8 Steps to Making Friends

How to Make Friends

“I don’t have any friends!” “No one likes me!” Have you ever heard a student say these words? Did it absolutely break your heart? It’s broken mine.

As I began researching this topic, it became evident to me that many people don’t know how to make friends, and I am not just talking about people with Autism or Social Language Disorders. I was talking to my best friend the other day about her (typically developing) son who is having a hard time finding a group of friends at school. I asked her if she has tried teaching him how to make friends and she said “I don’t know how to make friends; it is just something that happens.”

Now that got me thinking.

Is making friends something that just happens naturally? Or is there a magic formula that will bring you success?

I think it is a little bit of both. When you make friends naturally, you do follow a certain set of steps. So, I think it is reasonable to assume that if people who do not make friends naturally follow these steps, they should be able to make friends. Or at the very least, they have a better shot at it than if they went into it blindly.

After doing some research, I simplified this extremely complicated process into 8 simple steps. I feel like these steps help students with social language difficulties break down this skill into pieces that they can manage, which leads them to greater success. Each skill builds on each other, so that students start by learning a simple and concrete task and keep learning new skills until they understand the steps to making a new friend. So, what are these 8 steps you ask? Read on and find out.

Step 1: Smile and Say Hello

Do you agree that making a good first impression is the first step to making a new friend? “Surely people aren’t that shallow!”, you say.

If that is what you are thinking, I hate to break it to you, but you are wrong.

There is research that suggests we begin to make our first impressions of people in less than a second of meeting someone new. LESS THAN A SECOND, people. That is a really scary thought because I know that deep in your heart you know that your babies who struggle with social skills don’t usually make good first impressions.

It is a cruel and vicious cycle, but we can give these students a leg up by teaching them about the importance of first impressions and by teaching them how to make polite greetings. That is why the first step is practicing something as simple as smiling, and saying hello.

Step 2: Be Polite

Being polite. Are you cringing at the thought of trying to teach this? I kind of am.

I will be honest, this is not a skill that your students will learn, master, and use overnight. This will take weeks, months, probably years of you gently pointing out and explaining rude behaviors to students. They probably don’t mean to be rude. They probably don’t even realize they are being rude, but nevertheless that is how their actions come across. So how do we begin to teach this skill? We teach what it means to be polite like we would any other vocabulary word. Then, as we see or hear about specific situations, we use them as teaching moments.

Step 3: Find Common Interests

We find it easier to talk to people with whom we have things in common. I know for me, when I meet someone who is a teacher, an SLP, or anyone in the education field, I have an instant connection with them and we have lots of potential conversation topics. This is because we share the common interest of education. The more common interests we share with someone, the more likely it is that we will be that person’s friend.

When teaching your students how to find interests they share with others, first help them identify their own interests. After that, teach them how to ask other people about their interests. After they have learned how to ask others about their interests, help your students continue practicing these skills until they are proficient at finding shared interests with others.

Step 4: Listen and Ask Questions

Watch yourself the next time you have a conversation with someone.

Is your first impulse to sit back, listen, and ask questions? Or is it to find a way to relate the other person’s comments back to yourself? If you said listen and ask questions, good for you! There are good listeners out there, but many of us (myself included) have a tendency to want to primarily speak about ourselves. Our kiddos with social language deficits really have a tendency to monopolize a conversation by talking about their specific interests.

We need to clearly explain this step to our students. They need to understand why it is important to ask questions to their communication partners and they need to be made aware of the times that they are monopolizing the conversation. We need to be teaching them how to ask good, strong “wh” questions and how to sit and listen to the persons response, then ask another good “wh” question. They will also need to be frequently reminded to not ask many yes/no questions and try and not comment about themselves or bring the conversation immediately back to their interests.

Step 5: Spend Time Together

This is the step when true friendships are made.

Good friends spend time together. It has often been my experience that the more time I spend with someone, the better friends we become. In fact, this step can be someone’s saving grace if they made a bad first impression. When we spend time together, we get to know each other better and it becomes easier to talk to them.

Help your students think of ways they can spend time together using the interests they share with their friends. For example, if your student identified that a shared interest is playing video games, the time spent together could be playing video games at the other persons house.

One word of caution-not every parent will want their child spending time at other people’s houses. Not every student will feel comfortable hanging out with their friends outside of school. So, as you are thinking of ways that students can spend time with their friends, make sure that you are also helping them brainstorm ways they can spend time with their friends at school (or wherever it is that they met this friend).

