Many students with moderate-severe disabilities benefit from using low-tech AAC tools to help them communicate. Helping parents at home with easy ways to work on communication can be tough. That’s why showing them how to work on functional communication during meal time is great. Meal time is a common routine in the home and children are pretty motivated to communicate around food. Even if the child protests, this is very empowering for them to know that someone understands they don’t want something! Today, I am going to share how you can coach parents with using a meal time communication board to build language and expand functions of communication.
Meal times are a great way to help train parents and staff at school to work on CORE vocabulary and communication functions.
It can be hard to find ways to work on more than just requesting with our students. Using CORE vocabulary can help you work on answering yes/no questions, requesting more, protesting, sharing opinions (i.e. like/don’t like), social functions (i.e. turn taking, waiting, saying polite communication forms.)
CORE vocabulary are those words that can be used across many activities and speakers such as the word “go” can be used to tell the parent to “go get the milk,” or “go to the car,” or “go away.” The fringe vocabulary is at the top of the meal CORE board in the picture. The fringe vocabulary are specific words that can be used for a certain setting or activity. You wouldn’t have a spoon or fork on a page for math because it isn’t specific to that theme or category.
Tips for Coaching Parents with the Meal Time Communication Board
When helping parents and staff with using the meal time communication board, you want to remember that this might be very new to them.
So, instead of telling your parents 5-10 ways to use the CORE board, give them one actionable step or goal for the week.
It might be as simple as, “Put the communication board on the fridge and bring it over to the table for 1 mealtime.”
Then, next week, you can give them a coaching assignment of modeling “more” with the CORE board. Every week, you want to give one actionable tip. As your parents/staff get the hang of things, you can add in more elements.
Remember, we are trying to establish routines and habits of using it, so that takes time. We don’t want to overwhelm them because then they won’t feel empowered to use the CORE board.
You may have to show your parents what it looks like to model and invite their child to use the CORE board. You can film a quick video with the CORE vocabulary you want them to use and give them tips about providing “wait time,” and “using the board themselves to communicate with their child.”
Helpful YouTube Videos for Parent Coaching with AAC Communication
If you need videos that have parenting tips with using this FREE mealtime AAC communication board, head to my YouTube Channel.
Just click the video links below to send to staff and parents!
Need A FREE Bubbles CORE Board?
If you need more CORE boards that have fringe vocabulary, check out this blog post. You can work on coaching parents and staff while playing bubbles. Playing with bubbles is definitely a favorite in my therapy room. This blog post talks all about how to use bubbles in speech.
During the winter months, I love using The Mitten in Speech Therapy. It is such a versatile book to target speech and language goals. One reason, “The Mitten” is a great book choice for your students with language impairments is because there is a little illustration on each page showing what will happen next. This gives our students a visual cue to help with comprehending the story.
Today, I wanted to share some ways you can use the book to target multiple goals as well as share about some resources you can use as extension activities. This book is such a classic that you can find it at the library, GoodWill or on Amazon (affiliate link).
Speech Therapy Activities for The Mitten Book
There is research that shows when language therapy focuses on a broad range of skills such as vocabulary, grammar, syntax, narrative skills, and inferencing are linked to showing effective outcomes for student’s reading comprehension abilities. As oral language improves, so does reading comprehension, which is what we want to see in our students.
So, using stories to cover all those concepts is an effective way to plan therapy. You can teach your students tier II vocabulary from the story such as attracted, grumbled, commotion and swooped.
After you read the story, your students can act out the words, use them in a sentence within the context of the story, name antonyms/synonyms for the word and create picture friendly definitions.
As you are reading the story outloud to your students, you can conduct think-alouds about the book. A think-aloud is a strategy you can use to demonstrate how you are thinking about the text you are reading. This helps you students to learn the strategies they need to utilize to understand the content they are listening to or reading. You can have your student think-aloud about what the character’s are feeling, making predictions about the story elements and to help your students check to see if they understand what is happening in the story.
Using Sentence Frames with The Mitten in Speech Therapy
As you read each page of the story, you can create visual sentence frames that you want the student to use with the book.
