Social Skills for Middle & High School

Social skills, my favorite area of being a speech-language pathologist. I never had a client in undergraduate or graduate school who had pragmatic language goals. I feel like it is not even an area that we truly target in our schooling. We are taught about AAC, PECS, autism, but how do we really help these students, and what is our role on the IEP team? I wanted to share some of the main things I do with my students, as I absolutely LOVE this part of my job.

Life Skills Push-in Therapy

This is one of the biggest things that has really helped my students. I push into work experience classes, created social skill advisory periods, and helped co-teach with teachers to assist with high need students. This has increased the carryover for my students, as I can teach them in the moment. Many of my students don’t understand that what they learn in the “speech” room can be carried over to everyday life. To read more on how I started push-in check out my blog post here!

One of the easiest ways you can start with social skill push in is helping with cooking time with your life skills students. I use yourspecialchef.net for visual food directions. If I don’t find something I like, I make my own. You can target functional skills that students will really use.

How To Structure Lessons

How I store and set up my brain breaks

When I do push in lessons with a larger group of social skills students, I make sure it is as structured as possible. These students appreciate the fewest unexpected events, so I have lessons set up the same in order for students to focus on our lesson and not a distraction for the day. Each student has a notebook where they take notes. These notes are for students to think about each answer before shouting out. It also allows students to “stretch your brain” as I tell my students, this is to push them past their first answer.

In the middle of my lessons I do brain breaks which you can grab as a freebie on my Tpt. These brain breaks allow us to practice our lesson for the day, whether it be adding to a conversation, body language, or eye contact. Each of my lessons have worksheets, online quizizz (check it out), or board games that go along with the goal of the day. Finally, I give every student a daily job for the month. This allows us to build a strong classroom system, and keep each other accountable for something.

Social Skill Resources

Some of my go to resources and games for social skill lessons! Affiliate links.

If you are going to buy one thing, it has to be this book! Social Thinking Thinksheets for Tweens and Teens was a lifesaver my first year out of graduate school. I now base all of the language I use with my students off of this book. Includes a TON of lessons with matching worksheets. I use these lessons at least twice a month. I even help teachers by providing them the common language I use with my students so they can carry it over to their classrooms.

Sometimes I need a no prep option for my students to work on, and I struggled to find something for older students. So I made these one sheet, no prep pragmatic language worksheets. Students can fill these worksheets out then we can talk about them together. Allows them time to “stretch your brain” before answering. Grab them to target problem solving and inferencing in one worksheet!

What Do You Say… What Do You Do… At School? Social Skills Board Game is geared for younger students, as one of the areas is on the playground, but it can be used with your lower level students. My students skill enjoy playing games, and I love games that also target goals. Students race around the school to collect tokens and answer social skill questions.

“10 Ways” is the perfect social skills app for middle and high school students. There are 9 different topic areas that are targeted with this game. Why do I love this no prep game so much?
Students love the jeopardy style questions. Able to save a game if you don’t get it finished in one session. Multiple students or groups can play. Variety if question types. I’m also lucky enough to have an Apple TV so I can screen cast my iPad for all the students to see.

Some pictures from my lessons!

IEPs for Newbies

IEPs. The thing they never really prepare you for in college, but takes up a third of your time. Whether it’s writing goal updates, summarizing present levels, determining minutes, or sitting through heated discussions, IEPs are a fact of life in the SPED world.

In school you were taught how to write goals using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) or ABCD (audience, behavior, condition, duration). You probably even wrote several evaluation reports and SOAP notes. You learned the basic of an IEP and possibly how your role looks in the ideal team. It seemed easy enough.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

Well, I quickly learned I was nowhere near as confident or prepared in my early IEPs as I thought I would be. It’s nerve-racking walking into a new school as a CF, and being the expert for the first time on a student you may barely even know. Parents turn to you to answer why progress is or is not being made. Teachers want to know how to help “Johnny” in the classroom. Your principal may be in the room, and you want to appear as if you know what you are doing.

Speechy Musing bell curve handout. I place mine in a clear sleeve to use again and again!

Here’s the big thing… you do know what you are doing. Be confident that you learned something during your 6 years of education. It’s ok not to know the answer, but it is not ok to make up the answer. You can always offer handouts to parents and teachers if they want more information. Slowly you will gain that confidence to speak up for each student. May the paperwork seem like a lot? Yes, but over time you will find a system that works for YOU! You’re going to have that meeting where you second guess your decisions, and other meetings where you are so excited for the student and their progress.