Step 6: Resolve Disagreements

Disagreements are a part of human nature; we know this.

What many of our students with Autism or social language disorders don’t know, is how to resolve those disagreements in a way that benefits both parties. This is why resolving disagreements is step six in my how to make friends guide.

I explain to my students that if they don’t resolve their disagreements properly, they won’t keep the friends they have worked so hard to make. After all, no one wants to be in a friendship where they don’t feel heard. I explain to my students what a compromise is and then I give them scenarios of disagreements for them to practice resolving. In my structured speech therapy room, they usually can identify a good compromise pretty quickly. The challenging part is using these strategies in real life.

Step 7 is similar to step 6, but it takes it a little bit further. I don’t just want my students to learn how to compromise, I want them to learn how to make a sincere apology.

Many times, our students just want to say “sorry” and walk away from the person whose feelings they have hurt, but in my opinion, these apologies are not adequate.

I explain to my students that there are two important pieces of a good apology.

  1. Say sorry for the specific situation (preferably using the other person’s name).
  2. Make a plan so it won’t happen again.

So, if Johnny spills his drink on Maria’s project, he should say something along these lines. “Maria, I am sorry I spilled my water on your project. Next time, I will make sure that my drink is far away from your work.”

  Step 8: Be Patient and Keep Trying

Oh, step eight. This is the hardest step of them all.

As adults, we logically know we will not be friends with everyone and this step is still excruciatingly hard. After all, if someone doesn’t want to be our friend, it feels as if you have been personally rejected.

I am pretty sure that many of our students actually expect everyone to be their friend. Actually, I think we are guilty of teaching them this when they are very young. While I DO think it is appropriate to encourage everyone to be friends, I KNOW the reality is the opposite. This harsh reality needs to be gently explained to our students. *Insert nervous emoji*

So, how do I teach this painfully difficult lesson? I explain that making friends takes time. I explain that they might need to do all of these steps many times before making a friend. I explain that the more time you spend with someone, the more likely they are to become a friend. I explain that the more shared interests you have, the easier it is to become someone’s friend. Then I explain that even if you do all these things, you still will not be everyone’s friend. I explain that that this is normal. I remind them to be patient and keep trying. Eventually they will find a friend.

After I have explained this, I give my students authentic scenarios they might encounter in the real world and we walk through ways to handle them together. This is not pleasant and should be presented carefully and with an attitude of kindness, but I do think it is necessary.  Here are a couple of sample scenarios:

  1. You try to sit in a certain seat in the cafeteria, but the people sitting by that seat tell you it is saved. What would be the best thing to say and do?
  2. You ask your friend to be your partner for the group project, but he/she wants to work with another group. What would be the best thing to say and do?
  3. You text your friend asking about going to a movie, but he/she never responds. What would be the best thing to say and do?

As with step six, students can usually give an appropriate answer shortly after we begin these discussions. However, when they face these situations in real life, I have found my students to be deeply hurt and sad. Honestly, I feel that way too in some of these situations. It is important to keep an eye out for situations like this your student might be experiencing so that you can go back and talk about them later.

Self Analysis

One more thing that I like my students to do is participate in a friendship self-analysis. I have created a worksheet that reviews the steps and I use it to help my students see how they are doing at following these strategies outside of the speech room.

Making Friends Social Story and Companion Activities

Making friends social story
Click the image above if you would like to see more of this social story about making friends.

Friends, I know we are all insanely busy, so if you are struggling with teaching friendship skills to some of your students, I would love for you to check out this resource. It is a social story about making friends using these 8 steps. There are also companion activities that go along with the story, so that your students can practice the skills that they have learned. If you are interested in learning more, please click the picture above and it will take you to it!

Oral Narratives In Speech Therapy

Oral Narratives and speech therapy

We need to talk and I want to be 100% honest with you.  I am not an expert Speech-Language Pathologist. There are many, many things I don’t know.

Phew! *Wipes brow* Serious moment done! Now that you know that I will NEVER pretend to be anything I am not; we can talk about narratives and their role in speech therapy.

The reason I need you to know I am not an expert SLP is because I used to know nothing about teaching narratives. I didn’t even know I should be working on them! I discovered their importance while reading some reviews on The Informed SLP. (Seriously-click that link to check it out, it might just change your speechie life.)

Why Should I be Working on Oral Narratives in Speech Therapy?

