Monday, February 26, 2018

5 Activities for Teaching your Students about Emotions

The number of students coming to us in elementary school who have autism, emotional disturbances, or have been exposed to drugs in utero, continues to grow.  These populations have an unbelievably difficult time with social skills and emotion regulation as they become school-age.  One of the foundational necessities of these two skills is being able to identify emotions based on facial expression or body language and to understand what causes us to feel these different emotions.

Last year I graciously accepted the role of guest blogger on HoJo's Teaching Adventure's blog, and today I wanted to share it with you, in case you missed it!  These are my 5 favorite activities for teaching emotions.

1. Reflections! 
First, find pictures on the computer of your students' favorite cartoon characters making different faces and print out the pictures. You'll be surprised at how many options you get if you type something in such as "Peppa Pig Sad!" After printing out the pictures, I suggest laminating them for durability.  Next, give your students a mirror to hold in front of themselves and try to match the facial expressions of their favorite characters!  Make sure that after they copy the face that they also name what emotion matches the face they are making.  Each student should get to take a turn with the mirror.  To make sure that your students are getting a wide variety of emotions to try to emulate, have them select a card that is face-down, so it is truly random.  This will stop them from always choosing a picture of someone happy.  We want our students learning what facial expressions look like for many emotions, rather than just one or two.

Special Note -> I find that mirrors with handles work best for small hands.  If you are concerned about students dropping the mirror, or if you work with students who are physically challenged, you may choose to do this activity in a mirror that is already hanging on the wall, such as in the bathroom or on the back of a closet door.  

2. Real Life Photos! 
Use a camera to take pictures of your students making facial expressions depicting different emotions, or if your students are responsible enough, they can take the pictures of their classmates themselves! To begin, I like to have students make happy faces, sad faces, angry faces and surprised faces.  It helps to use an even number of students for each emotion, if possible.  You can then print, laminate, and cut out your students’ pictures in the size of playing cards.  These cards can be used in an incredible number of ways.  You can use them to play matching (match emotions) or go fish.  This is why it is helpful to have an even number of students making the same kind of face.  You can spread the childrens' faces out all over the floor and have them toss a beanbag.  Whichever card the beanbag lands on, students can name the emotion and also think of a time they may feel that way, or have them imitate the facial expression.   You can have each student select one card, imitate the expression they see on the card, and have their classmates guess how they are pretending to feel.  This activity of using real life photo is only limited by imagination and creativity!

*Special Note -> Don’t forget to get photo permission from parents and guardians in advance!

3. Role play – Reader’s Theater!
Have you heard of Reader’s Theater?  I only recently learned about it in an online course about dyslexia and dysgraphia.  The idea behind Reader’s Theater is that your students play out a script in front of their class.  It’s wonderful for struggling readers because emphasis is placed on body language and facial expressions, rather than literacy skills.  This is perfect also for our students who are trying to learn more about how facial expressions and body language reflects feelings.  Find (or create your own) scripts that have a lot of emotions in them!  For students who are struggling with these, pair them up with a partner who needs to portray the same emotion as them (the script calls for both students to have the same emotion).  Having a peer to model and remind your struggling student of what their face should look like is a strategy that allows the student to feel more independent since you aren't directly prompting them.

4. Freeze dance!
Remember playing Freeze Dance during recess or gym as a child?  Someone would play music from a boom box (I'm aging myself now) and everyone would dance.  When the music stopped, everybody would have to freeze.  Play this game the exact same way, except have your students freeze in a posture and with a facial expression that matches an emotion.  You can give them an example of having a huge smile on your face, arms raised, to show the expression of excited or proud.  For some contrast, show your students they could freeze with their hands on their hips and a scowl on their face to show anger or annoyance.  There are so many different ways to shape our bodies and faces to match an emotion! 

5. Movie: Inside Out!
Have you seen this Pixar movie yet?  It features characters based on 5 common emotions, living inside of a girl's mind as she grows into her teenage years.  The characters are: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.  First, let your students watch the movie (it's only an hour and a half).  Next, have your students separate into five groups, and assign each group one of the characters/emotions.  Explain to them that they are going to make a collage based on their assigned emotion.  They can use their own creative ideas on a poster board, to display things that make them feel that emotion.  They can clip pictures from newspapers or magazines, print images from the computer, draw images, or write the images in bold, colorful fonts.  Once completed, the groups will stand in front of the class and present their collaborative collages to their peers, explaining what emotion they had and what makes them feel that way.

