Assessing Play Skills- In the Playground!

Preschool therapy can be so fun, even when the little ones tire you out with their boundless energy.

If you've read the rest of the posts in this series, you have scrounged up your materials, using a few of the suggested items on the list in this blog post. You’ve been working for a week or two with your book, their literacy skills are improving and they love the games and crafts you have been doing.  Your students have increased their language to talk about your theme during these structured activities. 

So, what is missing?

Tips for assessing play skills in the playground by Looks Like Language

Play is such an important part of learning for young  children that it is vital to include it in your therapy sessions. When children really have the language that you have been modeling, you will see it emerge in their play.

The opposite relationship is also true! If the child has not yet used the language, but begins to demonstrate comprehension of the concepts in play, the language is more likely to emerge!

A Bit of Background

If you work with young children and are not already familiar with the play scale from Carol Westby, download it NOW!

Patricia Prelock wrote an excellent chapter on understanding and assessing play, which you can download here.

If you are looking for an overview of research on play and the findings, you can access a great article by  Lifter et al. (2011) here.

Observing Play
What better spring theme for preschoolers than the playground?  Observe your students while they’re out there.

Social Interactions
Students may be using “my turn” and “please’” under our watchful eye in the therapy room, but if it isn’t being used on the playground, you still have some generalization work to do. Some kids may be interacting with each other on the equipment while others may be following their own agenda. If this is the case, check to see if they are at least looking at the other kids occasionally to see what everyone else is up to. It gives you some important information for determining their independent level of play.

The student who pushes the kid in front of him on the slide and then looks bothered when the child screams his way down may have weak prediction and cause-effect skills. This child is just acting on a desire to be done waiting and may not be able to think ahead  and plan yet. Time to work some safety issues into your playground play!

You may say see some students, especially those with ASD, wandering aimlessly around the area rather than engaging in the playground activities.  While there can be many components to this, one of them is likely to be unfamiliarity with exactly what is expected. These students may need to be taught specific, concrete activities to do in the play area.

Now that you have observed, what can you do about it in therapy? Here are a literacy set  and a visual sentence building activity set to get you started, but come back next week for some tips! 

Enjoy! Linda

7 Tips for Planning Preschool Therapy

Planning for preschool means lots of activities! If you have been used to working with students who can read (and who can pay attention a little longer!) switching to preschoolers can be a challenge at first. One of my readers asked me to help out with a post about how I planned for preschool. 

I worked in preschool for 13 years and loved it. Kids that age have short attention spans and lots of energy, so you have to plan more than you think you will need, but they can make such noticeable progress! 

Back then, I was lucky enough to have Sesame Street magazine, which had wonderful activities that I could adapt for therapy. It isn’t available now, unfortunately, but if you know anyone who is a pack rat or you go to garage sales, it is worth picking the old magazines up! Since it isn’t available any longer, I made my own versions of some of my favorite types of activities in a book companion for It Looked Like Spilt Milk.

I collected materials on each theme I used whenever I saw something. I also made a lot of pages from coloring books and preschool workbooks into interactive games. You might want to check these out at the Dollar Store or Target, where they are inexpensive. Over time, I came up with a pattern that worked for preschool planning.

Plan more than you think you will need, although I found 3 activities to be the magic number for a 30 minute session.
Planning tips for preschool therapy from Looks Like Language!
Use some combination of:

1- a theme.

2- a literacy activity.

3- a game.

4- a craft.

5- a song or finger play.

6- a movement activity.

7- thematic play with backup materials (like bubbles or playdoh.)

8- a plan for when you want to take data.

How to Plan Preschool Speech/Language Therapy

1. Start with a theme.  
Using themes in preschool therapy- tips from Looks Like Language.

It can run for 1-2 weeks, depending on how many activities you come up with, and how frequently you see each group per week. Preschoolers do well learning about what is currently going on in their lives, so preschool curriculums tend to include weather, holidays and basic category themes. Whenever your rainy time is, a theme of clouds and rain is great for this age.

