For those of you who are visiting my blog for the first time, I thought I would share some of the tips & tricks I use during whole group therapy lessons. I hope these will be helpful for you and your students. I am all about keeping things simple, fun, & engaging. And the element of surprise is something I often throw into my whole group therapy sessions. I use a wide variety of objects during a 30-minute session (regularly my students want me to go on longer!).
I will breakdown my Tips & Tricks into a five-course meal. I hope you’re hungry… here goes!
FIRST COURSE SOUP: The first thing I use is a puppet.
I love puppets! But more importantly, my students love puppets. And anything that gets their attention, especially at the beginning of a circle/small group activity, is always a plus. Getting kids to transition from one activity to another can sometimes be challenging. I have found that using puppets is a great way to gain their attention and have them comply.
Some examples of what I do with a puppet are the following:
- Ask each student to say hello to the puppet or wave to the puppet.
- Talk about the attributes/parts of the puppet.
- Ask the students yes/no questions about the puppet.
- Have the student tell the puppet what their name is.
I almost always use a puppet at the beginning of whole group therapy. I pick a puppet based on what theme/book I am using. So for example, if I am doing a book on “fire safety” I will use a fireman puppet… outer space book/an astronaut puppet… a bug book/a ladybug or bee puppet… a zoo book/an elephant puppet… a pig book/a pig puppet… etc., etc. For lots of magical reasons, kids tend to talk/engage with puppets so the puppet idea is a no brainer!
SECOND COURSE APPETIZER: The second thing I use is music.
Music is an important part of my therapy sessions. Kids love it and it is great for imitating and receptive/expressive language. I have a large selection of songs that I use throughout the year and I have several favorites that I couldn’t live without. Laurie Berkner, Super Simple Songs, and ELF Learning. My students LOVE hearing their favorites throughout the school year. I tend to pair up specific songs with specific books (Rocket Ship Run from Laurie Berkner during an outer space unit). I am always scouring You Tube for new music (and sometimes very OLD music). This week we’ll be doing the old Polish Chicken Dance Song to go along with a chicken book I’m reading about emotions. Fun with a CAPITAL F!!
THIRD COURSE SALAD: The third thing I use is my favorite app TOUCH & SAY
I love this app. And it’s FREE!!! I have a few apps that I absolutely swear by and this is one of them. It is so simple, yet so effective. I usually have quite a few students with limited or nonverbal communication skills. This app includes eight categories. I use the silly sounds the most. There are 10 silly sounds that are great for imitation. My students LOVE using this as a short activity during small group/circle. It gets their attention and MOST of the time they are able to imitate… even my very tough nonverbal students will at least attend and attempt to imitate the sound or imitate the “oral motor” play. I find this is a great stepping-stone toward working on speech. For some students you may want to encourage working on formulating the lips and tongue, then move into vocalizations, and then turn those vocalizations into simple words.
FOURTH COURSE MAIN COURSE: The fourth thing I use is a book.
I typically use an interactive book that is good for vocabulary development; theme based for specific holidays or skills I want to teach. Or I’ll do things based on the teacher’s theme. During this part of the therapy session, I continue to work on lots of skills like answering WH questions, following directions, sequencing, peer/social interaction, etc… But because I have a BIG appetite (and the book you choose might be different from the book I choose) I will share another FABULOUS tip.
SECOND BONUS MAIN COURSE: YOU’VE GOT MAIL
My students LOVE this little activity! I have been doing the “You’ve Got Mail” activity for several years. It targets so many different verbal and non-verbal skills. All you need is an inexpensive little mailbox and some index cards. I honestly think I got my little red mailbox free, with some chocolate Hershey Kisses. The first year I did this activity, I actually hand-wrote “following directions” on white paper squares and put them in the mailbox. The next year, I started using one of the fun decks from Super Duper. Depending on the level of your students, you can pick and choose cards based on their abilities. Some of the cards require verbal responses and some require non-verbal responses. And if you write your own task cards, you can make them specific to each child. Some of the questions in the Super Duper fun deck include clap your hands 3 times, name an animal, wiggle your fingers, pretend you are a cat, sing Happy Birthday, and so on…
I usually do “You’ve Got Mail” as part of a circle activity. I always hold up the mailbox with the flag raised and I say, “Who is sitting nicely?” Then I look around and choose someone who is attending and sitting and I say, “Johnny, you’ve got mail!” Then Johnny comes up and takes the card out of the mailbox. I then read the card and he has to answer, imitate, or complete the task on the card while facing his peers.
As I said, super fun, super simple, super engaging, and lots of language. I promise your kiddos will love this activity!
FIFTH COURSE DESSERT: I always end my circle with a song and then hi-fives, knuckles, or hip-hip-hoorays with a pom-pom.
An inexpensive little pom-pom is a great reinforcer. I use my pom-pom in multiple ways such as, to reinforce an awesome behavior in the middle of a lesson or at the end while I am going around the group giving hi-fives or knuckles. My students (including non-verbal kids) have to tell me if they want a hi-five or knuckles. Sometimes, I will change up the hi-five to low-five (with a low voice) or backward five (I’m turned backwards), etc. And I always say something positive that is specific to that student’s behaviors or participation that day. And on those rough days (MAJOR BEHAVIORS and we all have those days, right?) I can always say, “I’m so glad you were here today.” And if I use the pom-pom, the students help say, “Hip-Hip-Hooray” as I shake the pom-pom on their heads or the back of their necks. They ALWAYS love this and I get lots of giggles. And if there is a student who doesn’t want the pom-pom, they can opt out but within the week, they will be independently asking for that pom-pom! I guarantee it!
And if you’re looking for some REALLY fun books or materials to increase language skills check out some of my favorites.CLICK HERE FOR SUPER FUN MATERIALS!
Well I hope I have given you a few of my best tricks to take back and use in your whole group therapy sessions.
And don’t forget to sprinkle that fun all over the place! Monae <3