Below are some helpful hints and resources that really set me on the right path. Be confident, you can do this!

  • Read the student’s most recent IEP and/or Eval report.
  • Set deadlines for yourself ahead of what your district expects.
  • Ask your mentor to read over your first few IEP reports.
  • Invite your mentor to a few meetings the first semester. It never hurts to have a sidekick! They aren’t there to judge you.
  • Bring notes in the meeting. You may blank because of nerves, and this is the main time to express concerns.
  • Sign up for Speechy Musings‘ blog to get her bell curve chart. This has helped me on many occasions!
  • Start a goal bank of most used goals so you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.

Now do I still have IEPs where I don’t know the answer or I’m nervous for? Of course! You will have those difficult meetings, and that’s ok. Will you get forgotten about sometimes since you may be a related area and not primary? Yes, but keep communication between teachers open. Each meeting and report will get easier. Share your newbie IEP tips in the comments!

Top 5 Games for Middle School

Most of my middle school speech and language sessions are homework or classwork related. I find myself helping students with topics from longitude and latitude to math proofs to water cycles. As SLPs and teachers we have to remember that these students are still KIDS! Kids love games, and taking sometime to build relationship with them will end up helping our students in the long run. Bonus if the games also target their IEP goals!

Below are my top 5 games I use in therapy or on game days. Do you have a favorite game that didn’t make the list? Comment below. All links are affiliate links.

Bubble Talk

Bubble Talk is very similar to Apple to Apples, but you use pictures as the prompt. Students take turns being the judge of the captions students decide upon for each picture prompt. It’s perfect for turn taking, conversation level articulation, inferencing, and describing. You can even use these pictures for other therapy sessions as there are 150 colored pictures included. There are a few pictures that people may not be a huge fan of, but I choose the picture for every round. You can use this game for 10 minutes at the end of a session, or make it last the entire time!

Pickles to Penguins

I originally heard about this game from another SLP in my district who works with 5th and 6th graders. Honestly I think you can use it with any grade, as it is really open ended. The main game is all about how you can connect two cards together. You always have a main card in the center, and you try to get rid of your cards by connecting them to the card in the center. I end up making up my own rules to target my students’ goals for the day. PERFECT for EET goals or expanding MLU as students have to explain how the two cards are similar. There are other ways to play the game that are included in the rules. Most of the pictures are real pictures, and even the ones that are animate do not look “childish”. I find that my older students will not participate in games if they feel it is young for them. You get hundreds of picture cards which can be used for therapy too. For it’s price you could just use the cards as articulation cards!

Blurt!

Do you need a new vocabulary or inferencing game? Then you need to grab Blurt! It has two different levels of cards which are perfect for a variety of ages and abilities. Students read hints for the vocabulary word the other student identifies the vocabulary word. I think what makes this game different than other games like this, are the two levels of cards. Blurt! game does not take up a lot of space either, and can easily store in your therapy bag for the day! It simple and easy to play. Perfect for fun Friday.

Telestrations

This game is great for your larger groups, as the more people you have playing, the more fun it gets! I use this with my push in social skill groups to show perspective. Each round lasts about 10 minutes. Every person is given something to draw on their notepad in dry erase marker. Once you draw the word you pass it onto the next person and they guess what it is. From there you pass it onto the next person who draws what the guess is. This continues on until the notepad returns to the first person. Telestrations is like a drawn version of telephone. When you are done you can go back through and see how the picture was passed on correctly or incorrectly and exactly how the breakdown occurred. I enjoy this because sometimes my students with social language deficits need to see how things occur, and not just be told. **Also a fun game to play with family and friends!

Scattergories

This game is a classic, but my students LOVE to play it. I can target goals from articulation to categories, to social skills all with this one game. I put a twist on mine, and have students only focus on one category at a time with one letter. This allows the game to slow down a bit, and for a deeper conversation to be had about each category. In a given session we may only get through three categories, but we go very in depth. I always tell my students to “stretch their brain” to push past the first few things they know. Giving them time to focus on one category at a time allows them to build up the confidence that they do know, or know more than they think, when just given a bit of extra time.

My Middle School Madness: Part Two

Thank you so much for following along as I talk about how I landed my middle school SLP job, the struggles, and the triumphs! If you missed part one check it out here!.

First day of school/work picture!

