Monday, March 3, 2014

Speechy Sunday: Follow Your Students' Interests

So many of my elementary aged students love more than anything to tell me about their pets.  One little girl tells me about her rabbits before she even says hello to me on days I see her for speech!  So it seemed only natural to follow my students' interests and create a "Pet" unit for our literature-based speech-language therapy sessions.  For this unit, we read these 3 story books over and over: 

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion,
Stray Dog by Marc Simont, &
Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

Each time we read the books, I teach specific vocabulary and concepts.  Here, I'm going to highlight the vocabulary and concepts I teach for the "Harry the Dirty Dog" book.

Key vocabulary:
except - but not
bury - to put in a hole and cover over with dirt
filthy - very dirty
changed - became different
recognize - to know who someone is
exhausted - very tired
expect - to think something will happen a certain way
disappointed - upset or sad that things didn't go how you expected
confused - not understanding
relieved - no longer upset, glad something stressful is over
comfortable - cozy
scrub - to wash by rubbing hard with a rag, sponge, or scrub brush

The first time I read this book with students, I often discuss the idea of changing from clean to filthy and back again, and create a craft illustrating the similarities and differences between clean Harry and filthy Harry.  For concepts, I like to point out the endings of these words:  dirty, dirtier, dirtiest-- and how "er" means more, and "est" means most.

The next time we read the book, I often encourage my students to create complex sentences using the sentence frame shown in the picture (ex:  He feels disappointed because he expected to go inside and eat dinner, but he can't.). 

The last time we read the book, I encourage my students to tell the story to me, using all of the vocabulary and concepts we've discussed throughout the times we've read the book already.  I take data on which vocabulary words, concepts, and complex sentence forms they can now use on their own.  I used to think that these types of story book activities worked only for "language" students, but I have to say that after using them this year with all of my clients, I will never do articulation sessions without a book to serve as a context for the words we are practicing again.  It takes some planning ahead, but is really useful for getting to spontaneous use of target words really quickly. 

This is also a great book for students on the autism spectrum, because it sets the stage to talk about different people's expectations, thoughts, and perspectives, and how they might be different depending on the situation.  In the book, Harry the dog gets so dirty while he is out playing that he changes from a white dog to a black dog.  Then, sadly, his family doesn't recognize him when he gets home.  Some good high-level questions to ask students include: 

 -Why is Harry disappointed when he gets home?  Because he expects to come home and eat dinner after playing all day. But instead, his family doesn't recognize him and won't invite him inside.
-Why don't they recognize him?  Because they expect him to be white.  But he is black.
-Why did Harry change colors?  Because he got so filthy.
-How did he get so filthy?  He played in filthy places. 
-Why did Harry want a bath at the end (when he hated baths so much at first)? Because he wanted his family to recognize him.
-Do you think Harry will ever get that filthy again?  (prediction-- maybe not, because he doesn't want to come home and not be recognized again!)

This book can be challenging for some students, especially students who are on the autism spectrum and might have difficulty considering other people's perspectives and thoughts.  But I have found that if I repeat the book enough times (3-4 times), my students understand the concepts by the end of the unit, and really enjoy being experts on the book by the last time we read it together.  I have also been blown away by the multisyllabic words that some of my articulation students begin pronouncing correctly after we practice them within the context of the story over and over.
our new little dog!

And funny story--the first week of this unit, as I was reading "Stray Dog" to my students, guess what I found?  My very own stray dog!   Who is now a wonderful member of the family!  So hooray for children's literature for planting a seed in my heart to have compassion on a little dog alone out in the world! 

What's your favorite book about pets?  (I also love "Hondo and Fabian" by Peter McCarty--a great book about a day in the life of a dog and a cat that my friend Dana gave Flanna one year.)

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