I am so glad you asked! As it turns out, there are quite a few reasons you should be working on narratives, but for this post I am going to focus on the three that stood out to me.

  1. The first reason is that when you work on narrative skills, there is evidence that suggests that other language skills may improve simultaneously. My understanding is that the trick here is not to get caught up in perfecting the “microstructure” of stories, but instead to focus on improving students understanding of the “macrostructure”. (In case you need a little refresher, when I say microstructure, I am talking about things like grammar, vocabulary, syntax, etc. When I say macrostructure, I am referring to the bigger story elements such as the character, setting, problem, and solution.) 
  2. Do you know what else gets better when you work on oral narrative skills? WRITING SKILLS! We know that we need to be working on writing skills in therapy (after all, writing is written language). But typically, we only have about 30 minutes at a time to get our speech business done and, oh my word, writing takes FOREVER. It almost feels like a waste of a session when you spend the entire 30 minutes helping each of the four students in your mixed group write two, maybe three sentences. I’m just saying, if the people who know more about these things than me say that when you work on oral narratives it also helps with writing skills, I think we should be giving it a try. I am all about efficiency, and what is more efficient than working on two things at once?
  3. According to ASHA, storytelling deficits are indicative of pragmatic language disorders. (Click the link here if you want to read what ASHA has to say). So working on oral narratives not only helps students with receptive and expressive and writing deficits, but it ALSO helps with social language disorders?! That is like working on four things at once! If working on two things is efficient, what does that make working on four things?

How Do Oral Narrative Skills Develop?

As it turns out, narrative skills actually begin to develop when children are very young. (As I began researching this topic, I read this article that showed me that my two-year-old son is already learning narrative skills!) When we are talking about how narrative skills develop, it gets pretty complex really quickly. I am not even going to attempt to break down the complexity of these development skills, but I am going to tell you the basic hierarchy I developed that I think makes a good starting point for your everyday speech therapist.

  1. Retelling Stories About Familiar Routines: In the first stage, children are talking about familiar routines. Since they have done these things before, they have an easier time sequencing and organizing the story.
  2. Retelling Past Personal Experiences: In the second stage students begin to tell a story that actually happened to them. It requires students to pull an event from their long-term memory and sequencing skills might deteriorate slightly.
  3. Retelling a Fictional Story: The next step is having your students retell a fictional story. This is best done with stories that have easy to identify characters, settings, problems, and solutions. In this stage, students must now rely more heavily on sequencing skills and short-term memory skills.
  4. Creating a Fictional Story: Students begin creating their own fictional stories in the final stage. This is the most complex stage because it requires students to have an understanding of story elements, sequencing skills, and they must also rely heavily on both their long term and short-term memory to create a story that makes sense.

How Do I Work on Oral Narratives in Speech Therapy?

Now for the moment you have all been waiting for! (Cue the drum roll in your head) It is time to talk about how we can target narrative skills in speech therapy!

  1. Target sequencing skills. Many students who struggle with storytelling skills have a hard time organizing a story into a logical structure, so we need to be making sure our students are proficient in this skill.
  2. Teach the main story elements (macro elements). Again, you can make this much more complicated, but for your average SLP, I personally think targeting the basic story elements (character, setting, problem, and solution) are a good starting point when you are trying to target macro elements. I would suggest helping your students get really proficient at identifying these and then moving onto more complicated story elements, if you think it is necessary.
  3. Help your students identify the main idea. Often times when students struggle with narratives, they have a hard time getting to the point of the story. They get wrapped up in details and never really tell us what they wanted to say in the first place. Helping them learn to weed out the main idea from the details will help them tell more stream lined stories.
  4. Help your students make personal connections to the story. This is the basic stage of making inferences. When students feel connected to the characters in the story, it makes it easier for them to make emotional inferences. This is especially important to work on with students who have Autism or pragmatic language disorders.
  5. Practice making inferences about the emotional states of the characters. This is the more advanced stage of making inferences. It is known that students with Autism struggle with understanding the emotional states of characters in stories, so the more you can practice this, the better. A great way to introduce this skills is by showing a picture that shows an emotion and helping your students make a story about the picture.
  6. Pre-teach Tier 2 Vocabulary: If students are retelling a story, make sure they understand the important Tier 2 Vocabulary.
  7. Practice, practice, practice. Practice retelling stories until they are securely stored in long term memory. Each time a student retells a story, it should get better. The story should become more fluid and other language elements such as sequencing, grammar, and vocabulary should improve.

