Friday, October 21, 2016

More on mapping expository texts using tech, Part 1

In a column I contributed to August's ASHA Leader, I mentioned expository text structures as providing an important framework for organizing language for comprehension and expression, in this case around social studies topics.

First, to elaborate on expository text structure, this is the informational "sibling," so to speak of teaching story grammar--parts of a story and the connections of character, setting, initiating event, response, plan, events, and conclusion. Expository text structures can be located both in narratives and informational text (e.g. a news article, textbook, lecture or video) and include list, sequence, description, compare/contrast, and so on. An excellent recent tutorial article (Lundine & McCauley, 2016) provides more information and research tie-ins for these strategies; commercial products targeting the use of these structures include Mindwing Concepts' ThemeMaker®* and Thinking Maps.

Another good resource providing a venue for teaching these skills and strategies is Popplet Lite (Free, the full version of Popplet allows you to have multiple drafts), with built-in graphic organizers in a visual creation tool where students can combine photos, text, and drawings to explain an idea or topic.

With Popplet Lite, you can:
-tap to create "popples" to contain your ideas for the topic
-color code main ideas
-connect ideas in lines demonstrating text structures (e.g. list, sequence, cause-effect)
-add images (copy/paste from Safari is easiest) or drawings
-export your creation in several formats.

In several followup posts, I'll be discussing other resources for mapping narrative and expository text.

*Disclosure: Author provides blog content for Mindwing Concepts, Inc. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Amazon Prime Ads: Good context for teaching narrative structure or problem-solution

Video versions of ads can be motivating ways to target students' understanding of narrative and expository text structures. I have recently enjoyed the series from Amazon Prime in which people solve animal-related problems. Here's one featuring an adorable little horse:

As the ads are wordless, they offer an opportunity to work on student narration and also interpretation of nonverbal information.

Westby and Culatta's recently published article "Telling Tales" offers a tutorial on assessing and intervening on narrative skills (primarily personal rather than fictional), and as you know I am a big fan of (and consultant for) Story Grammar Marker® to break down and produce narrative material. I also highly recommend Dr. Anna Vagin's books (and mailing list) for terrific information on how to use video to target narrative and social cognition skills.

Here are two more in the series of ads:

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Little Alchemy- a fun game-based context for describing objects

A key feature that is required for games to be useful in speech and language intervention is an appropriate pace-- meaning a controllable and slow pace. Little Alchemy (free, available for iOS, Android and on the web) will let you pace the game with plenty of room for discussion, which would be the point of using it! The goal in Little Alchemy is to combine objects to make new objects, at first in nature but veering into weather, geographic features, engineering and inventions.

You start with earth, air, fire and water, naturally. Combining fire and water makes steam, earth and water make mud, and so on. In the process, many language targets will arise naturally or with your cueing:
-causals: Water is wet so...
-conditionals: If I combine air and fire...
-descriptors: Lava is melted rock...
-academic vocabulary: solids, liquids and gases, and so on

Little Alchemy is simple and easy to use. It could make a good reinforcement tool at the end of a lesson or serve as an interactive lesson to target language around science and chemistry. The app allows students to sign in and save progress via a google account, and you can also reset progress within the settings to use with a different group or student. So you know what combinations create what, giving you the power to control the discussion a bit more as students play, a walkthrough is available here. Hints are also available in the game.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tap Roulette- A useful therapy tool

Whenever including games or any situation where someone has to "go first," it can be a challenge even among students who don't have social learning challenges. We don't want these decisions to eat up our precious and limited therapy time. I do find that Social Thinking® and 5 Point Scales promote useful self-talk around this:
-Play involves 3 Parts: Setup, Play, Cleanup. Who goes first is part of setup and we don't want it to use up our time playing.
-Using a 5 Point Scale of Problems, going last should be thought of as a small or tiny problem.

However, we still sometimes come to a stalemate over who goes first.

Tap Roulette offers a free, quick, and fun solution that I think superior to the human-error-prone "Rock Paper Scissors" technique. Participants in whatever it is simply place one finger on the screen, tap PICK FINGER and after a roulette-style animation, a choice is made!

Tap Roulette also provides a fun way to work on categories; have students name items in a simple or complex category and run a contest to see which one "wins."

Friday, September 23, 2016

Kahoot! Create game show style activities!

Kahoot! is a website that allows you to create quizzes that are presented in an extremely engaging fashion, for free. I had seen Kahoot! used a number of times over the past few years, and recently I decided to use it with my social cognition groups. The kids who had used Kahoot! in their classrooms had a huge, excited response when I said we were going to use it!

