What’s Yours Like?

Recently, during a class meeting with second grade students, we introduced a spin-off game of What’s Yours Like?.
We played a child friendly version available here on TpT (shameless plug). what's yours like?We played with a second grade class, who was able to play successfully but I wouldn’t recommend playing with students any younger. During the game, there is a “Guess Word” which can be anything from a backpack, to a bike to hair. One student asks the others students “what’s yours like?” in an effort to try to guess the “Guess Word”. Students are to answer truthfully but cleverly. The object of the game is to try to guess the “Guess Word” with the fewest clues possible. For example, if the “Guess Word” was closet, students might describe their closet as “messy”, “cluttered”, “organized”, “empty”, etc. If one were to answer “where I hang my clothes”, the clue would be too obvious and the guesser would be able to easily guess the guess word. The game seems simple enough, but it was definitely a shift for some of the students. Students were used to giving clues so others could make a guess, not offer clues so others wouldn’t be able to guess.

You might think it would be the children with the language difficulties who had the most trouble with this game, but not so. It really was the children with social language challenges. We had been playing several games such as reverse charades and spring taboo (shameless plug number 2), where the students were to give clues so that others could make a guess as to what they were describing. This game requires students give truthful clues while hoping the guesser doesn’t guess correctly. Students with social language difficulties had a hard time demonstrating this flexibility in thinking.

To give an example, one of the target words was shoes. Several of the students described theirs as “worn out”, “broken”, “glittery”, etc. One very bright boy, with social language challenges, described his as “white on the bottom”. He then sat with his feet sticking out (children were in a circle on the carpet) towards the guesser waving his feet at her, hoping that he would provide the clue that elicited the correct answer. Why is this important?

This is important for several reasons. One for those students, who are perceived as bright and achieving well academically, performing in such a manner during this game can look like behavior. It may look a little like a student trying to be the class clown, when in fact, he/she doesn’t understand the game expectations. Two, the other students can become frustrated. As a whole, the class doesn’t want the “guesser” to guess the “guess word” so when it appears that someone is trying to give it away or deliberately provide a clue, the others in the group become annoyed with that student. This can result in the student who is giving the deliberate clue to be hurt and confused. So, what can you do?

For those students who have social language difficulties and may have trouble understanding the concept of giving clues but not wanting someone to guess correctly, you can pre-teach the game and practice in a smaller group setting, time permitting. You may also want to provide a sheet of descriptive words for students to use (included in my What’s Yours Like? game -shameless plug number 3) to help students make accurate yet not obvious descriptions.

So much emphasis is placed on academics and number of instructional minutes in the classroom these days. There seems to be less and less time to “play games” and “have fun” when in fact these types of games (Taboo and What’s Yours LIke? – last shameless plug)  promote problem solving, inferencing, descriptive language, social language, team building and a sense of class community. I think it is important to try and build time into the day, even if only for a few minutes per week to target some of these important skills.

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Games, games and more games

Recently, more and more parents have asked me about the apps I recommend for home. While I use apps with students and find many of them helpful, I don’t really recommend them for home. I have let parents know the apps I have found to be successful, but in general, my recommendations for carryover of speech, language and communication skills are not apps.

What do I recommend for home carryover? Games, games and more games. Games target so many of the skills our children are working on: following directions, giving information, providing explanations, concept development, social interactions, turn taking, problem solving, opportunities for articulation carryover and the list goes on…Depending on the game, math skills and reading fluency could also be targeted. It’s also good quality time for the family. We have many game nights in my family. Ages range from my youngest niece, who is 9 to my mother who probably doesn’t appreciate her age being revealed. We also bring a new board game to almost every holiday. In the summer time we have “game nights” by my brother’s pool. The teenaged boys actually request these nights with the family. Here is a great list of games by the artful parent. I also strongly recommend cranium games. Some favorites in my family also include Last Word which can be scaffolded for different playing levels, Catch Phrase and What’s Yours Like? There are so many games that are great for carryover practice, it would be impossible to list them all. You probably have some in your closet right now. Go take a look.

I know not everyone loves to sit and play board games, but not all games need to be sedentary.  This Easter we launched our first Easter Games (I took first in yo-yo and jump rope, thank you very much). The games we played required establishing teams, negotiating events, keeping score and demonstrating sportsmanship (more on that later). We only had one episode of tears. You can find a list of some old fashioned games for outdoors here. It should finally be nice out this weekend so get out there and play!

