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9 Ways to Use Cups in Speech and Language Therapy

Cups are a fun tool to incorporate into your speech and language therapy.  They are inexpensive, I buy mine at the dollar store, and easy to store. They come in a variety of sizes and colours. If one breaks, they are easy to replace.  They also low prep activities (for the most part). Here are nine ways to use plastic cups in therapy.

1.  Stack artic cards with cups.  After your student(s) has practiced their sound(s), give them the artic card and a cup.  While another child is practicing their words, the child(ren) can build their towers.  Using the cards as part of the structures allow the children different building options.  

2. Have tower races.  If you have a group of students, have them race to see how high they can make their towers before they crash.  Student's get a cup for every artic production or group of productions.

3. Ball drop.  This is an oldie, but I still use it frequently.  Have a group of cups grouped together.  Have numbers written at the bottom of the cup.  Have a child stand above the group of cups or a short distance away and drop the ball into one of the cups.  They then have to say their targets the number of times as it says on the cup. Hint: if you don't want the balls to bounce around, big pom poms work well too. 

4. Following directions.  You can purchase cups in a number of colours and sizes.  Have the cups out and give directions about which cup to pick up and where to put it.  Great for also working on prepositions!  An alternative is to have the child tell you which cups to pick up and where to put them.  It also makes a great barrier game!

5. Describing.  Have the student make a structure (machine) with cups (and other objects if you like) and then have the students explain what they built, and how it works.  

6. Sequencing.  Have a set of pictures out to make a structure.  Have the child use the photos to make the structure while telling you the steps.  Once it is complete, have them tell you how they made it.  

7.  Requesting. The children ask for the cups as they build a structure. This is also an excellent activity for children who are working with AAC.

8. Pretend play.  Build structures and then add figurines.  You would be amazed at the type and breadth of play children can create.

9.  Social skills.  If you have children who are working on social skills/language, have your students build towers together.  They will have to work in a group, negotiate, problem-solving, and deal with situations where they experience failure (e.g., the towers fall).

These are ways I have used cups in therapy.  Do you use cups in therapy?

Five Tips for Creating Vocabulary Rich Preschool Classrooms

Establishing an environment for vocabulary development is crucial for all children.  This is especially true for children who are in special education/at-risk programs.   In my experience, most of these children have weak vocabularies.  They need to be exposed to a variety of words, not just nouns,  over and over and over again.  Here are five tips I have found helpful for creating vocabulary rich preschool classrooms.

1. Use themes.  This is a great way make sure that children are exposed to same/similar vocabulary during the time you are working on a theme.  They would be exposed to words such as farm animals during circle time, while reading books, while playing, etc...  Some children may be playing with cause and effect toys.  It can be challenging, but try and find some cause and effect toys that match the theme.  For a list of favourite topics, click here

Even with emergent curriculum* being implemented here in Alberta, I would argue that you can still do an overarching theme.  If you have children who love vehicles, have them use toy farm equipment.  If you have children who love blocks, have them stack "hay bales." Finally, if you have a theme that the children are loving, then don't be afraid to extend that theme for a week or two.  As well, if your children really are not interested in a specific theme, then don't be afraid to cut that theme short.

2. Be intentional about the toys/equipment you use.  If you are using themes, this can be easier.  If you are doing a farm theme, then every centre and free-play area is related to farms and farming.  For example, use counting pigs to work on math skills.  Create a mud table and put animals in it for sensory play.  Same goes for circle time.  If you are not using themes, then think about the vocabulary you want the children to learn and brainstorm about activities that would best teach that vocabulary.

3. Pick specific vocabulary to focus on.  Write down a list of vocabulary that you want to target in class.  It is also helpful to post the words somewhere in the classroom.  I have even seen it where they post the words, where they would be most frequently used (e.g., clean and dirty were displayed above the water table).  Make sure that you are picking more than just labels for things.  Children need to be exposed to a wide variety of vocabulary including action words, location words and describing words. 

If you are working with a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), find out what vocabulary goals the children have and incorporate them into your classroom.  E.g., if you have children working on "in" and "out," talk about the pigs going "in" the mud to get dirty and coming "out" of the mud to get clean.  At the same time, share with your SLP/OT/PT your themes. They could probably find activities to work on their goals using your theme regardless if they are doing pushed in or pull out therapy.

4.  Play and interact with the children.  This may seem obvious to some people and very challenging for others.  First off preschool sizes are getting larger and even with a "large" number of adults, staff members are often busy with crowd control, or paperwork, or getting ready for the next part of the schedule.  Secondly, many adults have forgotten how to play or feel uncomfortable getting down and playing with children.  

Remember, you are helping to expose children to a vast array of vocabulary and knowledge. Playing with allows you to answer their questions and expand their understanding.  Children are little sponges and will learn from each other.  If you teach a few, then they will often then teach some of the other children. 

5. Make it fun.  The more fun you have and the children have, the quicker they will learn, the longer they will retain it, and the odds are they will go home and share it with their families. 

With the vast array of studies linking vocabulary size and use to academic success, it is vital for preschool classrooms to be as rich in vocabulary as it can.

*A very concise definition of emergent curriculum is a process where the classroom staff uses the students' interests, skills levels, and needs in order to plan the activities in the classroom. 

Importance of Making Mistakes in Speech Therapy

Most SLP would describe themselves as having more of a type A personality.  We don't like to make mistakes, especially in front of others. At least I don't. But I am here to encourage you to point out your errors in therapy. It is helpful for those students you serve who don't like to make mistakes or when they make a mistake do not have to problem-solving skills to fix them. 

You probably have had or will have a student who is a perfectionist. These can be some of my trickiest students.  They may be reluctant to try if they think they can't do the task or if as soon as the student makes a mistake, they may stop participating.  It can make progress extremely slow.  It can also have a significant impact on their academic career. In my experience, they are less likely to become involved in class discussions and may be less likely to ask their teacher for help or clarification.

Along the same lines, a child with difficulty with problem-solving may become upset or not know how to react when they have made a mistake or expect an adult to solve the problem for them.  This also can have a significant impact on a child's education.

There are four strategies I use in therapy:

1. Point out the mistakes you make.  We all make mistakes.  If you are working on articulation, then point out when you mispronounce a word.  Then talk about trying again. Say the misspoken word again.  This should be done nonchalantly as it if it happens.  The tone you correct yourself will show the students that making mistakes happen and it's not a "huge deal." It also teaches students who have difficulty solving problems how to fix it.

2. Talk about how to fix the mistakes students may make.  If they are working on artic, then explicitly teach them how to make the sound.  If old enough, have the students analyze what they did wrong and, if applicable, have them tell you what they need to do to fix it.  If you are working on grammar or vocabulary goals, make sure the students can explain the rules or the steps they use to master the skill.

3.  Start the therapy sessions with an activity or skill that the student experiences more success.  Next, move to the more difficult skills, then end with a skill that the child experiences more success.   

4. Talk about progress.  Have the child use a rating system on how they felt about the activity or the session. Also, keep those and then every so often, go over them with the student to show them progress. As well, I have made comments such as, "Do you remember when this was tricky for you?  Now it is getting easier."

The other thing to think about is to not be afraid of backing off and playing with the hierarchy.  Talking about how you would not make the student do something they couldn't do can also be helpful. Progress will probably be slow but will ultimately be more successful if you have a positive relationship with the student.