Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Toca Hair Salon: make it work with core words!

I'm pretty sure by now it's well known fact how much I love TocaBoca apps. They not only engage the students I work with but they fully engage me as well. Because there is very little written language or spoken language within them, the apps lend themselves to a plenty of opportunities and motivation for communication exchanges. 

FYI, TocaBoca is offering a bundle (Toca Toy Box) and Toca Hair Salon can be purchased along with other great TocaBoca apps for a reduced price. 

Toca Hair salon is not a new release, but it sure is a favorite that never gets old. After you select a character, you can cut, grow, curl, straighten, wash, dry or color the person's hair. Although this app can lend itself to helping learn some specific salon style vocabulary, I chose to use a core words board with limited fringe (more specific vocabulary words) on the top. Before taking a turn using the app, I expect my clients to use a phrase using some of the vocabulary below to convey what he/she would like to do. 

This board can be found on Boarmakeronline. Often, my clients point to icons as they speak or use their AAC devices.  Some of the phrases might be:
  • I/you do it
  • Help me do
  • I cut hair
  • Let's grow it
  • I like it
  • Stop, no like
  • Want different hair
  • Cut different
  • Grow more hair
  • Comb there
  • Cut that
  • Look! (she.. point to character) like it
  • Dry hair
Although there are plenty more vocabulary words I could focus on using (e.g. curly, straight, long, short, frizzy, towel dry, hair dryer, clip, bow, colors etc.), I chose to focus on the use of core words (shown as the bigger icons) with basic, more frequently used fringe words (shown as smaller icons on top) that could be used multiple times while playing with the app. Focusing on the core words allows for more practice with the vocabulary within one speech therapy sessions. In addition, because core words are practical, functional words that can be used across multiple settings, practicing them within a fun game will increase the likelihood they will be used outside the game (and in the real world!) as well.

I like to think of core words as "make it work" words. For example, I as the speech therapist become a "Tim Gunn" and I encourage my students to say what they want to say with the words that they have in front of them. Of course, if I am to expect this of my students, I myself have to change what I say and "make it work" with what words I have. 

So the boards not only serve as support for my students, but also for me as a reminder of the most useful words that I should be modeling for my students throughout our speech therapy activities. 

For more information on core words and AAC, PrAACtical AAC is a great resource! 

Now, go "make it work!" 

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Classic board games: Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders

Recently, a student of mine has been extremely excited about board games. This new interest came out of no where, so I had no supports made. I quickly grabbed my generic core words board and we had such a blast playing together and taking turns playing Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. For more information on how to use these boards, click here.

Right away, we were able to put together some core word based phrases such as "my turn," "your turn," "stop it," and "I do it," "want different," "I get that," Where I go?" "help me go," rather than the usual "I want red," or the old pattern of reaching for or moving pieces without social engagement.  The boards help facilitate an opportunity for joint attention, conversation and shared experience.  Obviously, right at the top of this board, there was room for more. So, I went home later that night and created this Chutes and Ladders board and this Candy Land board. Using these boards, we used even more relevant board game phrases!

Here are some Candy Land examples: 

  • I go 2 red
  • you go 1 blue

Here are some examples of phrases from chutes and ladders:

  • I go up ladder
  • You go down slide
  • I want girl
  • Go down big slide
  • Go up small ladder

These topical communication boards really added a nice low tech support to a new found joy in a classic turn taking activity. Hope it helps you too!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Build a Train

In a few weeks, I will be presenting at ASHA 2014 in Orlando, FL.  I’m very excited because, let's be honest, I love sharing and I will be talking about a lot of the information I write about on this blog.   Even though this particular app is not a new app to my collection, I thought I might post about it since I will be talking about it and showing videos of students using this app during my upcoming presentation.

 Build a train is a great free app that allows for kids to construct virtual trains and then set them out onto a choice of tracks.  As soon as you start the app, the building begins.  Even the very get go, there’s tons of opportunity to use descriptive language while building the train: "Blue train with yellow", the "red caboose," "the green engine."  Students tap on each train, or swipe through trains to see more choices.   You can select a location (winter, volcano, island… NOTE: some are for purchase) and off you go!

Once the train in on the track, we have to “make it go.”  There is a dial on the side that can be used to make it “go fast,” or “go slow.” But! A key step in this process is that I require a communication exchange before allowing the student to have access to the iPad to control the train.  I use this topical board to help facilitate language use for my students that have difficulty initiating the use of novel sentence structures. 