Now, a little about sportsmanship. I think (my opinion), that children should participate in games to learn how to win and lose gracefully. In this day and age when everyone “earns” a trophy for participating, it seems that children have a harder time losing. I don’t have any data on hand to back that up, but if I start to track it I’m sure I could. Many children ask me if a game is a winning game or losing game, because they don’t want to play a game that they might lose. While I understand that, being a little competitive myself, I think it’s important for children to learn how to lose. How is that related to speech and language? Social communication. We have observed many a student have a very difficult time losing, to the point that they require adult assistance to pull themselves back together. This does not put one in the best light with peers, socially. The same holds true for the student who is not the most gracious winner. No one loves a ‘sore winner”. In the speech room, you are only allowed to announce “I won!” two times and the winner usually gets to clean up, all in good fun.

I’m not suggesting that games are the only way to carryover speech, language and communication but I do find them to be a powerful and motivating context to practice some of the skills we are targeting. Try setting some time aside this weekend for some family game time if you aren’t  already. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Friday’s Funny – a day late

This week during a first grade lunch group, 4 boys were telling knock knock jokes to each other. The good news: all the boys were participating, all the boys were laughing, everyone was using appropriate language. The bad news: the jokes made no sense whatsoever. So, in my infinite wisdom, I decided the right thing to do was intervene. I suggested to the boys that I write some jokes down on paper and they could read them to each other. I decided I should be direct and honest with the boys. I told them. “Your jokes don’t make any sense”. I was then told by one of the boys “That’s because we’re kids! They’re not supposed to make sense”! And there you have it…schooled by first grade boys on the art of knock knock jokes.

So, the reason I decided to intervene was really about the bigger picture. While it was fine for the boys to be telling nonsense jokes in the smaller setting, I was concerned about how these jokes might translate in the larger school population. They might be fine, but I did want to give them some options that would be a little more mainstream. The boys were open to reading the prepared knock knock jokes and they continued to create their own. I think that’s a good balance…

Co-Treating with the OT

Today is Thursday, which is one of my favorite days of the work week. It’s the day I co-treat with the OT, my friend and colleague Kat Felkner. We run several types of groups together. We run traditional speech/OT type groups, class meetings and lunch groups.

We start most of our groups with a GoNoodle video. GoNoodle is a fun, web-based library of music and movement videos  We project the videos on a large screen in the classroom and students imitate the movements  As students complete the videos they move up in levels. After 10 levels, the class avatar gets a new feature, very exciting! Almost, any student can participate in some capacity. Some of the favorites with our kids include: LMNOP and Popseeko. And yes, we move with the video too!

Today I will focus on our lunch groups, AKA Kids’ Cafe. These groups tend to be very popular, if I do say so myself.  Kat and I are lucky enough to share a classroom, so we are able to run lunch groups in the treatment space. We also have some highly appealing activities which is strongly recommended, especially if you are going to ask first/second graders to give up recess. Our Wii system is popular and even the boys enjoy Just Dance.  We typically have 1-2 targeted students and then rotate peers models through. We have found it works well to have the same peers come for 3-4 weeks in a row (each group meets one time per week) to get an idea of the chemistry between the students. Everyone who has shown interest and has parent permission will have a chance to come at least once. By the end of the year, there is less rotating and the same kids come most of the time.

During Kid’s Cafe, we have the students eat together for a specific amount of time. All students are required to sit for this time. We have found this to work so kids don’t pass up on eating lunch in a rush to get to the fun activities. Of course, no one is required to eat but they do need to remain at the table. We use a few different activities during this “group” time. Currently the boys have been into knock knock jokes. We have been writing jokes on index cards for the kids and they take turns reading them to each other. We also post some fun facts on the board to spark a little conversation. Did you know a shrimp’s heart is in its head?? Curiously enough, whatever fun fact we post, no matter how obscure, the group also seems to have someone who already knew it. Hmmm. The girls have been asking to listen to music during the group time. That usually presents an opportunity to discuss preferences and dislikes.

Once the group time has ended, students are allowed to choose what they would like to do. We have different areas identified around the room. Each area is labeled with a picture and is marked open or closed.

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We have an arts and crafts area, game shelf, toy shelf, kitchen area, movement area (trampoline and scooters) and a video game area.  Sometimes, the kids want to do the same thing every time they come, so like magic we flip the smiley face around on the sign and close that area. I know, sounds cruel, but the kids really honor the signs and are almost always willing to go to another area try something else. As they exercise some flexibility, they sometimes are surprised to find themselves enjoying a new activity. They sometimes discover, somebody else might like the same things they do. Of course we use a visual time to keep track of the play time. When the timer goes off, students clean up and we return them to class.

With all of the demands on classroom teachers for minutes of educational instruction, the lunch group can be an ideal way to service children requiring social/pragmatic language. Typical peers are available, no instruction is missed from class time and no one seems to recognize it as a therapy service. It’s a win, win.

I’ll share more about the other groups we co-treat next week..