*Special Note -> Inside Out is a PG movie.  Use your judgement on if your students are mature enough to watch the move before showing it.  Getting parent permission may be a good idea, if you have any concerns.

Monday, February 12, 2018

10 Ways to Prepare for Parent-Teacher Night (Speech-Language Pathologist Style)

Parent-teacher night is on the horizon over at my school.  We always have one in the fall and then one again in the winter/spring.  It can be super nerve-wracking to have parents coming in and out of your office, so to try and make it a little less stressful for myself, I prepare in advance.

Here is what I do...

1. Send home a reminder to the parents of when parent-teacher night is and where they can find you.  Include on the note an RSVP slip, so that you have a heads up of which parents are going to try to come.  Obviously this doesn't mean there won't be a few surprises, but you'll at least have a little more insight into how the night will go.  It will also prevent any parents from wandering around the building, asking random people where to find Speech.

2. Place your student files/folders in alphabetical order for easy and quick access.  When a parent comes in who you don't recognize, just ask them their child's name and then pull out the folder.  Side note, be sure not to assume that this person shares the last name of the child or that it is their son/daughter.  Some people look a lot younger or older than they really are, and you don't want to call somebody the grandpa when they're actually the father.

3. Prep your folders.  Go through all of them carefully.  Here's what I think is best practice for inside:
  • student's most recent IEP goals
  • current mandate
  • date of their upcoming IEP
  • Any parent/guardian correspondences (print all emails)
  • Student sample work
  • Data/benchmarking/progress monitoring
  • Language Sample
4. A lot of parents say that they wish they had more communication with their child's SLP.  I suggest having little cards to hand out with your name, title, school phone number, and your school email address on them.  I usually just type it up and print out a bunch on card stock.

5. Make sure you have a sign-in sheet.  Administration may ask who came to speak with you, and instead of racking your brain, you'll be able to just make a copy of the sheet and hand it in.  Also, if you ever have a reason to need to confirm the amount of communication you had with a particular family, you will have documentation of the family coming to meet with you (or not coming).

6. Have a few toys within reach in case the parent brings the student with them or a sibling.  You don't want the child to take attention away from the sparse time you have directly speaking with a parent.  Prep something super engaging (think iPad) and make sure it's not an item they get so often that it isn't exciting for them.

7. Come up with a phrase, in advance, that you can use if a meeting is taking longer than it should, and you have a line of parents starting to accumulate.  I like to say "I've so enjoyed speaking with you.  It seems that I'm starting to gather a line, but would love to continue this conversation.  How about we set up an appointment time where we can speak in person or over the phone?"

8. Think about your most challenging student.  Maybe it's the one who screams, the one who bites, the one who spits, curses, or drops to the floor like dead weight.  Now think about their parent.  Who maybe has years of parent-teacher nights in their memory, where they have had to hear about all these behaviors they are all too familiar with.  These meetings are hardest on them.  Find something positive to say about every single student.  Anything.   Start the conversation with that thing, and then repeat it at the end of the conversation.  Here are a few ideas that may apply to your students:

  • Johnny is always smiling.
  • Mia has been making such nice eye contact lately.
  • I've noticed that Benji is more aware of the other students in his class recently.
  • Alysha turned towards me the other day when I called her name.
  • Transitions have been getting better.  Instead of needing full physical prompts, now Jackson only needs his hand to be held.
  • Nora kept her hearing aids in for five extra minutes last week.
  • Zach looks so handsome with his new haircut.
  • Everyone is always talking about how beautiful Kia is dressed every day.
  • Yu has been benefiting so much from visual cues, such as this picture of Hands Down.
  • Winter has been carrying her speech book while walking, without dropping it.

9.  Have pen and paper right near your desk, so that you can keep track of which parents request what from you. It might seem simple at first to remember that Tonya's mom wants a new PECS symbol for "homework," but after seeing 8 more parents, you'll probably forget that. A list will keep you organized and also hold you responsible for providing your students with what the need for success and carryover at home.

10.  Unnecessary, but nice, extra things to have prepped:
  • Snacks (goldfish, pretzel sticks, etc)
  • Mini water bottles
  • Small notebooks (like the kind you can buy ten in a pack from Party City)
  • Pens (to let the parents jot notes down in the notebooks)
  • Tissues (in case you have an emotional conversation)