Worrying about a new job in a new place was quickly replaced by excitement and the apartment search. I took time over the summer to follow as many middle and high school SLP instagrams as possible. As soon as I received my new work email address, my new credentials, MA, CF-SLP, went after my name. I learned that I had my own closet room at the middle school, but there was not a place for me at the high school that I would be covering one day a week. At time time I didn’t care, I had my very own desk to store my profesional things! I was finally achieving the goal I had spent five years working to achieve.

Picture from my room. I tried to start off the year by writing on my board what each area was going to do for the week.

Then it came to the first day of school, well for new teachers anyway. We went through the introductions and all the niceties that come along with starting a new job. I quickly realized that I was the only new staff member that shared my time between the middle and high school. Also, I realized how no one knew what a Speech-Language Pathologist really does. This is not something that they prepare you for coming out of graduate school. That was not the last time I would come to that realization. I sat through days of professional development that felt like it had nothing to do with me, but as a new profesional I thought that I was just behind and had a lot to learn. Over time of countless PD days I have now realized that most presentations and topics are teacher focused. The lonely island of being an SLP was slowly starting to come into focus.

I used the Monae’s Speech House Big Mouth Posters for my first bulletin board. Find it here!

I spent my weekend and any free time before school started trying to make the perfect schedule. I had a caseload of ~55 students and needed to schedule my time between two buildings. This was difficult as we have A/B schedules and the high school and middle school are on completing different schedules/times. I color coded, made notes for the students when they come, and even had lists for teachers what hours I needed their students. Honestly I thought why does everyone complain about making schedules? That was so easy to do! (I admit now I was wrong).

I met my other SLPs in the district. Each are placed at the various elementary buildings, and each with their own personalities. My mentor, another SLP in the district, was very helpful getting my room at the middle school set up. The other SLPs donated some materials to help get me started as I was a new position hire for the growing secondary speech/language population. Luckily my handy stash of materials I thought would be used for elementary students had several board games I could use! I thought maybe I was prepared for this after all!

In our district the SLPs do not start seeing kids until after all the K-5th grade students are screened/recreened. Although I was not an elementary SLP we all joined forces to screen students. This allowed me to ease into my role in the district, gain confidence with the age group I’m familiar with, and have more time with the other SLPs.

All this was great, but I was ready to start seeing MY KIDS.

Push-In To Stop Pulling My Hair Out

Push-in therapy goes by several different names (in-class service, classroom-based services, integrated services). I use the term push-in for this post. I also understand that push-in therapy may not be the right fit for every student or therapist. 

Push-in therapy isn’t something that is taught as often in our schooling career. For many of us during undergrad/graduate clinicals we saw one to four clients/students at a time for 30 minutes. We would grab our students, take them to the therapy room, and send them on their way. Great?! Yes, for some students. At the same time we are taught pull-out services, we are also taught to work towards generalization of skills and carryover of their progress to other settings. How can this happen if we are only servicing our students in the same room, with the same group of their peers, on the same day, for the same amount of time?

Centers can include a range of activities! Story cubes, synonyms, antonyms, and idioms pictured here.

I don’t want you to think that my journey of providing push-in therapy was something that I just magically knew how to do coming out of school. It actually happened a little by accident, and a lot by my relationships with teachers. When forming my crazy schedule for the middle school I noticed that many of my language impaired students had the same resource english language arts class. At first I brushed it off, and went along scheduling my pull-out sessions. Each group I scheduled was 2-4 students, normally having at least two different goal areas.

Well the school year starts, and I started pulling out my students (or at least trying to). Many of them would forget to come, teachers weren’t sending their students even with a reminder, or my students would get “lost” on their way to my room. When I did have students, many of them had little motivation to work as they have been in speech/language services since early elementary school. Honestly, I couldn’t blame them for their lack of motivation to work. When I had my larger groups, we did not have enough room in my room for use to all comfortably fit (middle schoolers aren’t little).

So after about three weeks of the struggle, I went back to scheduling. What could I do to help not only myself, but also my students? This wasn’t working. When going back to try and move students around I noticed again that many of my students were in a language resource class. I reached out to the teacher, as we were friends outside of work (Miss. R), and we decided on a day for me to start seeing my students. I would teach a language lesson and assist with any other tasks. Miss. R and myself became co-teachers on the days I pushed-in. Once a month we would do centers in order to collect data easier and monitor progress. Guess what?! The students LOVED it. My students started to show progress.