2. Get a great book

Literacy activities are the best! My all-time favorite book for clouds is It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw. It incorporates negatives (“but it wasn’t”) which is a difficult language form for special needs preschoolers. It works on visual perception skills and promotes creative thinking. It has lots of activities and it is fun!

3. Have a simple game!

Preschoolers like simple games where you take cards and talk or match. They are more about playing than winning, especially since having one winner can cause upsets. So, if you have a group that needs a winner, try thinking of a way to have multiple winners! 

It is so easy to use simple laminated shapes to make games. You can make them as easy as having happy and sad faces, with the sad faces being set aside and happy faces being kept. You can make one side have pictures or colors that can be matched, or you can even tape other pictures on the shapes.

In the photo, the cloud shapes have pieces from a Sesame Street Rainy Day picture to put together. I tacked them on with funtac, which ended up leaving those dark spots on the clouds over time since they aren’t laminated. So I would suggest taking whatever you stuck on the shapes off before storing them!

3. Have a simple craft!  

There are so many ideas on Pinterest. I’ve listed two boards just for this book at the end of this post. My favorite craft for clouds is fun and easy. Put a small blob of white paint in the fold of a blue piece of construction paper and have the child press on it. Open the paper up and see what shape you made! What does it look like? What does it look like it isn’t?

4. Use songs and finger plays

Kids remember words best if they are put to song- think about how you learned your abc’s. I did a quick online search and found this simple song about clouds that includes sign language. I’m not advocating showing preschoolers YouTube videos, but you can easily re-create this activity to do with your groups. Check it out here.

5. Use movement

When your students start to get very fidgety, it is a good time to wrap up what you were doing and switch to a movement activity. These are great for following directions and can be used to elicit language, too. It can be as easy as cutting large cloud shapes out of different color construction paper and taping a picture on the other side. Give directions to get each student to go to a different shape. When they have all had a turn, they bring their cloud back to the table to tell about the picture they found.

6. Have backup plans!
See if you can adapt your favorite activity to relate to the theme. Sometimes, all of our best plans just don’t go over that day, or maybe didn’t last as long as expected, so a backup plan is always a good idea. Playdoh is easy to incorporate into a cloud theme. Have your students smash it into different shapes and talk about what it is, or isn’t.  

Get out your old playdoh can and a spray bottle of water. First, try using the old playdoh and elicit language like hard, in both meanings. (ex. It feels hard. It is hard to roll.) Then have the students pretend to be rainclouds and squirt a little water on their playdoh. Talk about how it changed when you added some water and mixed it in.

7. Plan how to elicit responses based on needs and how to take data.

As you are planning your activities to use over the week, think about the specific needs of the children this year and which activities are best suited to their goals. Start with those first! It isn’t possible to do all of these activities in one week of therapy time, but different activities will lend themselves better to modeling and eliciting different speech and language needs. 

Don’t get yourself crazy trying to do all of the activities with all of the kids. If you take data for 1-2 kids during one activity and data for the others in the second activity, it is easier to keep things moving more smoothly.

8. Use free resources and ideas!

My Pinterest board:

YouTube Song: Very slow paced with signing for young kids.

Free patterns:

If you start your planning the first year with 2 or 3 activities for the theme and add to it every year, it really is quite manageable!

Of course, you are welcome to stop by my store and get my resource for It Looked Like Spilt Milk! 

Then you will have a fun resource that addresses a variety of goals to make your planning for mixed groups easier!


7 Creative Tips for Using Dice in Speech/Language Therapy

How do you make 'work' more fun for middle school students? It can be quite the challenge! My middle school students function at an elementary school level in many areas, but as they've gotten older, they aren't as interested in board games as they once were. 

Being creative with dice to motivate your students!

Using dice has come to my rescue on more than one occasion when dealing with disinterested middle schoolers! Of course, elementary school students will love these games, too!


