The English language is filled with figurative language. Many have been used for so long and are so common that people often don’t even consider them to be abstract! If you work with students who struggle understanding abstract and figurative language or who have poor executive functions, they likely miss a lot of meaning during conversation and when reading.
I found that with my clients, they often understood and had been taught basic figurative expressions such as, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” but struggled with the more commonly used phrases and slang. You might be surprised if you ask your students to define some of these common phrases. When a student is having a bad day, tell them to “hang in there” and then ask them if they can explain what that means.
I recently spent a few weeks compiling a list of the most commonly used expressions that aren’t obviously figurative. I used those 90 phrases and made a basic card game to be used with any game or activity. I also incorporated executive function skills and use of context clues in the instruction to help students learn to use self-talk, or their inner voice and to consider the context to help them figure out the meaning.
You can find it here:
In my search for the most commonly used phrases, I discovered a useful site called idioms4you.com. Although, use with caution, because it does contain many pop up ads, some which are inappropriate for children. I like it because it offers an audio definition of the phrase and quizzes. Here is the link:
I hope you and your students will “get a kick out of it”!
The Creative SLP
During my years working in a middle school, I often spent much of my time helping teachers develop activities and lessons geared towards improving expressive language skills. Traditional school lessons contained many ways to assess and measure receptive language skills, or how a student understood the content. What I felt needed to be addressed was the students’ expressive language skills, or how well they were able to explain the content they learned or how well they were able to put the content into their own words.
The ability to express concepts, thoughts and ideas can be difficult for teenagers in general. However, if the teenager has been diagnosed with an expressive language disorder, being able to use words to express concepts and ideas can be even more challenging. For easy ideas to work on and practice expressive language skills with students, check out the article I wrote for Carolina Pediatric Therapy’s Parent Partner Blog:
Focus On Expressive Language: As a Parent, What Can I Do to Help My Teen?
If you’ve seen my blog before, you’ll have noticed that I LOVE finding social skill nuance references in commercials and on TV. I know it’s been a few months, but last week I found a new one and it’s great!
The way you say things matters. Your TONE OF VOICE can easily change the meaning of what you say. Just watch this Wendy’s commercial to see how the same sentence can mean two very different things.
Wendy’s Commercial: It Tastes Like Chicken!
If you have students that struggle understanding differences in tone of voice or students who struggle monitoring their own tone of voice, check out my new Teachers Pay Teachers activity here:
Social Skills: Context Based Informal Assessment of Tone of Voice
The Creative SLP
Tonight I stumbled on an amazing and informative documentary on Netflix called, The Beginning of Life. If you work with babies, young children or have children of your own, stop what you’re doing and go add it to your watch list right now. In my career as a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I work with many children under the age of 3. When watching this documentary, I found myself rewinding and listening over and over to the very helpful brain science nuggets this documentary contains. I can’t wait to share these nuggets with my clients’ parents to help them understand and value the importance of play. So many parents want to focus on the fact that their child is not yet using words. They don’t always understand the importance and significance of play and social development during the first 3 years of life.
My favorite nugget was from Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D. when he was discussing the importance of providing a balance of challenge and support during play with young children:
“What [babies and young children] need is that little bit of challenge and the frustration that goes with not being able to do something so easily so that you work at it. It’s not only working at it to master that skill. It’s working at it develop a sense of what it’s like to work for something that’s not that easy. If you never get that experience… If every time you try something that’s a little bit frustrating, an adult comes in and does it for you, how do you learn how to deal with frustration?”
So, the next time you interact with your baby or young child, focus less on the words they are able to use and more on how they are exploring and interacting with the world. How are they taking in their environment? How are they solving problems and exploring the world around them? How much are you letting them figure things out on their own? Are you letting them fail so that they can learn how to succeed?
As your children are home from school this holiday season, use these common play activities in a deliberate way to strengthen their language skills. Click on the link below to read the article I wrote for the Carolina Pediatric Therapy blog:
If you’ve visited my blog before, you know I love using commercials to help get a conversation going with students about a topic. So, when I saw this Nike commercial it reignited my interest in helping students develop and strengthen their executive functioning skills. Use this video to help explain and teach executive functions to your students.
A few years ago, I was part of a team that developed a program to help middle schoolers learn how to use “self-talk” to navigate social situations and problem solve situations on their own. What we discovered in the process was that many students lack the inner dialogue necessary to effectively complete school tasks, figure out social situations, and get to where they needed to be on time and with the necessary materials.
The culture in schools is slowly changing, but for the most part, executive functions are not directly taught in schools. And, many school-aged students simply have not developed the skills necessary to get their work done and be socially successful in school.
So my advice to parents and educators would be…
DO NOT ASSUME children have fully developed organizational systems to complete tasks or socially savvy inner dialogues to navigate nuanced situations.
It’s your responsibility to explicitly teach them and provide opportunities for them to develop and refine these executive functioning skills.
I have found many resources out there to help students become more aware of the ability to use an inner dialogue to help them problem solve and successfully navigate the social world. See one of my favorites below.
The Zones of Regulation
I’ve also created many activities and resources for building executive functioning skills. Check out my two most recent creations.
BUNDLE Build Social Skills with Executive Functioning Activities
Executive Functions Informal Assessment Questionnaire
When you’ve taken the time to help your students build stronger executive functioning skills, use your own “self-talk” to tell yourself, “Good job.” ; )
The ability to appropriately answer abstract questions is an important developmental language skill. In order to accurately answer these questions, children must understand what each question word is asking.
See below for normal developing ages for answering “wh” questions:
A great way to help children develop and refine their ability to answer “wh” questions is through story time with books that are simple in plot, repetitive in writing style, and include lots of great visuals. There are a lot of children’s books out there and many of them for younger children lack the content needed to elicit these “wh” questions. Many younger children’s books are simply images with vocabulary images and labels. While these books are helpful, they don’t promote the development of more abstract language understanding.
However, I came across a book that’s great for young children and promotes the development of “wh” questions.
I also recently created a visual resource to help children more effectively answer “wh” questions for my Teachers Pay Teachers
site. I’ve been using this idea for years, but have always just used blank paper and basic drawings to teach the different “wh” types. I’m sure my clients will appreciate not having to view my awful stick figure drawings. You can find it here: