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 Conversation Skills

Conversation Social Story
How To Have A Conversation: Social Story Activity

Me: “Hi! Welcome to Speech, I am Mrs. Davault and I am going to be your speech teacher.”

Student: *mumbles incoherent response while avoiding eye contact*

Me: When you come to speech, you are going to be working on goals that will teach you ways to be a better friend.

Student: “I don’t have any friends.”

Me: That’s ok!  We have a goal for learning how to make friends! We also have a goal for learning how to have a conversation.

Student: “Oh yeah, I don’t know how to do that either.”

This is summarized version of an actual conversation I have had with one of my students. (We went into his goals a little bit more in depth, but you get the idea).

Conversation skills…what are they exactly? How do we teach them? More importantly, how do we help our students learn them?

As with all good lessons we start the bottom of the ladder and scaffold our way up to the top. Teaching conversation skills is no different…but what is the bottom of the conversation ladder?

Step 1: Teaching the Vocabulary

Since many of my students struggle with language delays and disorders, I always want to make sure they have a nice, firm, grasp of the vocabulary they will need to know in order to be successful with the skill we will be practicing.

When teaching conversation skills, I like to focus on two main vocabulary words: conversation and topic.

I explain to my students that a conversation is what you do when you talk to people and that the topic is what you are talking about. Then, we brain storm all the different topics we could talk about. We identify topics the student likes to talk about and we identify topics that other people might like to talk about. Common topics I like to review are family, friends, games, books, pets, chores, school, recess, etc. I especially want my students to understand that anything ANYONE talks about can be a topic.  Keep this list of topics to refer back to as your students learn more conversation skills.

Step 2: Smile and Look

Here is the point where our sweet students learn the first actionable steps to having a conversation: smiling and looking.

Remember, we are starting at the bottom of the ladder and climbing up, so I don’t even have my students worry about talking yet.

Smiling and looking is hard enough for many of them. I don’t expect them to make eye contact with everyone, but I do encourage them to try and look at the other person’s face. I explain that when we do this, it lets the other person know that we are friendly and that we want to talk to him or her.

After we have talked about this skill in the relative safety of the speech room, we walk around the school and practice smiling and looking at everyone we meet. It sounds easy enough, but it often makes my students squirm with discomfort. With each new person we see, I remind my student why this skill is important until the student can repeat it back to me. We try and practice smiling and looking each time we walk together around the building.

Step 3: Asking Questions

Asking a question is a natural way to start a conversation. Typically, we start a conversation by asking “How are you?”, so I teach my students this first. Unfortunately, a conversation cannot be maintained on this single question alone, and our little friends need to learn other strategies for developing questions.

 Having students initiate a question around a preferred topic, helps them ease into the conversation, but it is also important to explain that they need to ask questions about many different topics. This is where that list of topics from Step 1 comes in handy. Help your students generate different questions they could ask someone about each topic on the list. I also give my students pretend scenarios and have them practice thinking of questions they could ask in each situation.

Our students always need to know why each skill is important, so I make sure they understand that asking questions gives the other person a chance to speak, which makes that person feel good and makes the conversation more interesting for the other person.

Step 4: Find Common Interests

Once our students are proficient at asking questions, they will now have the ability to find common interests with someone. We find common interests by asking questions about many different topics, until we find a topic everyone likes. I try and explain to my students how to tell if someone enjoys the topic or if the topic is not a shared interest.

Why is finding common interests an important piece of the conversation puzzle?

Because, when we find that golden spot where each communicative partner is engaged and interested, the conversation is so much more enjoyable for everyone.

 To teach my students how to find common interests, I have them first identify their own interests, then I have them practice asking questions that can help them find out if someone shares their interests. I also talk to them about how shared activities/situations such as the weather and school can be a common interest and can be used to make conversation.

Step 5: Take Turns Talking

I have listened to countless one-sided conversations perseverate on everything from squirrels to video games, and I bet you have too.

While these fixed interests are part of what makes the student unique, they aren’t functional because we know that it takes two people to have a conversation. And if one person isn’t getting the chance to speak, that isn’t really a conversation, is it?

Find a way to remind your students to take turns talking. Teaching your students to respond to a visual or auditory cue might be helpful if your student is struggling in this area.

Step 6: Stay on Topic

As we continue to climb the conversation ladder, our next rung is staying on topic. At this point, our students can (hopefully) ask questions and take turns talking, but if each conversation partner keeps trying to redirect the conversation to a specific topic…well that’s going to be a confusing conversation.

Find a cue that can remind your students what the topic is, and a cue to redirect them if they get off topic.

Step 7: Add Comments

This next step is really tricky. It can be extremely difficult for students to generate an appropriate comment, on topic, and insert it in the appropriate place in the conversation. I like to teach my students how use place holder comments such as a head nod, saying “uh huh” or “mmhmmm” to show their communicative partner they are listening. I teach them to listen for natural pauses or breaks in the conversation and insert comments in those places. I explain that adding comments like these lets their partner know they are interested and that they are paying attention.

Step 8: Ending the Conversation

Have you ever had someone literally walk away from you without doing anything to indicate they are leaving the interaction? It is kind of jolting and it is definitely awkward. Knowing how to end a conversation can be really confusing, so it’s important that we explicitly teach this skill to our students.

To do this, I explain to my students that just leaving a conversation is not polite…even if they are ready to be done with that conversation. Then I give them a few key phrases that they can use to end a conversation more politely. We also talk about making sure the other person is done talking before we leave the interaction.

Step 9: Practice

We all know that repetition is the key to learning. The more opportunities our students have to practice these skills, the easier and less awkward it will be come. I like to begin practicing full conversation skills by using conversation prompts in my classroom. I give my students a visual of the steps to having a conversation, and we work through each prompt, making sure we have used each step appropriately. If the student is struggling with a particular prompt, we practice it again until it becomes easier. Then, if it is possible, I like to practice using these skills with familiar people in our environment. This might be peers or other adults who are around us. We then practice and practice some more until the student has met mastery.  

Conversation Social Story

I have created a “How to Have A Conversation” Social Story, that teaches conversation skills using the steps I have outlined above. Each step is explained using simple, easy to understand language so that it can be understood by most learners, even those with language delays or disorders. Each of the steps above has a dedicated page in the story and a companion activity so that students can practice the skill in a structured lesson. There is also an option for the students to draw the pictures for their story. I have found these pictures spark interesting conversations and it also helps the students take more ownership of the story.

I usually spend one session teaching each step. I have found reading the story, doing the activity, and drawing the picture usually takes around 30 minutes. Afterwards, I like to send the activity home for the student to review with his or her caregivers. Once all the steps have been taught, we practice using each step together to try and form a conversation.

If you are interested in learning more about this conversation activity, please click the picture below!

How to have a conversation social story and activities
Conversation Social Story and Activities

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, tricks, and research 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 above if you would like a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist!

If you enjoyed this post, please share one of the images below on Pinterest!

How do you like to teach conversation skills? Do you do anything the same? Do you do anything different? Let me know in the comments below!

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!

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 above to get your free pragmatic language evaluation checklist!

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

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 🙂

Pragmatic Language Evaluation Checklist
Click the image for your copy of this free pragmatic language evaluation checklist!

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!

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. 🙂

Teaching Complex Emotions

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/

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 above to get your free pragmatic language evaluation checklist!