At you can create your free account and build quizzes, discussions and surveys- all great ways to target language and have students explain ideas. Compose questions and accompany them with pictures (great for vocabulary or social cognition), then write multiple choice responses. You also can try some featured Kahoots if you don't want to reinvent the wheel or just want to gauge your students' response to this type of activity- there are searchable pre-made quizzes on a large variety of topics.

image from

Playing a Kahoot works like this:
-From, launch a particular activity.
-On screen will appear a PIN, and students can use their own or provided devices* to navigate to and enter this pin and a nickname for play (they love that part).
-You control the pace of the game as students respond to the questions, results are displayed and you will have moments to discuss (an important aspect that makes the site good for speech and language activities)
*Kahoots are best created on a desktop or laptop as you'll need to type and possibly add pictures or video. Students can play on any device that has a web browser- I like to use "Team mode" in bigger groups to foster collaboration. Devices do not need the Kahoot! app, but this app directs you immediately to enter the PIN, so it takes the web navigation part out for the student.

As I mentioned, Kahoot! is a great resource for vocabulary review or creating quizzes where students identify expository text structure key words, subordinate clause markers, or demonstrate morphological awareness. I have also transformed a number of "Thinksheets" from the Social Thinking® resources into quiz form. This was also a great context to work on skills while playing the game (e.g. Defeating DOF- The Destroyer of Fun from Superflex®)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

4th Generation Apple TV provides additional options for clinically useful content

Many school settings have incorporated Apple TV as an option for visual displays in classrooms, and the same possibilities can be applied in clinical settings. Apple TV is not a TV set, per se, but a internet-enabled "set-top" box that can be connected to an HDTV or a classroom projector/interactive whiteboard. The previous generations of Apple TV, as I have written about, offer the opportunity to use content within the software (e.g. YouTube) and to wirelessly display ("mirror") an iPad, iPhone, or Mac screen to the TV. This can be very handy in instruction or therapy using apps as all students in the group can see the visual, while interacting with the iPad as usual.

The fourth generation Apple TV*, released last fall, retains these possibilities and the accessible price of previous releases, while adding an App Store. Note: this is not available unless you upgrade to the newer Apple TV device; it is not just a software update. The App Store, along with the upgraded multitouch remote which serves as a controller for interaction within apps, unlocks a new world of content and interaction. A few examples:

My constantly recommended EPIC! Books for Kids is also available as a free app on Apple TV, and you can of course sign in with your free educator account. This offers the ability to display a huge variety of books (some with audio) on a TV screen (email subscribers, be sure to click through to full post to see videos below).

A video posted by Sean Sweeney (@speechtechie) on

Also, look for @speechtechie on Instagram!

Though the interactive potential of Apple TV is just being tapped, apps such as those from Sago Mini (I wrote about the language and play potential of its iPad apps for Mindwing Concepts) provide great interaction through the remote control.

A video posted by Sean Sweeney (@speechtechie) on

The App Store for Apple TV has nice finds in the Education, Kids and Family, and Health and Fitness categories (particularly if you are using any mindfulness training for self-regulation or fluency).

In short, if you are in a private clinical setting or have the potential to influence purchases at school, the 4th Generation Apple TV allows you to facilitate engagement among a group by displaying all your iPad apps on the big screen, plus the opportunity to shortcut the mirroring process and engage in a different way through its developing library of apps.

*Note: you can buy an HDMI cable for $5 on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

One for us: Hit the Trail with Alltrails

Our jobs are stressful. There are many aspects of our work that we take home and let spin in our minds, which is not so healthy. I have long been an advocate of work in mindfulness both for us and our students, but recently I have also discovered hiking. Something about my love of maps, a good view, staying mindful, and the nice little rush that comes with some cardiovascular exercise comes together when I hike. Before I lose some of you, hiking can range from walking beside a beach or in a gently graded field to scrambling up or down rock piles, so there is something for everyone. In the past several years, this interest has re-awakened as I had opportunities to hike up Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Diamond Head in Waikiki, and a bunch of awesome trails this summer in Acadia National Park.

Did you know that there is some actual science behind the benefits of walking in nature? Check out this abstract:

More than 50% of people now live in urban areas. By 2050 this proportion will be 70%. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world. (Bratman, et al, 2015)

Travel can bring you to some great places to hike easy or harder trails, but as this study suggests, just accessing a nearby "nature experience" can make a difference in our thinking patterns. So, to bring in the tech part that you all expect from me, I'll refer you to the free (but with premium features if you want them) Alltrails website and mobile app. Create an account and you'll have access to search features to find many nature experiences near you. Filter to find easy vs. moderate or hard trails, read hiker reviews, and explore trail maps. I highly recommend having the app installed on your phone; tapping "Directions" will launch Google Maps to bring you directly to any trailhead (in hiker parlance, where you park and start) and the GPS will show you where you are on the trail map itself, should you need a little guidance.