Speech Therapy Oral Narrative Interactive Notebook

Speech Therapy Oral Narrative Interactive Notebook
This interactive notebook activity contains everything you need to target oral narratives using the strategies listed above.

Now that I have told you everything I think you need to know to start tackling those narrative goals, I want to tell you about this interactive notebook I created to help me work on narrative skills with my caseload. It will help you target each of those 7 areas that I listed above in one beautifully curated speech therapy session. Here is how it works.

  • Students will practice their narrative skills by creating an interactive notebook.
  • Print off the activity pages and assemble them using the instructions I have given you in the download.
  • As students create their notebook, they will be practicing using sequencing skills, identifying story elements, finding the main idea, making inferences, and practicing some Tier 2 Vocabulary.
  • By creating a notebook, students have all the resources they need to go back and practice retelling the stories they have already created in the notebook. This repetition is paramount for improvement in storytelling skills.
  • The activities in the notebook build in complexity using the hierarchy I listed above. You can practice each level as much as your students need until they are ready to move to the next section.

If you are interested in learning more about this notebook, click the picture below and it will take you to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store!

Speech Therapy Oral Narrative Interactive Notebook Product Cover
Click the image above if you would like to learn more about this Speech Therapy Oral Narrative Interactive Notebook

Articles About Narratives and Speech Therapy

Click the links below if you are interested in reading more about narratives and speech therapy!

 Adolf, S. M., McLeod, A. N., & Leftwich, B. (2014, April 14). Structured narrative retell instruction for young children from low socioeconomic backgrounds: A preliminary study of feasibility. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00391/full#h9

Gillam, S. L., Olszewski, A., Squires, K., Wolfe, K., Slocum, T., & Gillam, R. B. (2018, April 5). Improving Narrative Production in Children With Language Disorders: An Early-Stage Efficacy Study of a Narrative Intervention Program. Retrieved from https://pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/2017_LSHSS-17-0047

Spencer, T. D., & Petersen, D. B. (2018, July). Bridging Oral and Written Language: An Oral Narrative Language Intervention Study With Writing Outcomes. Retrieved from https://pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0030

Westerveld, M. F., & Roberts, J. M. (2017, October). The Oral Narrative Comprehension and Production Abilities of Verbal Preschoolers on the Autism Spectrum. Retrieved from https://pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/2017_LSHSS-17-0003

How do you like to work on narratives?

Leave a your favorite narrative strategies in the comments so we can all get some fresh ideas!

If you enjoyed this blog post, please pin one of these images to Pinterest!

Activities to Teach Body Parts

It doesn’t matter if you are a parent, a preschool teacher, an early interventionist, or a speech-language pathologist, you know the importance of teaching body parts. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), children should be able to identify a few body parts between the age of 1-2 years.

Maybe your student still needs to learn body parts, or maybe you are wanting to reinforce some emerging skills, but if you have landed on this page it is because you are searching for some ideas to teach body parts…so let’s dig in!

Books For Teaching Body Parts

Like any speech therapist, I love using books to introduce/teach/practice new vocabulary. For body parts, my favorite book is “Toes, Ears, and Nose” by Marion Dane Bauer and Karen Katz.

Toes, Ears, and Nose book
“Toes, Ears, and Nose” lift the flap book, written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Karen Katz.

To turn this book into an interactive lesson for my little learners, I like to print out pictures of each body part featured in the book using a program like Boardmaker or Symbolstix. As we read the book, I help my students match the printed image to the picture in the book. This works on matching two non-identical pictures and helps my kiddos stay engaged while we are reading. I have yet to meet a kid who didn’t like ripping apart two pieces of Velcro.

Body Part Book Activity
“Toes, Ears, and Nose” body part picture matching activity.

Songs for Teaching Body Parts

I am sure we all like to use Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes as our song companion when we teach body parts. So today, instead of recommending a new song, I would like to suggest a YouTube channel.  If you haven’t already discovered the YouTube channel Cocomelon, I would strongly encourage you to watch some of their videos. I love these videos because the characters have great facial expressions and use really good nonverbal language. I also like that they take traditional songs and put a new spin on them. Here is their version of Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes if you would like to check it out.

Cocomelon Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes YouTube Video

Engaging Activities for Teaching Body Parts

Activity #1: I can’t take credit for this first activity. I have seen it a few times on social media, but its such a genius activity that I wanted to share it here, just in case you haven’t seen it.

