers, extroverts, etc. all can use the skill of stopping to think before speaking (heck, most of us adults need to do this too)!  To be fair, this is an ongoing lesson, not a one time instruction.  The subtlety of humor changes as we get older and the pace of social communication gets faster, often leaving our kids who process just a bit behind their peers at a disadvantage.  It is also a good point of discussion to talk about the difference between humor and sarcasm, tone of voice, non-verbal communication and reading your audience for cues as to when they are engaged versus when they are not.

One of the great things about working with kids, especially kids with ASD, is they love to find the loopholes.  My students formerly known as Aspergians take great joy in trying to argue me under the table with exceptions to the rules.  I usually require Tylenol and a nap after these sessions because they are smarter than I am.  However, it opens up interesting discussions on arguing and accepting other people’s opinions even if they don’t agree with yours.  Determining when it’s time to tell a joke or be funny is tricky, but these three questions give the student a pause button to think before acting, and it may be the difference that keeps them out of trouble.


A trashcan full of glitter

glitter trashcan


Sometimes the most unexpected finds make me smile, case in point is my classroom trashcan.    As I was changing out the liners this week, I found the bottom of the can coated in gold glitter.  The more pragmatic me would have rinsed it away, but it was so pretty all I could do was marvel at it for a moment.  It was a tiny gift of pretty in a cinder block kind of day.  It is my birthday, so I am off to enjoy the sunshine and blue skies. I wish for you to find your  trashcan full of glitter today and some joy in the unexpected.

I Wish I Could Be Myself…

I have always had a soft spot for Eric Carle books, and use them frequently in speech therapy.  I stumbled upon a “new” one (for me), The Mixed-Up Chameleon while perusing my school library shelves.  The story follows a hungry little chameleon on his adventure through the zoo.  The chameleon thinks about it’s shortcomings and imagines itself taking on the positive characteristics of the other animals.  But as he ponders himself becoming all the seemingly better creatures on this journey, he isn’t truly any happier.  The chameleon becomes a bizarre patchwork of pieces and parts of each of the zoo animals it imagines until there is nothing left of our poor narrator.  BUT….a tasty fly buzzes by him and prompts, “I wish I could be myself”!  Resolution, self acceptance, the end.

As with most of these deceptively simple stories, there is deeper meaning.  I think about my students who struggle with anchoring themselves in a positive self concept; too short, too tall, too heavy, too smart, too geeky, the list goes on and on.  I am sure at one time or another, we all have wished to be something we are not, something that exists only in the indefinable and unattainable place called “better”.    But what if better  actually resides in the best version of being our self and not in becoming something we are not?  See, I told you this story is deeper than first glance!

I use the chameleon’s adventure to begin discussions with the more comfortable launching point of talking about make-believe stories and creatures, not about the students themselves.  At least not yet.   The story opens up the opportunity for great conversations to start developing (and owning) ideas about what we are good at, our wheelhouse so to speak. This can lead to fabulous side lessons about the difference between confidence and bragging.  As the younger students start connecting the story to their perspective and personal experiences, the light starts to come on.  For my older elementary and  middle schoolers, this is a life skill lesson. Helping them navigate a positive self-image can be treacherous waters when we consider what culture dictates as desirable appearances and behaviors, particularly for girls.  This book is a great tool in helping kids to figure out how to appreciate positive attributes in others, without wishing away the best parts of themselves.

There are lots of fantastic accompanying activities for various age and ability levels   here and here.  There is even a lovely YouTube read aloud version here .

What activities have helped you build a positive self-image in your kids?

What did you do today?

what did you do today blog post image

Sometimes these five seemingly innocuous words breed frustration, silence or worse, “nothing”.  As a parent, being able to connect with your child’s day at school is important.  Not in a “I figured out what I want to be when I grow up”  kind of day, but in a social connection way.  Understanding that people have different experiences and can share them is a powerful idea.  It leads to conversations and connections, both important milestones in communication development.  I don’t need the minutiae of bathroom details, but the meat of the day helps.

It is a tension point sometimes for teachers to add one more thing to their to-do lists, but your speech therapist (or OT or para-pro) can help.   My fellow speechies developed a simple checklist that went home once a week for our group thematic activities.  We would follow a theme calendar and then give feedback on the child’s participation, any verbalizations or new skills we saw (hurray!), things that worked well and things that didn’t go smoothly.  We also had some visuals for their emotional state and room to comment if we figured out new tricks to share with mom and dad.  A quick email from home on a Monday morning about the weekend activities is always helpful too!

For my older students, I often ask them to use their technology to share about their weekends or breaks (instagram pictures are a great prompt…teacher friendly please!) or to help them create personal blogs or storyboards.  They are often doubtful when I suggest sharing these with their families as their perception is that mom and dad won’t care.  Surprise, we do!!

Over breaks and summer, I suggest that my parents to get a cheap flip picture book like this one:  flip book

This one was from Walmart and was less than ten dollars.  You can also find them at Dollar stores for much less and build a library of memory books.  This is an easy way to talk about a vacation or what happened while the student was on break.  It also is a good visual prep for visiting family you don’t see very often (Look, remember when we went to visit your cousins?  We had so much fun swimming at their house!) to reduce anxiety.

For more tech savvy parents, you can use a site like Shutterfly to create permanent photo books for your adventures.   There is also a new app called Steller that you can take a peek at to create visual story telling on your iphone (it  has a save feature for future viewings).   Even Pinterest can be used to create secret boards all about your adventures and can be shared only with who you invite to view it (teachers, grandparents, therapists).    So next time you ask “What did you do today?”, you just might get more than you asked for!

What communication tools work for you?