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February 29, 2012

iPad App Review - Conversation Builder

 One of my favorite treatment tools is my iPad.  It is so versatile and can be used with almost any child. I have several favorite apps that I find myself using again and again.  One of them is Conversation Builder by Mobile Education Store.  This is an app that I use with my elementary-aged social thinking kiddos who are working on conversation skills. It is an interactive app that leads a child through a "conversation" with another child, allowing them to practice the art of small talk.  Let me tell you how it works.
A photograph is displayed along with a auditory prompt in an adult male voice who says, "How would you start this conversation?"  There are three possible statements or questions that the child may select, which he or she does by touching it.  The same adult voice provides feedback on the selection by either saying, "That's right.  Now let's record it." or something like, "That's an unusual way to start a conversation.  Try again."  After the child selects the correct question or statement, he records himself saying the selected sentence.  He can play it back by touching "Play last recording" and hear himself ask the question or make the statement.  Then the child touches the "next" button to hear a child's voice respond to his question or statement.  The adult voice then asks, "What would you say next?" as three new choices are displayed.  If the child chooses either of the incorrect statements or questions, the adult voice makes a statement about why it wasn't the best choice and prompts the child to try asking a question.  After the child selects the correct response, he again records himself saying the question or statement.  He then touches Next, which prompts the child voice to respond.  Then the child touches the Play Conversation button to hear the entire exchange.

After the exchange ends, you have the options of playing the conversation again,  saving the conversation, or moving on to a new conversation.

Here's what I like about this app:

1.  It is a great way to lead a child through those tricky small talk situations and to practice ways to introduce themselves into a group activity.  The photographs are bright, appealing, and sure to elicit questions and comments.

2.  You can go through the exchanges at your own pace.  You can discuss each option if you'd like, or you can discuss why the less-preferred response doesn't work.

3. You can listen to the recorded responses and discuss things that make the response sound unnatural, like intonation patterns and rate.  You can then practice new ways to say it and re-record.

4.  You can discuss the conversation after you play it back and talk and let the child give you feedback about his role.  And you can provide feedback as well.

5.  You can extend the conversation by asking the child what he might say next, without the use of prompts.

6.  The settings allow you to have flexibility.  There are 4 levels of play:  1 on 1 - 4 sentence exchange, 1 on 1 - 8 sentence exchange, Group - 4 sentence exchange, and Group - 8 Exchange.  You can also choose if the student or the "peer" (i.e. the pre-recorded child's voice) will be the conversation initiator.

7.  The app has 40 conversations in the Standard Conversation Module, which is what you get when you purchase the app.  You can purchase additional modules, such as Animal Themed Conversations, Holidays, Playground Conversations, and Conversations with Friends around Town, in addition to several others.

I highly recommend this app and hope that you find it as useful as I do.  Two thumbs up to our friends at the Mobile Education Store!

February 28, 2012

Mailbox Match Ups Downloads

You're never too old to learn new things, right?  Today I am giving adding downloads to my blog a try.  My son, who is a webpage developer, has rolled his eyes at me more than once during the process of trying to teach me how to convert a Boardmaker file into a PDF, but I can actually do it now!  Baby steps, right?  He calls me a Tech Toddler for a reason!

Update:  Since I first published this post, I've discovered that Boardmaker files can only be shared through the Boardmaker Share website, and can only be accessed by using Boardmaker.  The following files have all been posted to Boardmaker Share.  You can find them all easily by searching for my username:  pamdahm.

I have created several activities to go along with the mailbox theme that I talked about in my last post.  I started with my blank letter template,  which you can download here.
Mailbox Matchup 6 Letter Blank Template

Just make multiple copies on cardstock, cut them out and laminate them.  You can use this template for a variety of different activities.  I made a rhyming activity which you can download at Boardmaker Share.  Just look for my folder called Mailbox Match Ups and browse through the files you want.  Here's one to get you started:  http://www.boardmakershare.com/Activity/1777225/Rhyme-Set-Envelopes-1

Rhyme Set Template

There's a Beginning Letter Sound Set, too.  Download these files at Boardmaker Share as well.  You'll find them in the Mailbox Match Ups folder again, but here's a link to get you started.

Beginning Letter Sound Set

I use Velcro dots to attach the little cards to each envelope, but you could still use these activities without the Velcro.

I also have a set that I'm using with my /r/ carryover kids.  All of these kids are readers, so they just write target words in the boxes on each envelope.  You could use pictures if you wanted to.

You can download these from Boardmaker Share here.

Nice chatting with you!


February 22, 2012

Valentines and Vegetables? Why Not?

This year Valentine's Day happened to occur while our Grocery Store theme was in full swing. So how does one mix Valentines with vegetables?  By adding a Post Office, of course!  Let me explain.

I found these wonderful metal mailboxes in the Target dollar section and bought one for each child on my caseload.  We decorated them with foam hearts and Valentine stickers, which (of course) they earned for saying target words correctly or by completing whatever treatment task fit their needs.  I displayed them together in "The Post Office", which was a cardboard storage box with dividers (ex. a box to store bottles or glasses) laid on its side.