Now, not all of the students were my language students, but they still learned from some of my language lessons. These students would also help those with language deficits, and could communicate with their peers in ways I never could. Often class would start with a 5-minute language warm up. We did worksheets from Speechy Musings, research projects, and one sheet grammar lessons. At times I felt like a paraprofessional, but if that’s what my students needed for the day, then that’s what I needed to adapt to.

I didn’t always know if I was doing it “right”. I started researching all the push-in materials I could and slowly gained confidence. If you want to see ASHA’s stance on school-based service delivery check out their website here! They have some GREAT research, and list the various types of push-in services.

Push-In: ELA Famous People Research No Prep

This past week I started a research project over a famous person with one of my push-in groups. Often times I am providing the graphic organizers and leading the activity. I wanted to flip this activity. This will be a four part activity, but I will explain it all here! Targets: articulation, summarizing, important vs. interesting information, main idea, details, and social skills!

Students create their own graphic organizer questions.
  1. Give the students a sticky note for each question. Ask these three questions. Who can we research (e.g cooks, football players, famous women)? What can I research about them? Where to find information? See the picture to the right. After each question talk about what the students decided. Students then decide, after talking through the questions, who they will research. This will take about 30 minutes with all the discussion time after each question.
  2. Next, create a graphic organizer using the questions the students came up with. Students can then students will research their people. This will be done on the computer and in the library. Students can practice looking for interesting versus important information.
  3. Student will then summarize their information/findings into a presentation. This can be a poster, google slides, or something else.
  4. Finally, students will present over their people in front of the class.

Be on the lookout for more push-in ideas, as this is something that I am very passionate about. This semester I push into two resource classes, a co-taught ELA class, three social skills advisory classes, and high school life skills. As I stated above, I understand this service delivery model might not be perfect for everyone. I will be talking more about this in future blog posts. Do you have any questions? Feel free to reach out.

My Middle School Madness: Part One

When I was attending graduate school I thought I would end up working with elementary students. My school externship was with Pre-K through 5th grade and I loved it! I started collecting as many picture books as I could find. My parents were quickly starting a storage pile for my materials as my studio apartment at the time had zero room to spare.

Earning my MA

Then it came time to apply for jobs after school. All I knew was I wanted to stay somewhere in the midwest, preferably a larger city area. I grew up in rural Illinois and I wanted something different. I applied outside of Chicago, STL, and Kansas City. Honestly I was applying to any and all SLP jobs that I could find. I was not really focusing on what grade placement it would be. To my surprise I heard back from a school district only two days after applying. They asked for an skype interview later on that same day. I quickly rushed back to my apartment, took a shower (dry shampoo was not going to cut it), and found the nicest shirt I could find.

For my interview I had all my cheat sheets out in front of me since they couldn’t see it. I printed off my resume, any questions I had, and the school salary schedule. I also printed off the school’s mission statement. I would recommend this to anyone applying for a job. You can use the same language and terms that they have in their mission statement. It makes it seem like you are already apart of the team and a perfect match for the school. Anyway… back to the interview. They asked me a few questions about testing and how I would set up my groups. My favorite question was if I could have my dream speech room what would be included and why. During the meeting they also asked if I had looked over the salary schedule and were surprised when I held it up for them on my end (so happy I had my notes)!

My youngest brother and me at grad school graduation.

After my interview with the special education director and another SLP in the district they mentioned that they had two positions open, one for elementary and one for secondary. I stated that I have more experience in elementary, but that my youngest brother was a middle schooler so I could “vibe” with the kids. They said they would be in contact in the next couple days as their board meeting was the next day. I couldn’t stop shaking after the interview was over. It finally hit me that this was happening. I wasn’t going to go back to work at Dairy Queen, my high school/college job, I was going to become this SLP that I had been working so hard to become.

Well those next two days seemed to last forever. On the second day I kept telling myself I didn’t get the job. My mom was encouraging me saying that it may take many interviews to land a job. It was like something out of a movie though, because while I was talking to her I missed a call from the school district offering me the job. When I called back and asked for which position, they said it would be for the middle/high school position. I told them I would need some time think about it and get back to them…

Was I ok with working with this age group? This was not something that I had been preparing for. What would I do with all the materials I had been accumulating. Was I even ready to work with the higher language levels that come with this age group? I kept doubting myself.

After visiting the district, since it was five hours from home, and many hours of soul searching I accepted the job. I was excited to move to my new city, start making new friends, and get myself established. But was I ready for middle schoolers?