By having one or two sentence frames, this helps reduce the cognitive load for your students. It can help your student to expressively demonstrate their grammar or comprehension skills without feeling overwhelmed with what they have to produce.
A simple sentence frame for “The Mitten” could be, “The ___ went inside the mitten.”
A more complex sentence frame visual could be working on inferencing such as “I predict the ______ will _______ because of ______.”
Place the graphic organizer in a page protector and use it with a dry erase marker. Have you ever tried Ultra Fine Tip dry erase markers? They are the best! You can get them on Amazon (affiliate link).
Adapt The Mitten for AAC Users
One way you can make this book more accessible to your students using AAC is by adding the CORE and FRINGE vocabulary to your book!
Many of your students with moderate language impairments may need the story simplified to help them understand the main parts. These visual sidekicks from The Language Ladies SLP can help you have the visual supports you need to help improve your students’ grammar and vocabulary.
For your students that are struggling with comprehension and need the book adapted, having those visuals to reference while you are reading can be very helpful to increase engagement. When our students understand the language, they are more likely to be excited to participate.
I just attached the visual sidekicks with Velcro Dots that I got on Amazon (affiliate link).
Mittens Sensory Bin for Articulation and Language
After reading the book, “The Mitten” you can work on describing mittens by attributes such as category group, function, parts, textures, where, etc.
You can talk about how mittens come in pairs and why you need them for both hands.
This mittens match-up sensory bin resource allows your students to find “pairs” of items that go together such as word-association, antoynms, and categories. This helps build depth of knowledge for words being taught to our students with language impairments.
For the filler, you can use salt, white play dough, cotton balls, white yarn, cutup white straws, or white pom pom balls.
The Mitten Free Printables for Oral Narration
If you have students that benefit from hands-on activities, I highly recommend downloading these free printables for, “The Mitten.”
You can use them to help your students with story retell, which is an evidence-based practice for improving vocabulary and comprehension. You can also use these visuals to create a sensory bin. An SLP submitted this sensory bin idea. She used ripped up white paper for filler, and a long piece of string to be the mitten. Then, she placed the printables in the bin and worked on oral narration.
While coloring the item that can fit in the mitten, you can talk about mittens by attributes as well as the item the child chose to draw. How would you use this free printable for The Mitten in therapy? Share in the comments.
More FREE Printables for The Mitten to Use in Speech Therapy
Here are some more free printables and activities that you can use with your students to work on language and oral narration with “The Mitten”:
At my middle school placement, I push in to the SDC functional skills classes to work on social skills and functional communication. I began thinking about life skills my students will need when they are adults. Interview and conversation skills are very important for getting jobs as well as being a part of a community!
Most of the students in these classes have Intellectual Disabilities, but they are all verbal. Some students need visual supports to make novel utterances more independently. It is pretty tough planning lessons for this bunch because there are various levels, so some need visuals and the lessons have to be middle school friendly even though most of the students are functioning around a 1st-2nd grade academic level.
As a team, we have been picking themes for the week and/or month to help guide our lesson planning. I did these activities back at the beginning of the school year and then tried to make this pack more formal, so I could save the lesson plans for next year!
My kids are too young for practicing job interview questions, but I thought they still needed to work on how to ask/answer questions in conversation with peers and in more formal situations like talking with the PRINCIPAL! Yes, my students were able to formally interview the principals using the “favorite” question guide. There are three activities in this pack: greetings, turn taking in conversation with peers, and job interview skills. I include a lesson plan with links to youtube videos that support these skills. I have several students on the autism spectrum, so these videos are perfect for video modeling (evidenced based practice)!
First, I show the class the youtube video. I embedded the greetings video that I found to give you an example. Then, we break up into groups, or stay as a whole class to discuss expected vs. unexpected behaviors. I will have the students and staff role play and the class rates if the students were expected or unexpected.Here is an example of my “rate my communication” forms that I made!
I put velcro on one of my clear vinyl dry erase pouches to use with my expected vs. unexpected file folder activities. These are great to do during the lesson and then allow the teacher to use them the rest of the week with students. Some of my students can read well, so there is a sheet with just words and then a sheet with visual supports for those that need help with reading the words.