I used my Cricut cutter to make a pile of Valentine notes
for the kids to use to send messages to each other.  I've noticed that the kids in my practice really enjoy knowing that other kids come to "Speech Class", since I work with them one-on-one and they rarely see another child at my office.  I think they are relieved to know that other kids need a little extra help with their talking, too.  Since I started displaying "evidence" of other kids around the room, I have found that the kids will ask questions about the others and make comments about their artwork or props (ex. their mailbox).  Sometimes it gets a little tricky answering their questions due to confidentiality issues, but for the most part, I can usually provide something to satisfy their curiosity.  The bottom line is that they really enjoy interacting with the other kids, even if it is remotely.

The messages we wrote to each other for this activity were riddles.  I had each child choose a person he or she would like to send a message to, and then told them to find an object from the grocery store they would like to make a riddle about.  First we would describe the object by listing its attributes and talking about which category it might belong to.  Next we would talk about when we might eat that item.  Then, together we would compose the riddle.  For my preschool children, I would have the child dictate the riddle to me and I would write it on the note, letting them sign their own name at the bottom.  The older kids enjoyed writing the messages themselves and loved trying to stump the other older kids by creating more difficult riddles.  Here are some examples of the riddles they wrote:

In many cases, the riddles the kids wrote missed important identifying information, which I used for additional teaching moments.  If the receiver of the message needed more information, he or she would need to ask me questions such as "Is it a fruit or a vegetable?" or "What time of day would I eat it?"  After they made a guess to answer the riddle, they wrote their answer on the back side of the note and put it back in the sender's mailbox.  The kids loved receiving mail in their mailboxes and were excited about sending mail to others.  I loved the fact that I could work on a multitude of goals with one simple activity!  We worked on articulation by choosing objects for other kids based on the speech sounds they are working on.  We worked on carryover of speech sounds by including words that started or ended with a target sound in the riddles.  And we worked on describing objects, sentence formulation, processing auditory information, and answering questions.  I will definitely be repeating this activity next year!

Nice chatting with you!


February 17, 2012

Shopping Around


This is my first ever blog post, so please be patient with me as I'm learning the ropes. I have been so inspired by other creative speech pathologist bloggers, that I decided I'd give it a try, too. I know that I have become a better therapist by "borrowing" ideas and materials posted by some fabulously creative professionals to use with my own caseload. It energizes me! So I want to "give back", and share some of my ideas with you. I'm so glad we have the chance to learn from each other, aren't you?

I was thinking about what I would want to share in my first blog post and this is it: Make your treatment sessions more interesting and fun by having a theme. I didn't do this for the first several years of working in my private practice, but since I have, it has made a big difference for both me and my clients. It really isn't that difficult to plan or execute, and with a little creative organization, you can save all your themed activities to use again another year. I use my theme ideas as a starting point and plan several activities that I can use to meet a variety of language and articulation goals. As the weeks progress, I add more activities and tailor them to suit individual needs. We usually get at least a month's worth of activities out of each theme before we get bored. The kids enjoy it when I mix things up and introduce a new theme. They have even given me suggestions about what theme they would like to do next!

For the past two months, my office has been transformed into a grocery store, complete with a cart, a scale, a cash register and shelves of food. Kids of all ages have been "shopping" at my store and learning lots along the way. Here are some of the activities we've done:

Shopping with Shopping Lists

I made several different kinds of lists for kids to use to shop in my store. I used the Boardmaker program from Mayer Johnson to make picture lists of items in the store (see photo). Some lists are just the pictures of the items, and some lists include attributes (ex. round things, crunchy things, long things). For my kids who are working on phonemic awareness, I made lists of things with different beginning letter sounds. For older kids working on language processing skills, I made riddle lists (ex. "Find something creamy that you can eat with a spoon"). For my articulation kids, I made lists with specific sounds. As you can see, this activity can be used with just about any child for a wide variety of goals! And no matter their age, they ALL love shopping!

Categorizing - Separating fruits from vegetables, red fruit from green fruit, things in a can from things in a carton...the list goes on!

Comparing and Contrasting - We used the scale to compare objects to see which was heavier/lighter. This was a great activity for carryover for my kids working on /r/, by the way. We also chose two fruits or two vegetables and talked about how they were alike and different.

I could go on and on, describing all the activities we've done the past few weeks. But to keep things short and sweet, why don't I just give you a list of SOME of the goals I've managed to fit into this unit:

*Vocabulary - this one's self-explanatory; the list is nearly endless!
*Following Directions - from simple to complex, and all the steps in between
*Matching numbers - I put "prices" on canned and boxed food items. When the child "checked out" his/her groceries, he/she pressed the correct numbers on the cash register.
*Pretend Play/Role Play
*Pre-Literacy Skills
*Working Memory Skills
*Answering Wh- Questions
*Money Concepts
* Plurals

I'm sure I'm forgetting plenty of other goals we've addressed. Oh well, you get the point! Grocery Store is always a favorite theme around Small Talk, and it really wasn't very difficult to pull together. All you really need to do is purchase a sturdy child's grocery cart, a cash register and some play food. Most of my purchases came from Lakeshore or Target and have stayed looking good for several years. I also use a lot of wooden toys from Melissa and Doug. I have found that trying to use cardboard boxes from real groceries just doesn't cut it.

I hope this post has inspired you to think creatively when you plan your treatment sessions. 

I look forward to chatting with you again!