Body Part Band Aid Activity
Band-aid body part activity

You will need band aids and a stuffed animal or doll, that’s it. Pretend that your toy has gotten hurt and needs a band aid, then help your student put a bandage on the hurt body part. I mean, what kid doesn’t love playing with band aids? And what teacher doesn’t like working on pretend play skills, body part vocabulary, and following directions at the same time? That sounds like a win-win scenario if I’ve ever heard one.

Activity #2: Preschoolers + Play Dough = True Love, #amiright?

Body Part Play Dough Smash Mat
Body Part Smash Mat Activity

For this next activity I used my play dough smash mats from the Body Part Activity Packet I created on Teachers Pay Teachers. Your students can have fun smashing out their favorite colored play dough while you are teaching vocabulary and following directions. Fun and multitasking? Another win for the teacher.

Activity #3: Sensory Bins. So you may not want to do this one if you really hate cleaning up messes…but if a little mess doesn’t bother you and you want to take a multi sensory approach to your lesson, give this one a try. And hey, you can always have your students practice those functional cleaning skills when you are done.

Body Part Sensory Bin Activity
Body Part Sensory Bin Activity

For this activity you will need a container and a filler and pictures of the body parts you want to practice. Dry rice, dry beans, dry pasta, pom poms, and cotton balls are all common fillers. For the container, lot of teachers like to use empty supply boxes or food storage containers. You can also use a clothes pin or tweezers to grab the pictures out of the bin for a fun fine motor challenge. To create these images, I have used the matching picture-to-picture worksheet that is included in my Body Part Activity Packet.

All your students have to do is find the picture in the filler and practice matching them to their counter parts. Burying the picture under the filler for a little scavenger hunt is extra fun-but again, messy. I especially love this activity for learners who have limited language abilities.

Activity #4: Slap the picture.

Body Part Vocabulary Activity
Body Part Slap the Vocabulary Picture Activity

For this activity you will need images of the vocabulary you are wanting to teach and something to hit the picture. I like to laminate the picture and use these little suction hammer things to grab it. I got my hammers as part of another game, but you can use a fly swatter, a pointer, or students can use their hands. You can do this activity individually, or students can compete against each other.

Activity #5: Sentence Builder

Body Part Sentence Builder Activity
Sentence Builder Activity

For this activity you will need a mirror and some picture cards to use as a visual cue. Students find a body part while looking in a mirror, then make the sentence “I see my _____.” I’ll even give you bonus points if you make silly faces while you look in the mirror. 😉

We have reached the end of this post and I truly hope you have found some activities you can take with you as you teach your students about body parts. If you would like to see these activities and more like them, check out my Body Part Activity Packet on Teachers Pay Teachers by clicking the image below.

Body Part Activity Packet Cover
Click the image to check out this Body Part Activity Packet on Teachers Pay Teachers!

References: One to Two Years. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/12/

Nonverbal Speech Therapy Homework Activities

Nonverbal Speech Therapy Homework Calendar
Homework Activities for Nonverbal Students for the Entire Year

I was sitting in an IEP meeting and a cold dread started seeping from my throat to my toes. I was terrified of what I was going to say to the parents sitting across from me. They were desperate for their son to talk- so desperate, that our meeting was solely focused on that one topic. As the paid speech and language expert in the room, it was my job to help them.

To help this family I needed to do three things:

  1. Help them understand the severity of their son’s disorder. SPOILER ALERT: I failed. (But that is a story for another time.)
  2. Inspire their confidence in my ability to help their son. I would like to think we made some progress in this area by the end of the school year, but lets be honest, I know we will never be best buds.
  3. Help them help their son at home. SECOND SPOILER: I would like to think I was successful, but I was not efficient… keep reading to find out what happened.

Let’s go back to that IEP meeting. The parents wanted their son to talk, so they were requesting more speech time. I increased his speech time at school, but I knew that this little boy needed help outside of school too. His parents were already trying to help him at home but they didn’t have a strategy and frankly, they weren’t using good techniques. I really wanted to help this little boy and his family, but as a school SLP I had limited contact with the caregivers outside of IEP meetings.