This video is perfect for showing turn taking with peers and seeing that other people are having thoughts about us when we are talking! I loved this video! My kids practiced asking each other about their favorite things and working on making comments too. This was a great activity to help lead into asking/answering questions in a more formal setting.
There are visuals for asking and answering questions with peers about their favorite things. I also included Q and A visuals, to help some of my kids understand who should be asking the question and who is answering the question.
I showed the job interview video to talk about what to do during a job or formal interview. My kids aren’t ready for practicing for job interviews, but I wanted them to try to practice talking with someone in a formal setting. So, I asked my principals if they would be willing to help and they said “yes!”. We have a follow up appointment coming soon to re-interview them. We talked about how greetings with adults and professionals are different compared to their peers. We also practiced what kind of body language we need to have during the interview. I filmed them all and then we got to critique everyone’s performance!
I loved all these lessons and I hope you do too!! The first three peeps to comment below with some cool activities you have been doing in your speech room, will get this pack for FREE!
Last year, I worked with mod-severe elementary students on the autism spectrum. Talk about needing AAC tools for communication! I had a WIDE range of skills going on in my K/1st grade and 2nd/3rd grade classes and needed some support with how to serve them all. I was making communication boards as I could, but was still struggling to have visuals for everything! My district sent me to a year long course (6 full day sessions) on AAC assessment and the training introduced me to CORE BOARDS.
I made a visual schedule for a parent that was reporting that her son was struggling with transitions. Above are my CORE boards with fringe vocabulary that I used for bubbles. I printed a CORE board and glued to a file folder. Then I laminated it and added velcro, so I could interchange the fringe vocabulary for whatever toy or activity I was using. I used the CORE boards with my non-verbal kids AND with my kids who were talking, but NOT generalizing their speech in different contexts or were not using different functions such as yes/no questions, greetings, opinions, sharing information, commenting and asking questions. I personally had great success using low tech communication tools with these students. Many of them started to greet me by name (melted my heart) and I had a little guy say “speech time” any time I showed up to their class.
My visual necklace was a great resource to have because I always knew that wherever I was on campus, I always had visuals commands that I could use with students. No joke, the teacher told a student “go wash your hands” and the kid just sat there. I walked over and said the EXACT SAME THING and showed him the wash hands symbol, the kid got up and washed his hands. Of course, there are those little ones that heard the teacher just fine and are choosing to say put. In those cases, a behavioral incentive may be the ticket to getting those hands washed!
I had a couple of students who were 5 years old and had minimal verbal speech. One of the students did a lot of singing and echolalia, but not a lot of functional speech. As I was soon discovering about my therapy, all we were really working on was requesting. This of course is not a bad place to start, but as I was taking the AAC class, I forgot about ALL the other functions of communication. It is very functional and typical for toddlers ages 12-24 months to begin to understand greetings and use gestures/ single words “hi” and “bye” with familiar people. My 5-6 year olds were not greeting me or responding to my greetings with words or a wave. They usually came physically over to me or familiar staff to communicate that they saw me. I tried to create some visuals to help them to work on responding and initiating greetings.
I made this for one of my who had multiple disabilities including being deaf. She had cochlear implants, but would not keep them on consistently. She could put 2-3 icons together and go to different pages on Proloquo 2 go, but she would often just use the communication app to do her own thing even if we locked her in to the one app. The teacher also struggled to use the communication app with her because the other students would get mad if they saw her using an IPAD and they didn’t get one. So, I came up with a low-tech communication board that would allow us to have visuals at all times to communicate with her. I included a CORE board for frequently used commands the teacher used with the students such as “clean up”, “wash hands”, “great job”.
I have been storing all of these AAC materials in file folders in a filing cabinet and shoving the little pieces in plastic bags and feeling a bit disorganized with all the visuals. I went in search of an organization solution on amazon. I took a chance with this Poly Zip Files (amazon affiliate links included for your convenience) and am SUPER satisfied with this purchase!!
It has 15 letter sized zipper pouches and 5 check sized pouches that fit in the plastic container. I like having things all in one place and this allows me to store most of my AAC tools in this container.
