Under Construction - Road Map for Conversational Skills (Part 2)

Extending conversations--especially on a topic that is not of interest--is difficult for many people, but is particularly difficult for those who have
social-pragmatic deficits.  I'd like to continue to use the car/road analogy to demonstrate one of the ways I teach and have students practice this skill.  Last week I shared how students can inadvertently put up a Road Closed sign by failing to provide detailed information.  The student can prevent closing the road/stopping the conversation by doing one of two things: 1) asking questions; and 2) sharing personal information.  I usually start by teaching, practicing and role-playing how to ask questions.   It tends to be a more concrete method of continuing the conversation/drive, and it prevents conversation "monopolizers" from making the conversation all about themselves. 

How to Ask Questions

So, in this example, I move my car forward by asking something like,

Beth Q: Do you have plans for this summer?
John A: Yes, we're going to the beach.
Beth C and Q: That sounds fun, which beach?
John A: Bethany Beach.
Beth C and Q: I love that beach! Who is going with you?
John A: My mom, dad and sister.
Beth C and Q: I bet you are going to have so much fun. When are you going/how long will you be gone?
John A: Two weeks in July.
Beth C: Wow, sounds like a great vacation!


Most of my students will sit in awkward silence if I end the conversation there, and do not continue to ask them questions that focus entirely on them.  That has become their comfort-zone.  Adults and peers with solid conversation skills--to avoid the discomfort of the silence--typically meet the student more than half way, asking question after question about the student.  That student, then, does not experience the "natural consequence" (awkward feeling) of failing to extend the conversation, and therefore has no opportunity to repair and learn how to extend and show interest in the other person.

More on conversation skills in a couple of weeks...

Last day InferCabulary iPad App on Sale

In honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month we reduced InferCabulary, vocabulary iPad app, by 34%! Today is the last day of the sale - get yours for $9.99 on the APP Store.  Follow this link to see a new way to help students learn vocabulary:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/infercabulary/id796698831?mt=8

It's All in the Planning - Writing Strategies

The most difficult part of any task that you don't enjoy doing, is getting started. For struggling writers, working on a paragraph or paper is low on the list of "Fun Things To Do" or maybe not there at all.  So, the challenge is to make it fun or at least not frustrating.
When you are baking a cake, you need a recipe. When you are putting together a swing set, you need the directions. When you are writing a paper, you need a plan.
I use Inspiration Software's Inspiration Maps on the iPad to make the planning and writing process fun and easy. For elementary age children, they now have Kidspiration Maps on the iPad. This software works on tablets and computers, but the iPad version is really fun to use.
First we choose a template. Most of the time I use a simple template with a single bubble.  The student writes the thesis or topic of his paragraph in the bubble.  Then we pull in a fun picture from Safari or use one of the Inspiration pictures and paste it onto one of the bubbles. Next, the student writes everything they have learned about their topic in diagram mode or outline mode under the topic. In diagram mode, kids click on an arrow to pull up a bubble and put in their information. Finally, the student customizes their diagram with colors, shapes and more pictures if necessary.
There! The planning process is done and by this point they are ready to start writing using their Inspiration Map. I send the information to Pages or Microsoft Word so they don't have to re-type the information and now we work on adding conjunctions, adjectives and transition words to make their paragraph flow. Add a concluding sentence and - voila! they have a paragraph.
I've seen tears turned to smiles and sighs of relief audibly expelled. Writing can be fun if you know where to start. Challenge your students to find the fun in the process.

ADHD Brain and Sticky Notes

There's a great post entitled, "Sticky Note Memory," by ADHD Inside and Out. It hits home with a lot of us who parent or work with children who have attention deficit disorder.  It equates "working memory" to a sticky note stuck to a wall in your brain.  Normal brains can hold many sticky notes, but ADHD brains can hold only 2 or 3 sticky notes at a time making it difficult for them to plan, do and complete boring tasks. 
It's a great explanation of why a student with ADHD can have working memory issues:  http://www.bcinterioradhdclinic.com/coach/adhdinsideout/blogs/sticky-note-memory-2.html
Children who have memory difficulties should work on "storing" the information more efficiently in their memory and reducing the number of "sticky notes" they need to store.  In other words, break down the information you are asking your child/student to remember into smaller, easier to store chunks and work on memory strategies to improve recall of information.

Road Map for Conversational Skills


week I shared the importance of learning the "art" or
"dance" of conversation. By expanding vocabulary for emotions,
students can more accurately convey how they are feeling, which is very helpful
for peer negotiations, communicating with teachers, therapists and parents.

skill that should be overtly taught to students who don't naturally
"get" conversation, is how turns work and how to keep the
conversation balanced. This week I'll share the "Road Analogy" and
how I introduce it to students. Over the next couple of weeks, I will expand on
this method.
person chooses a topic (usually I choose, and focus on the student's interest
first) See Figure A.

we are on the same road, neither of us will suddenly leave the road, we will be
on the same topic, heading in the same direction. If the student suddenly
changes topic, I can use the metaphor of getting whiplash, drawing a sharp exit
from the main road. Neither of us will hog the road (talk too much) or randomly
park in the
middle of the road (provide too little information.) The first lesson may look
something like this:
I ask John a question like, "How was your weekend?"

2) He answers,

3) I draw a "Road Closed" sign, and let him feel
the discomfort that exists because he didn't move his car along the road, but
shut the conversation down inadvertently. (Many adults meet the student 99% of
the way, asking a multitude of questions, which is not at all a balanced
conversation. By doing this, the student doesn't experience the natural
consequence of slight discomfort when they fail to "do their part" in
the conversation.   See Figure B.

InferCabulary Word of the Week

With our iPad app, InferCabulary, students use 5 pictures to determine the meaning of a word. Can you figure out which word these 5 pictures are referring to?
Here's what one new InferCabulary owner had to say on the APP Store:
"I am an SLP [speech-language pathologist] and use this app with my middle school and high school students. This app is a great way to help the students develop their ability to use context clues to define unfamiliar words. The students were engaged the whole session. There is a variety of vocabulary words. I'd love an add-on of Tier II words."
Download InferCabulary today on the APP Store: 

Conversation Connections

Conversation skills are so important! Many children today have not had the opportunity to learn the importance of reciprocity in conversation. Some will naturally figure it out when they get older. But I figure there's no time like the present for children to learn a skill that can help parents and children connect, and help children interact with peers in a deeper way. By overtly discussing how conversations help deepen our relationships with others, expanding emotion vocabulary, and role- playing, children's eyes are opened to the connectedness available to them through simple, reciprocal conversations.

It is natural for adults with good conversation skills to "meet the child more than half way"--often 90%--during conversations. That might sound something like this:

Mom: How was your day? 

Brianna: Fine.
Mom: What did you do?
Brianna: Nothing.
Mom: Did you have gym today?
Brianna: Yes. 

If the conversation is to continue, who is responsible for making it happen? The mom wants the connection--understands the importance of language as a tool to connect emotionally--so, with a "resistant" partner, this "conversation" becomes a barrage of questions that can often leave both parties frustrated.
I am currently working with a fourth grader and a freshman in high school on expanding conversation. Over the next few weeks I'd like to share what we are working on.

Both boys needed work on expanding vocabulary for emotions. "Good", "bad", "happy" and "mad" don't help the partner understand the nuances of how they are feeling. Here is a sample of the type of intensity graph I use to work on this objective: 

These pictures were obtained from sites such as dreamstime.com andshutterstock.com, and placed in organizers using Inspiration software. 

Next week, I will share about the "Road" technique, where I concretely, visually demonstrate the expectations of both parties involved in the conversation. Just practicing this skill alone can have a significant impact on the quality of conversations.