The mother and I exchanged email addresses, and each week I told her the goals we were targeting in speech and ways that she could practice them at home. Trying to teach her how to facilitate a language rich environment through email was tedious. I kept thinking to myself “There has to be a better way to give this family home practice activities.” I hoped there might be some sort of homework calendar for nonverbal students on Teachers Pay Teachers, but the only homework calendars I could find required the student to have expressive language skills. Since this boy had very limited expressive language skills, none of those resources would work for me.

I spent all school year thinking about this problem. I spent all school year thinking about how I could do this better. I wanted something that I could easily print and give to the parents of nonverbal and limited verbal students that would help them practice language skills at home. I wanted something that could be used for every nonverbal preschool, PPCD, kindergarten and early intervention student on my caseload. I wanted something that would get me through the entire school year. I wanted something that would teach caregivers how to work on language skills using everyday items.

Since nothing like that existed…I created it. It was my first big project on Teachers Pay Teachers and y’all, it took me F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I sat down and made my first draft and put it up for sale. It was awful, but someone purchased it.  That person then promptly gave me a well-deserved, terrible review. (If that person ever reads this, I am so sorry you bought that.)

But I still felt strongly about this project so I called my grandmother and asked for her help. My grandmother is a well experienced teacher, and I knew she would have some wisdom for me. We hashed a new plan for my calendar and my grandmother agreed to be my editor. I slowly churned out each month until the calendar I have today was completed. I was so happy when that dang thing was finished!

My Nonverbal Speech Therapy Homework Calendar

Each week focuses on common areas of weakness and 2-3 skills are targeted each week. It also very loosely follows the kindergarten curriculum of the district I worked in. I did this so that my students could practice the vocabulary they were learning at school, at home. Most of the activities can be completed using items people probably have at home, but there is a shopping list that should be sent home with the caregivers at the beginning of the month so they can make sure they have everything they need on hand. Each activity is then explained using basic vocabulary and tells the caregivers what skills are being practiced during any given activity. As the educator, all you have to do is print off the calendar and companion activities and send them home.

Even though all that stuff I just mentioned is great, I think the best part is that no expressive language abilities are needed to complete any of the activities in the calendar.  

So now you are asking, “Can you tell me more about this calendar?” Honestly, I could talk about this calendar for days, but I think the preview, product description, and free sample do a better job of showing you what is included in the resource. Just click on the image below if you want to learn more!

Year Long Nonverbal Speech Therapy Language homework activities

One more thing…my sweet friend Kaitlyn (aka The Stay at Home Teacher) created a blog post about the resources she uses with daughter as part of their home school-preschool routine. She mentions this calendar and several other resources that would be helpful to speech language pathologists, special education teachers, and early interventionists. If you want to read more about these resources, click here!

How to Teach Tone of Voice: In 4 Easy Steps

If you have ever wondered how to teach tone of voice, you are not alone. I have been there, sitting across from a boy who has confusion written across his face, as I try and explain that yes, saying I’m sorry is usually a good thing, but that it was his tone of voice that made his teacher upset.

Have you been there? Can you see that student? Do you want to help this child, but have no idea where to begin? I have been there too, and I can tell you what I would do to try and help this boy.

  1. Introduce the topic:

Reading passages are a great way to introduce a new topic. They educate the student about the topic and introduce new vocabulary. It’s a great way for students to warm up their mind to receive the knowledge they are going to be taught. I also love reading passages because they are versatile for mixed groups. All students can benefit from additional reading practice and it is easy to use reading passages to target articulation skills as well.

I use two reading passages. One passage explains what tone of voice is and why it is important. The second one teaches students how to listen for changes in tone of voice. I also give my students a short quiz to reinforce their understanding of the passage. As an extra bonus, the quiz also gives them a chance to practice reading comprehension skills.

2. Learn the vocabulary.

The topic of tone of voice requires knowledge of two types of vocabulary. The first type is emotional vocabulary. Students must have a strong foundational knowledge of emotions before they can be successful with tone of voice. And I am not just talking about basic emotions. I am talking about complex emotions such as embarrassed, frustrated, or disappointed. (You can read more about teaching complex emotions by clicking here).

The second type of vocabulary relates to the changes in tone of voice. These are words like “rate”, “pitch”, “emphasis”, “prolong”, and “volume”.

The following YouTube videos provide good examples of the following vocabulary words:

Pitch & Volume:

                After you watch this video practice talking in louder and softer volumes and higher and lower pitches.

Emphasis & Prolongation:

After you watch this video, help your students identify why Rachel prolonged certain words while she was talking to Joey and which words Rachel and Monica were putting emphasis on.