If you are interested in more information about how I use board like these, you can find it here. This one in particular was one of my earlier boards.  In a nutshell, here is how I use it. I have the app on the iPad in one hand. On the table in front of the student and myself  I leave this topical communication board.  I might ask a general question to the student such as “what should we do now?”  If the student does not answer, I might prompt the answer by pointing to some reasonable words such as “I + choose+ train” or "train + go."  I will model the phrase verbally as well.  I expect the student to attempt a similar phrase (with or without my pointing).  Once they do, I praise and allow them to play with the train in the manner they described. Sometimes I have kids that say one thing and reach for a different area on the iPad. In this case, I pull the iPad back and redirect them to the board and model the phrase they are attempting to do (e.g. "Oh, it looks like you meant to say 'horn go,'" (with pointing to each word as it is said).  "Let's do the horn," (while point to horn icon).  

Eventually, I fade my gestural prompts with the boards and the student can use the visuals (with or without pointing) to help him/her respond more independently. I find boards like these particularly helpful when working with kids with autism when trying to use novel language outside of "I want train please."  They provide visual support, limit the vocabulary so that it is on topic (and less overwhelming) and help guide the student to use new sentence structures.

Some of the other key phrases I target while using this app include both core and fringe words. Examples are:
  • Make horn go
  •  Do bell
  • Make train go fast/slow
  • Different track
  • Do different track
  • I choose track
  • I play more
  • I choose more train
  • I/you change train/track
My favorite core word to use with this board is “turn” because it can be used with two distinct meanings:
  • My/your turn
  • Turn on/off light
My friend developed her own board based on her student's motivations. Although the concept was the same, her board contained different vocabulary. Her particular student was motivated by pick up boxes.  She also preferred to focus on the vocabulary for "night" and "day" rather than referring to the "lights."

For free, I highly recommend you give it a try. Then you can tell me all about how it works for you at ASHA! Hope to see you at there!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Back to school means core words with BOOKS!

It's back to school time! In honor of this very exciting and frantic time of year, I decided to post some boards made specifically for books, because let's be honest, aren't they just the best? Sure, most are made with paper (*gasp!*) and are not digital (*what?!*), but we can still use technology to enhance them. Pairing the use of low tech boards with books and/or with high tech devices to talk about the books can turn fun leisure activities into more meaningful language opportunities.

Some of my first topical boards were actually for books, and I have decided to leave some of the more convenient features available that I have used since my very first boards, e.g., the "quick chat" icons for "read", "listen", "look", and "turn the page." Having these words handy for my book boards have made my students contextualize and at the same time diversify the use of these powerful core words. Although these boards are not organized with the core/ fringe words as some of my newer boards have, there is still a heavy focus on core words while allowing the content related to the book to be easily accessible.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is such a classic, isn't it? I see this book adapted at so many of the different schools I visit each week. However, most adaptations are focused on the fringe content of the food items. While exciting to talk about food, I find it more functional to repeat the simple comment "eat more" or "it eat more." So many of the pages allow opportunity for the use of this phrase, and we all know, practice make perfect.

Some other functional phrases one might focus on "it/caterpillar  big", "it/ caterpillar sick", "it is hungry", stop eat", "no eat more",  "no eat that", "eat that", "it go there" (meaning he goes to the leaf, goes through the hole in the book, etc.) and finally "look!  caterpillar change butterfly."  When excited about a page, it is always fun to throw in a "look!"

If you are unfamiliar on how to use these boards, I typically point to icons as the student learns them.  The student can either vocalize as they point or use each icon as a guide to use their talker/ AAC device.  As they get more familiar, the student can use the boards or point on his/ her own. For more information, please see the post on how to use topical boards.

A teacher today showed me "Dear Zoo," which I had never seen before. I immediately loved this book for all it's language opportunities, especially asking questions such as "what is it?" before you take turns to "open it" and say "it is frog" or more specially "jumpy frog," or "it is jumpy frog." It's fun to take turns opening each too "you open/go," "I open it," etc. Then you can comment: "no want it!"

I have also written about the "Go Away Big Green Monster" app. The same board can be used easily for the book!

So, next time you head over to the book corner with a kiddo, consider making or taking a low tech board with you to enhance the experience!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Toca Boca Birthday Party (and Tea Party)

Toca Boca is always there for me... Just when I feel I need a nice, new, refreshing app, Toca Boca provides. I have to admit, this app is actually an older app, it's not new, but it is new to me.To be completely honest, I don't have all the older TocaBoca apps yet. I think I might even save them for another day that I need a new toy.   

