Friday, June 24, 2022

Getting started with Minecraft

I described in a recent post coming to find some good uses for Minecraft with interested clients and groups. This previous post was about using Education Edition which not all have access to, so I wanted to make sure I described some applications for regular Minecraft. I first of all recommend getting started with the iPad edition, previously called Pocket Edition (there is also an Android tablet edition, both around $7 but then giving you everything you need). There is a lot to Minecraft that I don't even yet fathom but when you think of it as a digital LEGO set, that is a great place to start. Additionally one might add that there is evidence that involving LEGO in therapy improves communication and play skills, and these ideas can translate to Minecraft (I like good old LEGOs too). 

In this post I will briefly describe creating a world and getting started. This has been a great context in groups in the past weeks of simply deciding something to build, using visual supports to preview a "future picture" (see Sarah Ward/Kristen Jacobsen's work and just look up "make a simple ___ in Minecraft" on YouTube, e.g. a swimming pool). In the process group members work on fulfilling a group plan, adding thoughts and play moves in the app, and of course, flexibility and conversation. You can also use Minecraft in straightforward language stimulation activities as it could be used to foster description, concepts and following directions skills (you can even add signs in the world with text on them).

I keep it simple and do a play and pass situation with one iPad, but your kids could tell you there are ways to have people join a world from multiple devices. In our situation, mirroring the iPad to an Apple TV keeps everyone engaged when it isn't their turn. 

To get started, open the app and tap Play, and in the Worlds tab tap Create New. Name the world and change the game mode to Creative. Your students may balk and ask for Survival but I don't want them killing each other or being killed in the game. I wouldn't worry about all the settings but definitely scroll down and turn on Always Day so the screen doesn't maddeningly dim on you when it becomes "night" in your world. I learned that one the hard way. 

The arrows in the lower left allow you to move. Tap and drag your finger to "look around" and change your viewpoint. First step can be finding an open space to build something.

The diamond control on the right allows you to "fly" up or down as another navigation option. Note the bottom squares are your inventory of materials, and start out as empty. Tap the three dots to edit your inventory. 

Items with a + are actually a category of materials. Tap to expand e.g. the blocks. Find something you would like to add to the inventory, tap it, then a square at the bottom to add it.

From here, build! Change your view so you can see a target spot, tap to place a block. Make a mistake, long tap and that breaks (removes the block). It just takes a little practice. Maybe make yourself a summer retreat to start! 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

My appearance on Telepractice Today podcast

Some weeks ago, I had the terrific opportunity to talk with Kim Dutro Allen and K.Todd Houston at their excellent Telepractice Today podcast. Each week they bring in someone from the field to discuss telepractice and therapy in general with different themes and always some terrific tips. For example from the most recent episode, I learned from Kim an easy way to show YouTube videos full screen with no ads or suggested videos:

-Go to YouTube and locate/cue up the video you want to watch

-in the URL/address bar at the top of the browser, click between the t and the u of and insert a dash or hyphen as in and hit Return to go to that URL. 

A simple, amazing hack!

In my episode, we talk my history with technology and telepractice, chiefly about becoming an "emergency telepractioner" with the pandemic. It was a fun, entertaining conversation and I hope there are some good tips in there for you too. 

The episode can be found at the above link or wherever you find podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc)

Friday, June 10, 2022

SLAM Card resources for narrative language assessment

While supervising this semester at Boston University, I was informed about the resources available through the Leaders Project at Columbia University for narrative language sampling. The School Age Language Assessment Measures (SLAM) materials are a series of story cards and questions with rubrics that are all FREE. We used them for baseline assessments and I recently used them in an evaluation, and found they gathered helpful data in all cases. The page linked above provides links to all sets (in some cases just a 1-card resource) and guidelines for use. 

A few tech-related spins:

-Also linked above are BOOM! cards for each set which can be used in teletherapy or perhaps in person. 

-I have at times modified visual assessments such as these for a tech format, either for teletherapy or to reduce the amount of materials I am toting around. For example, I screenshot the Lost Cellphone cards and placed them onto a Keynote (can do the same with PowerPoint or Google Slides) slide to have a student click-drag to sequence and interact with the cards.

Friday, May 27, 2022


Nine years ago I had the opportunity to visit Sandy Hook and work with some educators along with Pamela Ely, the director of the Ely Center, LLC where I work, and Sheila and Maryellen Moreau of Mindwing Concepts. We talked for the day about supports in the area of social interaction and narrative language that might be helpful for the students trying to move on with their lives in the face of unspeakable events. I hoped that day that we might never have to grapple with such a horrible situation again, but here we are, and somewhat more depleted given the past few years.

Like you, I am sure, for me it is hard to find much to offer this week, but we can find strength in helping others.

A few ideas:

-Email someone offering a resource. This post, a PDF you have that has helped you, a journal article, whatever. Reaching out and helping is a tool.

-The Happiness Lab has a great episode on Languishing. I picked up a few ideas from it and this week taught a lesson based on one of the concepts discussed. You can listen to The Happiness Lab on Spotify or Apple/Google Podcasts.

-Newsela has a small kit related to the events in Uvalde. I used the piece on "Ways to stay calm when you're feeling stressed" with a group this week. 