For me, this great app has given me some ideas of places I've started to explore right in my backyard, such as the network of trails in the Blue Hills Reservation (10 minutes away from my house).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Free Webinar: Options for eText: Facilitating Access and Comprehension Through Electronic Text

edWeb recently hosted a Webinar in which I discussed resources related to electronic text, sponsored by Mobile Education Store, creator of great apps such as Conversation Builder and Crack the Books. This webinar and many others are available to you for free on the edWeb site. If you join their community, you'll also be able to download handouts and receive other resources. 

Options for eText: Facilitating Access and Comprehension Through Electronic Text
Presented by Sean Sweeney, Speech-Language Pathologist/Instructional Tech Specialist
Sponsored by MES Publishing

If you view the recording and would like a CE certificate, join the Everyone CAN! community and go to the Webinar Archives folder to take the CE quiz.

With the advent and proliferation of mobile devices available to students and teachers has come a wide range of options for accessing text. Electronic Texts and accompanying accessibility features such as text to speech can facilitate organization of materials, richer arrays of contexts available, and comprehension of classroom content for those with reading, language learning and other disabilities. This recorded webinar will familiarize educators with a variety of options at various price points and platforms, with demonstration of apps and features that put eTexts at your and students’ fingertips in no time. These include: iOS and Mac built-in accessibility features, Read and Write for Google and iPad, eText Platforms such as EPIC! Books for Kids, the Crack the Books series of accessible textbooks, and options for creating eTexts such as the renowned Book Creator App.

This webinar will be especially relevant for general and special education teachers, related service providers (SLP, OT), technology specialists, and administrators.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Google Apps: Collaboration, Consultation, and Supervision

The productivity tools contained in Google Apps (Drive, Docs, Slides, etc) are available to many SLPs and students through your school district's likely Google Apps for Education setup, or if not, via a free Google account. I have of late found Google Apps very useful in several ways:

-Collaborating with other professionals in written products such as proposals, presentations and other documents

-Performing consultation activity by asking students to Share select pieces of their work or projects with me

-Supervising graduate students and giving them the opportunity to practice some of the important written aspects of our job (e.g. writing parts of reports or parent communication)

Part of what makes Google Apps so popular is the built-in communication tools that are available around a document or other file. First, of course, you need to click the Share button and make the document available to the other person (or ask him/her to do the same). This allows you to work on the same document in real time without dealing with the mess of emailing different attached versions back and forth.

Commenting is one key way to collaborate on Google Docs. To comment in a document, highlight some text and click the comment icon or Insert>Comment. Your collaborator can dismiss any comments once they have been seen, but the history of comments for that document can always be viewed under the Comments button in the upper right.

I discovered this year that you can change from co-editing a document into Suggesting mode. When working with grad students or clients on a document, this enables you to put more explicit feedback into the document. 

The other person will see this annotation in the document and via a corresponding comment, can accept or dismiss it. 

I hope this year you will find these features of Google Apps useful when working with other professionals, students, or graduate interns. Keep in mind that Google Apps does not offer guarantees of confidentiality, so it is best to avoid using full names when writing evaluation reports or other sensitive documents. They can always be downloaded (File>Download as>Word) and edited to add personal information such as full names, birthdates, etc.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What does an image lead to...?

I've always been a firm believer that all students benefit from visual supports--but providing images or other visuals provides a path to language. That's the V--Visual--in the FIVES Criteria.

An image leads to:

...understanding of a vocabulary word or concept.


...expansion of categories.


...connections and narrative.

...causal, conditional, or other structural language forms.


(among others).

The above reasons are why I am constantly endorsing the use of the free, versatile and multiple-platform Pic Collage. This app hit a bump this past fall. The Web Search, which allows you to add photos to a thematic, contextual collage very quickly and in a co-creative process with students, lost its connection to Google (Web Search allows you to search for photos and add them from the app). The developers were communicative about it and made efforts to develop their own search tool, which gradually improved over the following months, but it was a tougher sell.

A few months ago, however, Pic Collage struck a partnership with Microsoft's search engine BING! So the results are back to being as good as they ever were.

Additionally, Web Search has JUST added "suggestions" which might help you in your in-the-moment creations with students. The suggestions are specific items within the category you would be searching for, or associations related to your search. How wonderfully language-enhancing!

Results and suggestions for "trees" and "national parks" depicted above. Tap on the suggestion to point your search in a specific direction and bring up new possible images to add to the collage (tap images, then the check mark in the upper right to add images to a collage).

This past year I was involved with a productive assistive technology and language consultation regarding a student who LOVED to be in all of his classes. He just needed support to participate verbally. My advice was focused on taking some of the language "out of the air" and giving the student more visual support as conversations and topics unfolded, Pic Collage being a key tool we discussed. For example, as his consumer education class discussed forms of payment, Pic Collage could be easily used to visualize cash, a credit and debit card, check, and cell phone.

For some of my previous posts on Pic Collage, look here, here and here.