More Shoebox Play Tips: Teaching Core Vocabulary EAT!

Your student picks up the toy and sets it back down again. Maybe he lines them up or maybe she tries to roll them before ignoring them entirely. Since we know that developing children's play skills is vital for expanding cognitive skills needed for communication growth, what is an SLP to do?

With neurotypical children, the goal of therapy is to develop as many of the missing skills as possible and expand them upward towards a higher chronological age level.

Tips for how to teach core vocabulary across multiple skill areas.
Working with kids on the autism spectrum, it may be more useful to think of therapy goals as advancing one functional skill as broadly as possible.

Developing a deep understanding of a skill or idea and as broad of functional, expressive use of the skill in many different contexts helps the child with autism to be better able to generalize skills.

The photos in this post show one way to start with a basic set of vocabulary words, determine a symbol level to use, and bring the vocabulary into basic sentence structure.



Add some pragmatics, like requesting, commenting and 'no,' to build in functional communicative uses.

Bring in some literacy and play skills using the same words. You have given your student the visual equivalent of word association skills, building word knowledge and use, adding a slightly expanded skill to the base you started with.

This way, while you are building your student's communicative skills, you are also maintaining what was learned and expanding skills in a way that only adds one new piece at a time. Working in little chunks makes learning less intimidating and frustrating; more achievable and successful.

Would you want to go straight to the final in your most demanding class or learn each step a little at a time?

Tips for how to teach core vocabulary across multiple skill areas.
Try basing as many of your therapy goals as possible around a functional core word.  This post demonstrates a way to build skills based around the core verb ‘eat.’



Start with a set of toys and a nice sturdy box to visually show how to play. 

Shoeboxes are great, but any sturdy box can do!




Determining symbol level
You also have to determine the symbol level the student understands so that you can add communication skills to the play task.

This photo shows a way to use a ravioli plastic and play food in a simple matching activity. The symbols are at varied levels, from cut out photos or TOBIs (True Object Based Icons that show the object’s shape,) to photos, and then symbols.

When asked to ‘match’ the fruits, the student is likely to choose the most meaningful symbol for matching.


Determining symbol level
In this example, the student matched the play fruit to the TOBIs, so that is the type of communication symbol I would use in the activity.

Another matching activity to try out is to have the student match the toy fruits to the real versions. 

Toys are easier to use in play activities, but students need to understand that the plastic banana represents a real banana for the concept of ‘eat’ to be developed.


determining symbol level


Notice that this student correctly matched the fruits to the icons, including matching the purple grape toy to the green grape icon rather than the purple grape photo. 

This shows a higher level of symbolism than in the last example.







determining symbol level
If this student understood the direction, “Match.” and this result is typical, it seems that the student is not yet at a symbolic level.  Assessing if the student uses actual objects correctly and working on developing a symbolic communication system for basic desires may be the way to go at this point in time.

Students who don’t comprehend any pictorial symbol system may benefit from using an object system, such as using a spoon to request cereal.


determining symbol level
Here you can see the box that has been decorated with a hungry child who has a huge mouth cut open to place foods inside to feed him.

Pointing at the symbols as you say them, whether they are paper symbols or symbols on an AAC device, is a vital teaching method for students using AAC. Seeing the symbols as the word is said can help the student assign meaning to the verbal words, as well as modeling how to express the ideas.



Determining symbol level

To build expressive communication skills, have the student point at each symbol in order as you say the sentence.

This is a strategy to help build joint attention. The student should be looking where he is pointing, and hearing the word said verbally as he points to the symbol can help him learn to connect the oral word with the symbol.



Checking discrimination
To check comprehension and symbol discrimination, occasionally make sure to tell the student, “Take it.” and offer them an array of food toys after reading the sentence aloud. 

If they correctly discriminate the symbols, they will take the food toy that they chose to finish the sentence.

As students become more familiar with the activity and more adept at formulating sentences, students can have access to all of the foods to feed the shoebox kid one food at a time.

Adding varied communicative functions


Either immediately before or after feeding the shoebox kid, the student can formulate a sentence to tell what the kid ate. Notice that this fulfills a different communicative function! 

Instead of filling in the last food as a way of requesting what to feed the toy, the student is now formulating a complete phrase to comment on what was/will be eaten.



Teaching no
When your students understand and produce basic sentences around the core word ‘eat’, don’t be too quick to move on only to a new core word. Think about how else this skill can be used in a different context to deepen word knowledge.

In this photo, you see an activity that works on the core word ‘eat’ in a different communicative context- learning that sometimes we don’t or can’t eat even if we want to. This reinforces and gives continued practice to the core word ‘eat’ even if other activities in the session are introducing a new core word.


Moving to 2D play
As students become more skilled at using 3D objects in play, start fading the shoebox if the student has the motor skills to manipulate toys without the stability the box provides.

As you move on to teaching new core words, it is important to continue to review and expand the previously learned skill sets. Maybe the student enjoys this familiar play activity now and might request it for a work break.




Building sentences in play
Maybe it is time to expand the activity to a higher symbolic level with a 2D version of the concepts. 

When a student is able to enjoy and participate in paper play activities, adapted books are great materials to use in therapy! 




Adding adaptive books


Reading a book and then playing an associated activity is a great technique for reinforcing the language and plot of the story.

This photo shows the cover of a simple adapted book that starts students using the core word 'eat' in sentences to communicate about varied foods.

Use their favorites to make skills functional


Notice that initially, the symbol for 'eat' is in a field of 3 with familiar non-food symbols to help the student discriminate easily. Errorless learning is a good way to go!

Helping your students make sentences to share information about their favorites is a great way to keep their attention and build functional skills!







Increasing symbol discrimination demands
When students master a step, build the difficulty incrementally, depending on the student's learning rate. This photo shows an additional verb symbol being added in place of one of the object symbols.

Moving the symbols around helps the student keep scanning, but new studies show that competent communicators using an AAC device express themselves more fluidly by using the location of the symbol on the device rather than always scanning the page.


Varying the symbols in adapted books
Now the adapted book has 'eat' as a choice along with 2 other verbs. One looks similar to 'eat' and the other is different in appearance, making discrimination easier than using 3 very similar action symbols. 

Many students do not need this level of discrete steps to make progress, but if you have a student who is becoming frustrated you may need to build skills in incremental steps such as these.



More shoebox play ideas from Looks Like Language!

I was so excited to be featured on The Speechie Show! I wrote this post to give you some more ideas about the shoebox play I discussed on the show.

If you missed it, you can see me live here!

If you are looking for more shoebox play ideas, click here for car play and here for playground ideas.

Many thanks to Barbara Bloomfield for getting me started. Rest in Peace.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...