                Rate:

                Use this video to discuss Elliot’s rate of speech, why you think she is talking fast, and how it effects the communicative message.

3. Learn to listen.

Before students can interpret tone of voice, they must learn to listen for it. At this point I would have my students listen to the same word, pronounced with several different emotions/tones. For example, you could use the word “no” and say it with a happy tone, a sad tone, a frustrated tone, and an embarrassed tone. Using audio clips that do not show other non-verbal cues, such as facial expression, will help your students to practice only using their listening skills. Many similar emotions also have similar tones, which can be difficult to identify without knowing context or seeing body language, so I would focus less on identifying the correct emotion, and more on picking out the tonal differences in each word.

I use a worksheet to guide my students through the listening process. The worksheet helps students identify the rate, pitch, volume, and any emphasis’ or prolongations the speaker used to convey the emotion. You can continue to practice this skill using a variety of words and sentences until your students are proficient at listening for the tonal differences in a communicative message.

4. Practice identifying emotions based on tone:

The next step in the process is probably the trickiest-learning to listen to a speaker’s tone of voice and interpret the communicative message. Here are a few activities you can use to practice this skill:

Watch Video Clips: The first time you play the video, don’t let your students watch the characters, instead, have them practice listening only to the tone of voice. I would have my students complete a guided listening worksheet to help them through this process and to help them guess which emotion they think is being portrayed.  After they have listened without watching, allow them to watch the video and discuss how it is easier to understand the communicative message when you can see the speaker’s body and facial expressions. You can use these video clips below to get you started.

How I Met Your Mother: Marshall’s Dad Died (Sad)

Star Wars: “Luke I Am Your Father” (Anger, Disbelief)

The Devil Wears Prada: “You Think This Has Nothing To Do With You” (Annoyed)

Titanic: “I’m The King of The Word” (Excited)

Barrier Games: Practice identifying tone of voice when you cannot see your partner. You can do this by having the student sit with his or her back to you (or another student). One student is given two cups. One cup contains a word or sentence, the other cup has emotion words. The student draws one card from each cup and must say the word or sentence using the emotion that they drew. The other student must guess the correct emotion.

Teaching Tone of Voice Activity

There you have it! Four steps to teaching tone of voice. It looks easy enough in writing, but we know how challenging this skill is to teach. If you would like a little extra help, check out my resource on tone of voice by clicking HERE. It contains reading passages, audio clips, guided listening worksheets, and activities to help you get started.

Tone of Voice Activity Packet

What tricks do you use to teach tone of voice? Please share in the comments below so that everyone can learn something new!

6 Steps to Teaching Empathy



Part II: Empathy

How do you define empathy? I mean, really, take a second and try to put words to it. When I first sat down and tried to define empathy, the first thing I felt was an emotion. I know what empathy feels like, but a definition with words took a little more thought. After doing some research and reflection, this is the definition I settled on:

“Empathy is the ability to imagine a situation that another person is experiencing as if it is happening to you.”

Ok, so now we have a definition, but how do we help our students apply meaning to that definition? How do we help them to generate that feeling that we feel when think about empathy? How do we teach them WHY it is important to be empathetic in the first place?

These are the steps I use to answer those questions:

  1. Like we discussed in Part One, we first start by teaching about emotions, particularly the more complex emotions. (If you want to read more about teaching complex emotions click here.) However, since we already talked about emotions, lets focus our thoughts on the next steps.
  2. I always enjoy trying to find an engaging activity to introduce a new skill. To introduce empathy, I might do this using a video. The Disney Pixar Shorts are a really good way to do this. There is not much distracting dialogue, so you can really take the time to emphasize the characters and how their body language gives you a clue as to how they might be feeling. If time allows, I would allow my students to watch the video through once in its entirety to absorb the message. Then, we would go back and pause the video to discuss each new emotion. If you have already been practicing emotions, hopefully your students will be doing well with this.
  3. If you have been working on emotions using my strategies, then you know that first we need to focus on teaching our students to identify their own emotions. After our students can identify their own emotions, we begin practicing taking someone else’s perspective and imagining how a situation might make the other person feel. This is the beginning of teaching someone to be empathetic.
  4. But we don’t just want our students to understand empathy, we want our students to actually express empathy! Expression of empathy is what develops friendships and inclusion in social situations. I teach this by giving my students a list of scenarios. An example scenario might be “What would you want someone to do or say for you if you were hurt or sick?” We could talk about how we like it when someone asks if we aren’t feeling well, or that we appreciate it when someone makes us a special food or gives us a hug when we are sad.
  5. Once we have talked about what we like others to do or say when we are experiencing a particular feeling or emotion, we make a plan regarding what we could say or do to express empathy when we observe someone else experiencing that feeling or emotion. I will give you a hint…it’s probably the same answer! If we go back to the feeling sick example, we would express empathy by asking someone “Are you feeling ok?” or by making special cookies to give to the person who isn’t feeling well.
  6. Drill and practice. Challenge your students to generate ways they could express empathy when they see others experiencing a feeling or emotion.