-NYT has a robust resource list for talking and teaching about these events.

-Here's my self-care toolkit from this past winter.

Take care, folks.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Minecraft Education Edition

I have previously written about using contexts like Minecraft without getting into the thing itself. I've come around on this a bit and next time I'll talk about some simple uses of Minecraft (creative mode, I am still not interested in having kids kill each other in a game), but recently I discovered I CAN USE MINECRAFT EDU!

I had heard about Minecraft EDU for years but, not having an .edu email address, couldn't access it. I have been supervising at Boston University this semester and discovered my email address (plus having a Microsoft account at BU, so you need this too) was the key, as it probably is for many school-based clinicians reading this blog. MC EDU has many created "worlds" that are structured and relate to school topics, so are a nice place to start. 

So, if you have a .edu email, head first to MC EDU and sign in to create an account. From there, I find Minecraft most navigable on an iPad- simplified controls and such. For the EDU activities you'll need the free iPad app. Explore the worlds and see what you might like to use. They are not all amazing, but I highly recommend the very well-done world called The Mindful Knight. Through this activity I grabbed the attention of a student who I have struggled to help with practicing self-regulation strategies, and through several of the "quests" learned about the value of deep breaths and presence (e.g. Five Senses noting of things in the environment).

The deep breathing exercise is practiced by navigating the Knight to an elevator, with great visuals.

I apologize that this is still somewhat of a complicated resource to reach, with the necessity of the .edu address and MS account, but there's a work-around. Look on YouTube for "Mindful Knight Minecraft" and you'll find gameplay vids like this one that can make for good lessons, too!

Friday, May 13, 2022

Dino Tracker

Dino Tracker is a fictionalized interactive website that has been released as a promotion for Jurassic World Dominion, an upcoming film in the series. The premise of this film is that dinosaurs are no longer confined to Isla Nublar but living (and hunting) alongside humans. The purpose of the site is ostensibly to provide information to the public about "sightings" of various dinosaurs- the therapeutic potential in the site is scaffolding language around the locations (through a clickable Google-like map), the "descriptions" of the dinosaurs and cause-effect language of "Dos" and "Do Nots."

I was recently discussing with a colleague how high school students often have remaining difficulty with the geographic literacy aspects of continent-country-state or other division and how this connects to situational awareness and the ability to digest information about the world and current events. Browsing the world map provided could be an exciting (MS and HS students who can understand the artifice of the content) opportunity to review continents and some of the spatial strategies for recalling them, then moving down to more micro areas. The videos provided are a form of narrative and the "field report" expository text that can be mapped with graphic organizers, or used as a model to tell "same but different" creative item e.g. a report from another location.  Overall Dino Tracker represents how interactive websites designed for very different purposes can provide access to academic language- one strategy I like is to search for "interactive websites" and under tools set the time limit to the past month or week, you can find some gems.

Friday, May 6, 2022


LearnHip has some useful and simple activities designed for English language learners but also useful for speech and language therapy. It may be particularly useful as a warm-up or to make use of a short amount of extra time in a session. Some of the activities it includes: makers such as a scrambled sentence, reveal the picture and board game creator, conversation cards on a wide variety of themes (e.g. annoyances), and story cards and silly/engaging contexts such as describe the picture and what happens next (in the form of GIFs) "quizzes." Go Hip would be good to have in your bookmarks for classroom, group or teletherapy sessions for a variety of verbal expression objectives.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Simple visual engagement resources for youngsters

Whether doing tele- or in-person therapy, you should be aware of the cute, simple and useful resources of Dr.  Karen Fried at Oaklander training, such as the online sand tray and dollhouse interactive activities on the site (go to the tools and resources tab). There's apparently a whole approach to using these tools as psychological therapy with young children, but as a sort of stickerbook they have specific linguistic opportunities. Consider vocabulary, concepts, syntactic expansion, and storytelling!

Thursday, April 21, 2022

TinyTap Online

Tiny Tap was previously described here as a good mobile app resource for both making interactive activities and finding visual content for lessons. I recently noticed TinyTap has ported content online, so this would be playable on your laptop or in a classroom with projector or interactive whiteboard. This format for Tiny Tap makes it also a nice resource for telepractice. Sign in at TinyTap (click Connect) and you can favorite activities to create a resource list. The activities are geared toward language basics and topic exploration, many taking the form of an interactive book, and therefore are particularly good for developing vocabulary, categories, or foundational descriptive skills. This Desert-themed activity provides a good example, but see what else you can find on the site! I was able to access many activities for free, but TinyTap provides an educator sign-in.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Radio Garden

Flowing a bit from my last post (context is your friend), Google Experiment Radio Garden is worth a therapeutic visit. Your students will think it's just a chill moment, but secretly it can be a great way to practice having them call out:

-Continents and then countries
-Responses (conversation/comments) to what they hear
-Characterization of the language (nonverbal aspects such as tone etc) and type of music you may hear. Music genres are a category and can connect us with peers!

Why not pair this with looking up a current event from the country you "visit" for narrative/expository comprehension? 

Now more than ever, it's important to foster global awareness.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day, here's my homeland: