Currently I don’t see elementary or middle school age students on my case load. I do work with high school students though and therapy can get pretty tricky to maintain their attention and motivation for even as little as the 30 minutes given to me to work with them.
So … just recently I started an agreement with a few groups that if they got done what we needed to accomplish, then I would give them a quick mini-sign language lesson at the end of their session. This idea went over great! The girls in different groups thought it was ‘hot’ (their words – not mine) and so it began! But first – we started with a figurative language lesson because how could I pass up the opportunities to talk about ‘hot’ as in anything but the actual temperature ‘hot’! As that moment passed and I got my lesson accomplished, we moved onto a quick lesson in sign language! Ta-da – success! I signed SEE YOU LATER and away they went. And let me tell you – they remembered the next week!
Fortunately when I do work with elementary school kiddos they are quite more compliant so I don’t have to coerce them so much. But how would I use sign language with middle school students in therapy? There’s a few games that could work on your goals and incorporate sign language.
a. Players required: 2 +
b. Items needed: a timer, a pile of cards that are your target words for the session (and perhaps a couple previous sessions), and available hands! On each card with the target word should be additional related words (either synonyms, antonyms, associations, etc.)
c. Rules: One student will sign the word and the other students are required to come up with the synonym (or antonym if that is what you are working on) for the word. So for example, the word on the card is ‘happy’. Other words on the card are ‘glad,’ ‘excited,’ ‘cheerful,’ ‘blissful,’ ‘joyful,’ etc. The one student would sign HAPPY and the other students would have to beat the timer with as many words as they can think of for ‘happy’. **If the students don’t remember the sign given (e.g. HAPPY) then fingerspelling is permitted – not speech! H-A-P-P-Y.
2. Deaf-ine it!
a. Players required: 4 + (two groups of two minimum)
b. Items needed: target words written out on index cards or from a worksheet
c. Rules: With the timer started, one person reads the definition of the word to his/her partner(s). The partner(s) is required to sign the correct response. The team member reading the definitions continue to read more definitions until the timer goes off. For example: definition: “it’s round and tells times.” Other partner must sign CLOCK; and continue to the next definition. Points will be given for each correct response. The other team follows the same directions. At the end of each round, the team with the most points wins that match.
3. Sign What? (the play on words – “Say What?”)
a. Players required: however many other students during that therapy session
b. Items needed: a story or article
c. Rules: You (the clinician) read the story and emphasize the important parts in sign. The students need to know what the signs are prior to the story being read. After the story is complete, you ask the appropriate comprehension questions. The person who remembers the correct answers gets a point. If he/she remembers the sign too, they get an additional point.
These are just a few ideas. In my therapies, I find it’s critical to rehearse word-finding skills. I find that almost everything I do has some word retrieval practice in there somewhere. Using sign language (limb gross and fine motor skills) can help jug the memory of the word(s) the student is trying to think of. Using sign language paired with the spoken word works different areas of the brain with the whole – here it comes big words – visuospatial memory! A student’s sure to remember a definition to a new word or concepts heard in a story when signs are attached to it. The use of sign language allows for a fun new interactive way to teach the same ol’ goals. I am able to get across my semantic language, following directions, auditory processing/comprehension, and pragmatic goals using the three goals discussed above. Sign language comes across as a ‘hot’ way to learn the concepts they prefer not to rehearse. Success in my book! Sign on!
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