The AAC training really emphasized that using visuals with my autism students whether they were verbal or not would help with generalization of communication beyond just requesting. I grabbed those CORE boards and ran with it because I had NO time for prepping visuals (I had 80 kids on my caseload). The CORE boards contain the most frequently used words that toddlers use. You can elicit TONS of communication functions with just 20 words. In therapy, I model my language using the CORE board as a way to show them how to communicate with the board.
If you want to see my starter kit in action, go check out my AAC Starter Kit tour on youtube! I am hoping to get some small videos using the CORE boards with my 2 year old to help with demonstrating.
I have been learning A LOT about AAC and do not consider myself an expert by any means, but the visuals in this kit are aligned with evidence based practices for teaching functional communication. If you think this is something that would be helpful for your caseload, you can grab the kit HERE! Enter below for your chance to win this starter kit. It is a great time saver and helpful tool.
I work with 5-6 year old moderate-severe students who are on the Autism Spectrum and many of them are working on simple cause/effect, joint attention, using 1-2 word phrases, and expressing their needs with pictures.I have found a material that many of the students enjoy, so I wanted to share in case you were needing some therapy ideas! This population stumps me all the time because finding what interests them is like a giant puzzle. Once you find the puzzle piece that fits, therapy is a blast!
You can find this toy on amazon (affiliate link included) or over at Learning Resources. My school district let me buy this toy last year and it has been very useful! Most of my 5-6 year old students are either emergent or entry level AAC users. The little ones that do use words are still needing a multimodal communication approach (words, visual pictures, sentences strips, etc) to help facilitate language in social situations and the classroom. So, I have been trying to find ways to use a set therapy material and tailor it for all levels of communication.
I made a Doghouse Activity Communication Board for my students that I want to build 2-3 word phrases without some any verbal prompts that you can grab on boardmaker share. I also made a Doghouse Activity using Go Talk 20 template because I am trying out the Go-Talks with a couple of my students. Trying to build MLU and the use of attributes, so I put the colors and how the bones feel on my boards. Tried to get some comments in there as well!
I also made a static communication board using Expressive from Smarty Ears Apps. It is $29.99 and contains 10,000 picture icons you can use to set up for your student’s communication needs. This app has helped me figure out if a student can put together 2-3 icons independently and understand how to erase and add a message. I did not really use this app as an advanced communication tool where the student had to navigate through several folders to create a message because I work with lower level students.
One of the cool features is that I can use REAL photos, so this is helpful for students who may need visuals of their teachers or a photo to understand the vocabulary words.
It is very helpful to be able to add a color to certain buttons to help with teaching verbs, nouns, and descriptors. You can add more than 24 icons in a folder, but the student would have to be able to scroll up and down to create messages. Check out the video tutorial on Smarty Ears Apps which is very user friendly and a quick overview of how you can navigate the app.
What I love:
1. Great price for the amount of picture icons you receive with this app and what you are able to customize.
2. I love most of the picture icons and feel they are easy to understand. The option to use photos helps when there is not a good picture for the word a person is wanting. I also like that the option for real photos can open the door for using this app with emergent and entry level students.
3. I like how I can create folders for set activities and organizing lessons is very user friendly.
4. This has been a tool for me to determine if a student is able to navigate a static board and could potentially move to a more advanced communication device or if they need to stick in the entry level devices.
1. Sometimes the voice output is difficult to hear and understand.
2. When I played around with this app by myself, it took a long time to formulate a message because I had to go to different folders to find words. It would be nice to have easier access to core vocabulary and phrases, but I think you could customize this by making a folder with common phrases for the particular user. In terms of advanced users, they may get frustrated with creating a message quickly. I don’t believe there is a keyboard either, which is also a limitation.
3. It did take me some time to program one activity (what AAC device doesn’t take a long time)! This is more of a question: Can I upload an activity folder I created onto another IPAD or would I have to re-program that device with the icons all over again?
Overall, I like this app a lot and I think for the price it is a useful investment for trying out a communication app with a student. It has been helpful for my students who need visual supports for communicating. This app appears to be best for intermediate communication users, but can be use with entry level if customized with the different folders. What do you think of this app? I would love to hear your feedback about my communication boards I made with boardmaker. I am still learning how to create AWESOME AAC boards!!