Toca Boca Birthday (and similarly related, Toca Boca Tea Party) is a cheap app that allows for digital pretend play rein-acting the social gathering of a birthday party.   It's a fun way to practice the basic social skills needed at a birthday party and provides an opportunity to use language beyond "I want."  My students and myself are super motivated to "eat" the cake and "open" the present. I even have students that bring in stuffed animals to join in and partake in "cake" eating. Most look forward to "blowing" out the candles the most (and often attempt to blow even though it is a touch that puts out the flame.)

I use this topical communication board while playing with this app to elicit lots of language! You can find the actual topical communication board here on boardmakerachieve. 

For more information about the general use of the boards, visit here

In general, I point to each icon/word as I speak to model the various phrases that can be spoken while using this app. The visuals can be used to help the student understand what I am trying to say, or can be a visual support to help prime them with the vocabulary required for the activity. 

Some of the phrases I work on while using this app include: "I/you give plate," "I/you open present," "I/you give cake," "I/you eat cake," (different actions while using the app, which is why the single word utterance of "cake" from a student is not enough in this case!) "I/ you pour juice," "your/my turn."  

This month, I started using video modeling.  I took a video of me using the board to say the phrase I was targeting and then model the "reward" (which really depicts  what the message intended to do).  You can view an example of this type of video here:

Most of my students with autism are partially verbal.  For them, the visuals help them vocalize without verbal cues from me on what language to use. Some of my students verbalize as I point to the icons, thereby allowing for more independence initiating communication. Others point to the icons on their own and vocalize or try to vocalize as they do. I also have students on my caseload who use voice output devices. They might use the visuals as a guide to keep them on track as they expanded utterances while they navigate multiple times across their device.  For all of my students, the visuals add some longevity to the transient nature of verbal language. 

In the related TocaBoca Tea Party game, there are also the tea cups can be knocked over, which allows for great practice of "uh-oh," and "I help" when cleaning up the spill.

 For my students who are working on social skills, while using Toca Boca Birthday Party and TocaBoca Tea Party, we work on asking "Can I get you something?" rather than just dragging pieces of cake onto people's plate without asking.  With TocaBoca Tea Party, we also work on describing which cake or plate we want using specific language such as "I'll have the pink plate" or "can I have the cake with the strawberries on top?"  It can also be a great way to practice following directions (e.g. "put the chocolate cake with sprinkles on the blue plate.").

My students across the board have loved Toca Boca Birthday (and Tea Party). It is a refreshing new way to work on "pretend" play using a digital interface. Try them both! I find that there is a lot kids want to say while using these apps and tons of opportunity for social interaction!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Core Words Communication Board: an overveiw

These past months, I have been using Topical Communication Boards to support more independent language use with my students (be sure to check out earlier blog posts for some examples.  Here are some: 1, 2, 3) . These boards contain the specific language needed to communicate while playing with an app, book or game.  They are extremely helpful when working with AAC device users or with clients that have limited verbal output (like my students with autism who have difficulty initiating without echoing what I say). 

But, what happens when my kiddos pick a game that I don't yet have a board for? Does that mean, we just try the activity without the support?? NOT ME! I prefer to use visual supports as much as possible. Visual supports help boost confidence, set clear expectations and decrease verbal prompting.

That's why I created a Core Words communication board.  Find it on boardmakerachieve here.

If you are not sure what core words are, please be sure to check out Carole Zangari's and Robin Parker's PraacticalAAC blog  or Bruce Baker's explanation  for more information. Core words are not just "the new best thing,"  they are necessary components of every day communication. Core words make up about 75-80% of what we say each day. They are the powerful words that can be used across situations and ages.  Kids, adults, teenagers.... we all use core words. They can be used again and again and again across situations and places. Core words are highly functional: they stand in the place of more specific nouns (e.g. "it," "that," "there,") where there is no access to specific vocabulary and they represent functional actions (e.g. "do," "make," "go," "get,").

I decided to start focusing more and more on core words when making my topical communication boards. But as I did this, I found with the combination of core and "fringe" words (fringe words being the words that can be replaced with less specific words such as "that"), my core words that were repeating across boards, started to shift locations.  This made my users slightly confused and increased scanning time to find icons.

Check out these two examples:

By keeping the pronouns on the left, I shifted some available spaces and question words no longer made sense on the left hand side of the board.  While I tried to keep things the same as much as possible, each board will have a different number of verbs and nouns, making it difficult to keep things consistent. 

I decided to start keeping my most frequently used core words in the same place on each board. On top, I decided to put my less frequently used core fringe words that were specific to the activity.  (please note: my core word selection is not all inclusive, and it might still change.   I was simply limited by the 8x11 space).  

