Pragmatic Language Evaluations

Pragmatic Language Evaluations

What is your favorite thing to do as an SLP? Do you have a specific age group you like to work with or a specific area you enjoy teaching?

My favorite thing to do is evaluate and treat pragmatic language. I even like to write the reports. *gasp*

Try not to judge me too harshly though, because I want to share my method for pragmatic language evaluation with you. I am hoping it will save you time, and maybe help you enjoy writing those reports a little bit more. (Hey don’t look at me like that, I said maybe).

First, I want to take a moment to discuss what ASHA says indicates an area of concern when it comes to social communication.

According to ASHA, “Social Communication includes 3 major skills…using language for different reasons, changing language for the listener or situation, and following rules for conversation and storytelling”.

Nonverbal communication such as understanding/ using gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, proxemics, and eye contact all fall within that last section- “following rules for conversation and storytelling”.  (To read more about what ASHA says, click here).

So if you are like me you might be thinking, “Whoa…that is A LOT of really complicated things to evaluate, how do I do this in a methodical way that will get me all the information I need so I can write good strong goals (and a parent friendly report)”? Well, keep reading my friend, and I will tell you how.

Parent/Teacher Report

As with all evaluations, I start my assessment process by sending out checklists and questionnaires to the parents and the teachers. I have created some that specifically ask questions regarding the areas outlined by ASHA. I created them to be a rating scale, because I have found most student’s rarely fall into a “they always do it” or “they never do it” category with these skills. In my experience, parents and teachers find rating scales easier to fill out, and I find they give me more useful information.

Student Observation

The next step- try and observe the student in his or her natural habitat…or the lunch room, or recess, or centers…you get my point. Students act different for us in one-on-one settings, so watching them interact with other children in less-structured settings can give you a wealth of information. Even though I know this takes a lot of time out of your day, I strongly advise not skipping this step if possible. To keep me organized during this step, I use a checklist to remind me to try and observe #allthethings.  If you are in a position where you cannot observe the student, you will have to rely on the parent/teacher rating scales.

The rest of the evaluation takes place in my room. I like to give the student structured tasks that revolve around those ASHA guiding principles. Personally, I find that I get more/better data from my own personal evaluation than I have gotten from a formal assessment. I know those assessments have their place, but I personally find them too rigid and not quite as thorough as I would like them to be.

Nonverbal Communication/ Theory of Mind

This is probably my favorite area of the evaluation because you never know what is going to come out of the student’s mouth. I just love getting a glimpse into their little brains.

So just a quick reminder, theory of mind is “the ability to understand the desires, intentions, and beliefs of others”, and typically develops between 3-5 years of age. It is well documented that students who have Autism and/or social language deficits often struggle in this area, so it is extremely beneficial to evaluate this area.

I evaluate theory of mind and nonverbal communication together because you can’t have one without the other. Think about it. What strategies do you use when you are trying to guess what someone else is thinking or feeling? You look at their facial expressions, body language, gestures, eye contact…AKA their NONVERBAL LANGUAGE!

To evaluate both areas at the same time, I show my student a picture of someone displaying an emotion. I have the student identify what the person is feeling and then they have to tell me two things the person in the picture might be thinking. I like to show pictures depicting both basic emotions and more complex emotions. (To read more about complex emotions click here). Usually my students do a good job identifying simple emotions, but asking them to tell me what the person in the picture is thinking (AKA theory of mind) is much more challenging. I have even had students tell me “How am I supposed to know what they might be thinking?!”

Story Telling

Since ASHA states that deficits in storytelling accompany social language disorders, I definitely want to assess that area. I like to give my students a prompt, then, as they tell the story I listen for the following skills:

  1. The story is on topic
  2. The story contains details
  3. There is a clear beginning middle and end
  4. The student uses nonverbal communication to enhance the story

As for what kind of prompts I like to give, I usually use the following hierarchy:

  1. How to do a familiar task (i.e how to do a chore)
  2. A story about a personal event (i.e. a time the student got hurt/felt scared—these are usually easy for the student to remember)
  3. Retelling a familiar story (i.e. fairy tales or summarizing a book)
  4. Creating a new story (i.e. “Tell a story about a time a boy went to outer space”)

Conversation Skills

When I evaluate conversation skills, I look to see if the student does the following: initiates a conversation, stays on topic, asks questions, makes comments, takes turns speaking, and ends the conversation appropriately. I try to let the student lead the conversation as much as possible so that the student has the opportunity to use these skills. Usually though, I find that the student needs to me to lead the conversation.

Jokes/Humor/Idioms/Figurative Language

Even though ASHA does not explicitly outline deficits in these areas as a potential indicator of social language disorders, I still like to take a look at some of these skills. This is because in order for an individual to understand humor or figurative language, they must be able to take on someone else’s perspective (which they do by utilizing those nonverbal communication and theory of mind skills).

Let Me Save You Some Time

If you like this method of completing informal pragmatic language evaluations then I have some good news for you! I have already created an informal pragmatic language evaluation resource that follows this method of evaluation. I personally use this resource for all of my evaluations and I have found it to be very helpful.

This resource contains everything that I talked about in this blog post: a parent/teacher rating scale, an observation checklist, plus stimuli for evaluating theory of mind and nonverbal communication, conversation prompts, story prompts, and jokes and idioms to help you evaluate figurative language.

Click the image below if you would like to learn more!

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips and tricks with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together–I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime 🙂

Click the image if you want some help keeping yourself organized!

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!

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips and tricks with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together–I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime. 🙂