The basic, open ended game can be used for almost any goal. It is so easy to keep around and pull out when students are refusing to work. All you have to do is divide a sheet of paper into 6 sections and number each box.

Using dice in speech therapy makes it more fun! Looks-Like-Language

The students can even do this themselves, choosing their color paper and deciding which of their targets will go in each box. 

Besides the fact that giving students choices can make them more willing to participate, the act of deciding gets them thinking and talking about what they have been learning in speech. 

Each student can be giving different types of responses and still play the same game! In the photo below, the student on the left is practicing /r/ in the final position. To get even more productions, have the student say the word the number of times that is rolled! The student on the right is using pronouns to tell about the pictures

How about using dice to get 100 productions of a target sound? This game makes it easier!

Cover a die with red and green paper on the sides and put tape over it. Students roll the die and keep producing words with their sounds until they make a mistake or roll a stop. Then it is the next student's turn. 

While they are waiting, they can place checks in the boxes, color or dot them if you keep track of how many productions they did. The first student to get 100 correct productions wins!

I made this into a freebie for you! Get it here.

Using dice in speech therapy makes it more fun! Looks-Like-Language
Did you ever play Bingo with dice?  If you use two different colors to number the boxes, students can roll to see which box to answer about and cover.

This is a great visual way to build math skills for co-ordinates and quadrants and your students won't even realize it! 

Using dice in speech therapy makes it more fun! Looks-Like-Language

Connect 3 is a fun game that can easily be played with dice and a page with boxes!  I like to use different colored boxes to match my dice. Then I hide the dice in a bag and let the student take one out to roll.

After responding about the target in the matching box, they write their initials in the box. Any time that they fill in an adjacent box, they connect them. The person who connects three, or has the most pairs, is the winner.

Using dice in speech therapy makes it more fun! Looks-Like-Language

Narratives are such an important skill, which so many of my students lack. I bought some sets of soft foam math cubes at the Dollar Store and covered them with the stickers from my Story Grammar Marker set. I covered them with tape and I was ready to go!

Use any pictures that contain some story elements to get your students started. Students roll the dice and tell the information they want to add to their story. 

I have done this orally to help my students practice formulating correct sentence structures, but you could have students write their answers and form a written narrative, too. When they have figured out all of the elements, it is time to tell the story!

Using dice in speech therapy makes it more fun! Looks-Like-Language

For a quick vocabulary review game, have each student write 6 of their target words on an index card. They roll the die to see which word to define and use in a sentence correctly to earn a point. I give them 7-10 rolls each and see which student got the most points when I need it to be quick!

Using dice in speech therapy makes it more fun! Looks-Like-Language

To change things up a bit, sometimes I combine spinners and dice! My students need lots of practice formulating ideas into sentences, so sometimes I have them spin to get one idea to use and roll to get the other idea, then combine them in a concise, correct sentence.

The photo shows this idea using action photos  along with a question spinner, found in some of my sets. Students roll to get the picture to use and then spin the spinner to ask or answer using that question word about their picture.

My students often need thinking time before responding, so I like to do one round where everyone rolls  and another round where they take turns giving their answers. It may take a little more time, but I have found that the added co-operativeness and willingness to do the activity for longer compensate for the extra time! 

How do you use dice in therapy?

Enjoy! Linda

Practical Tips for Treating Echolalia

Echolalia in autism is a unique disorder to treat, and one that can be frustrating to work on. It definitely helps to have some basic information!

Basic Types of Echolalia

- Immediate echolalia is when a child with autism answers your question by repeating the question or echoes whatever you just said. 

- Delayed echolalia happens when a child with autism repeats something that was said earlier in time, often a statement that has been heard frequently or even sections of a favorite TV show or movie

Echolalic statements may or may not have communicative functions.

Helpful Resource Links

It is no wonder that echolalia can be confusing to the treating SLP!  You might find it helpful to read the research by Dr. Barry Prizant, which indicates that echolalia can occur for a variety of communicative, interactive and non-communicative functions. If you prefer to read his original research, click here for a free download.