If you would like to learn more about teaching empathy and complex emotions, check out my resource Empathy and Emotions Activities. This resource contains activities that will help you teach complex emotions and empathy using the strategies outlined in this post.

I hope this post gave you a new perspective on teaching empathy and emotions to your students with social language disorders. If you have any other tips or strategies, please leave them in the comments below so everyone can learn something new!



Teaching Complex Emotions

Complex Emotions

Teaching Complex Emotions

                Complex emotions and empathy. Guys, these are some seriously tricky concepts. Most typically developing humans just “get it,” but for our students with social language delays and disorders the struggle is real. When we instinctively understand empathy and the complex emotions, figuring out how to teach these skills to the little humans that don’t get it, is also a struggle.

                So how do we find the words to teach something that we intrinsically know, but have rarely tried to articulate? First, we start by teaching emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is “the ability to recognize and understand the feelings and needs of yourself and others” (Davis, K.G. 2017). (You can read more about emotional literacy here). When I say we need to teach our students to understand their feelings, I am not talking about just happy, sad, and mad. We need to really delve into those complicated emotions such as frustration, anxiety, pride, and relief.

 Here is how I would go about teaching emotional literacy:

  1. Choose the emotions you want to target. Each person is different, so the emotions you choose are going to be individualized based on your student’s needs. Generally speaking, I try and choose an area of greatest need, or, I like to start with an easy concept and scaffold upon that skill into a more difficult one. For example, I might start with mad and then talk about frustration. Or I might start with scared and then introduce anxious.
  2. I always like to begin teaching a new task with an engaging introduction activity. Using GIFs is a really fun way to introduce emotions. GIPHY has both an app and a website that allows you to type in an emotion and watch GIFs for that particular emotion. This is a fun way to introduce a new emotion before you begin to talk about it in-depth.
  3. After a topic has been introduced, I begin to explicitly teach the targeted skill. When teaching emotions, I begin by defining the emotion and giving common examples. I also want my students to get really good at identifying situations that might make them feel the targeted emotion. For example, first I would explain that frustration is a feeling of upset or annoyance you experience when you can’t do something you want to do. Next, I would give examples of things I find frustrating, such as slow internet, long lines, or not being able to fall asleep. Then, I would have my students try and generate a list of things they find frustrating.
  4. Up until this point I have only been having students think about their feelings, but the next step is to encourage our students to think about how a situation might make someone else feel. I make a chart and have my students pick someone they know. We pick an emotion and list things that make us feel that way. Then we create a list of things that would make the person they picked feel that same emotion. We talk about why we think the other person might feel that way and we look for any similarities and differences. Going back to the frustration example, I would say that I feel frustrated when my baby cries. If the person I was comparing emotions with was my son, I might say that I think he feels frustrated when he can’t do a puzzle. My son and I probably both get frustrated when the baby cries, because it is loud. I don’t get frustrated by the puzzle, because I am able to do puzzles.
  5. Drill and practice. Continue to challenge your students to think about a wide range of situations and predict how those situations would make them feel.

This is so much information and we haven’t even talked about empathy yet! Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series to learn more about teaching empathy.

Empathy and Complex Emotions Social Skills Activity

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about teaching empathy and complex emotions, check out my resource “How to Teach Empathy and Complex Emotions”. This resource contains activities to help you teach complex emotions and empathy using the strategies outlined in this post.

I hope this post gave you a new perspective on teaching empathy and emotions to your students with social language disorders. If you have any other tips or strategies, please leave them in the comments below so everyone can learn something new!

Resources:         

Davis, K. G. (2017, April 6). Strategies for Helping Clients With Autism Learn Empathy. Retrieved from https://blog.asha.org/2017/04/06/strategies-for-helping-clients-with-autism-learn-empathy/