Keeping icons in consistent locations, decrease visual scanning, and increase automatic motor responses (think about how you use automatic motor responses to type on a keyboard).  Many AAC devices already use motor planning as part of its language system (e.g. LAMP, PRC, WordPower).  This past weekend, it was great hearing Patti Solomon-Rice talk about the importance of keeping icons in the same location on AAC devices.  Hearing her speak about that, validated my desire to try this new format for my topical boards.

So, when a kid asked to play angry birds the other day and I didn't have a board made, I didn't sweat it!  I used my core words sheet. Then, I quickly made the angry birds topical board after the session.  It took way less time to make a board using this new format.

Here is what I came up with (find it on boardmakerachieve here):

If you haven't read yet how I use these topical communication boards, it's pretty simple. I point to each word as I say them (making sure my client is looking at the board while I do this).  If I ask a question, I may prompt the student by immediately pointing to an icon on the board so they do not respond with echolalia.   If the person independently says something (with or without using the board), I repeat and expand by saying and pointing to each icon. Or if they are struggling to verbally find a word, I may point to the board to help them get started. 

Here are some sample phrases we might work on with this angry birds board: "you do it," " my turn," "get bird," "put it there,"  "get triangle" "it go over" "it go down."

If the student needs help learning how to use the board to vocalize, I start teaching the student by hand under hand guidance to help the student to point to each icon (only if needed).  As quickly as possible, I fade my physical prompts to gestural prompts.  I always try my best to allow the student time to respond on his own as well.  I usually find that with practice, my students start vocalizing without prompts and even without pointing to the board. In addition, they start using vocabulary that has never been used before in unique combinations. Prior to using the boards, my students may have simply used behaviors ( crying, grabbing etc.) to access a turn with a game or with the iPad.  Using the boards, most of my clients (e.g. with autism) start learning to initiate communication attempts, either by pointing or by vocalizing, while engaging in fun activities.   For my AAC users that already initiate language but are working on using novel utterances, the boards serve as a visual guide or reference to what they are searching for as they navigate the device. 

Using these boards often reduce frustration, prime the student to expected language to be used, expand utterances, and help students use language in unique word combinations not otherwise used before.  They serve as visual support to the oral language we provide and they validate icons as a communication form for my AAC users. 

Hopefully this core words sheet helps in a pinch.  It can also be modified to make new topically related boards really quickly! 

Hope you find it useful!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Go Away Big Green Monster

Go Away Big Green Monster app is actually an interactive book, a really fun one that my students really gravitate towards. It can be read with or without narration or with a song. 

What's great about this book is that each page lends itself to talking about individual body parts using multiple descriptions.  With the turn of each page, the monster gains more and more parts to his face. I stop on each page to comment about each body part the monster gains by using a full sentence. Depending on the student and his goals, I use different types of sentences:  "two eyes," "he has 2 eyes," or "he has 2 big, yellow eyes."  The addition of body parts page by page allows for plenty of repetition sentences with similar sentence structure.

While I read the book or use the app, I use this communication board to enhance and support language. Most of my clients use 1 descriptor at a time, but in some cases up to 3 can be used per body part.

Then, as the book continues, each body part disappears one by one.  I use the turn of each page to practice use of the negatives such as "no hair" or "he has no nose."

I point to each icon on the topical board as I model the intended sentence for each page. The student can then either point to the icons to formulate sentences, or as in most cases, the student will point and simultaneously vocalize each sentence.  After s/he comments on what he sees, the student can touch the body part on the app, which makes a fun sound as it wiggles. As the student is first learning the app, I also have him/her find the same body parts on his/her own body as well.

To generalize the skills learned in this activity, I use the same topical board while playing with "Mr. Potato Head." Most of the time, I will play "Mr. Potato Head" directly before or after using the "Go Away Green Monster" app.  The student can use the board to request pieces (e.g "blue eyes," "2 ears") and sometimes we even comment on what the "Mr. Potato Head" is missing in order to request pieces.  For example, if the student comments, "he has no hair," or "no hair," I respond "that's right, he has no hair. Let's find some." 

I also use the same topical board with my "One-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater" doll right after playing with the app. I model how the same words on the topical board can be used to describe other monsters that look different. 

The app is one my students ask for quite often and I love that the language is so easily generalizable. There are tons of fun things to talk about in the app and book!  The visual supports appear to help student initiate the use of new comments and help add more descriptions to their language as well.

Hope you find it as fun and productive as I did!

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.
Boardmaker® is a trademark of Mayer-Johnson LLC.