If you’d like a more reader-friendly version, there’s a great condensed version at Indiana University Bloomington.

If you are looking for a parent-friendly version of echolalia and what can be done, this WikiHow article is excellent.

My Success Story

Get some practical tips for treating echolalia from Looks-Like-Language!

Using visuals is the best strategy I have found in working with students on the autism spectrum. Did you figure out the statement in my picture, courtesy of Smarty Symbols? A picture is worth a 1,000 words!

I have had success personally in treating young children who demonstrated immediate, communicative echolalia. Instead of answering questions, the only strategy these children had was to echo the question. 

This seemed to be a positive event that indicated that the children actually understood that they were being asked a question since the echolalia did not occur when they were given a simple direction that was understood or asked a question that they knew the answer to.

Because of this, my feeling was that the echolalia meant they couldn’t process the question they were being asked and formulate a response, but they understood that a response was required.

Activity Tips

Visual supports are an important part of the strategies that work. 

* Make sure the child is looking a directly at what is happening (joint attention) and then use simple language that tells about what is being done.

* Make sure that the language literally and directly relates to the ongoing activity.

* Model the language multiple times, pointing at the visual support, before ever asking for a verbal response.

* Repeat one action, providing a model yet again, and then ask a question to elicit the response, immediately modeling the response verbally and visually by pointing at the words or word symbols.

* If the child still echoes the question, model the language with a little more emphasis and stop the action.

* Don’t start the action again until the child gives the desired response. Use the visual to help the child point at the pictured words in the response if you don't get a verbal non-echolalic answer.

* Repeat the question and the response as the action begins again, with more emphasis on the answer than on the response.

* Repeat as needed! Practice, practice, practice!

Literacy Tips

Literacy tips for autism and echolalia from Looks Like Language.
Using pictures in a literacy activity, where the pictures show exactly what the words being used meant, is very helpful since pictures last for processing time.

* Find a book with repetitive text that models the same language you are using in your activity.

* Make your own, if needed, using a set of pictures that show variations of the activity while the language remains the same. It is great to include photos of the child doing that activity!

* Don’t downplay the importance of written text and/or visual symbols even for young non-verbal students. Children with autism who are nonverbal can be hyperlexic and may make sense of the written words first, using that as their cue to understanding the oral language.

Involve Parents!

I made a personal book for a student I had who could answer “What is it?” by labeling nouns, but had no other functional language and immediate echolalia.  Every day, therapy culminated in gluing a picture related to the day’s activity in his book.  

The related question was on the left-hand side of the page, with the pictured activity and a phrase or sentence written under it on the right side of the page. This book became his bedtime story every night. The parents used my modeling technique at first, but by the end of the year, my hyperlexic two year old read the entire book himself and used that language functionally.

Use Visuals and Scripts

* Use the list of possible functions for echolalia from Dr. Prizant to make a hypothesis about what the child is using the echolalia for. This will help you determine a more appropriate way of communication to model.

* Make your modeling visual as well as verbal! Use pictures that SHOW the language.

* Use scripted words, phrases or sentences with symbols and/or written words.  Scripted basically means a functional, communicative phrase or sentence that is visual and modeled/practiced in a communicative context until the child can use it to communicate independently.

* If the words are being used for non-interactive and non-communicative functions, using procedures to extinguish this behavior during interactions and activities may be the way to go, while also working on expanding communicative and interactive skills.

* If there is a communicative function in the way the child is using the echolalic utterances, do the same thing we do for all of our students with language needs!
Set up the situation, model the desired response, pause, model again and wait for a response. Just be sure to provide a visual way to respond using pictures, symbols and written words to match the verbal words you are modeling. 

* Pointing to the visual while modeling the auditory often helps students with autism make sense of the words. It also gives you a way to physically prompt the modeled response, with assisted pointing, before the student becomes too frustrated.

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