Video of Puzzle Main Idea Technique

Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP
Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP

Hi All.  A couple of weeks ago, we shared the idea of using a puzzle to help students with Main Idea/Key Details.  We've uploaded some video segments to  The puzzle pieces each have velcro and attach to a large board covered in velcro.  The first video explains the overview of the puzzle and how it will be used to have the student extract key details.  We apologize the sound is a little tricky.  Turn the volume up to maximum!

The second is a section I filmed while working  with one of my students who struggles with main idea/key details/insignificant details.  She is an amazing "out of the box" thinker who notices cool things others may not notice. However, she sometimes misses the primary components in stories, so this activity was perfect for her. She enjoyed the activity, and even said,  "Miss Beth, you should make this into an app game where students click on the puzzle pieces, then write a story about it using the details they pick from the puzzle!" idea!  We edited this 15 minute session into 3 parts.

The links are:


Note how, through use of graphic organizers, the student was guided to move from provision of details in a serial manner, to producing a cohesive summary of the entire puzzle.   Hope you find it useful!

Mobile Apps News

round logo copyThis is an exciting time for Communication @PPtitude! Our first mobile app is in the works. The storyboard has been delivered to our software engineer and we are excited to experience the "birth" of our first piece of technology. We will keep you updated on it's progress!

Deena is also a "student" again, taking an online course in mobile app development and is officially an Apple Developer. Beth is working on a research grant for a vocabulary program we will eventually share with you. Good times!

Meanwhile, we thought we would share a few apps on the market that you might find useful. The first one is free, called "Chain of Thought" by Jay Bacal. It's a free association word game that is great for word retrieval which is the difficulty in recalling words on demand. One of the techniques for improving word recall is to think of words associated the word you are searching for to retrieve the target word. for example, syrup goes with pancakes and a bat goes with a baseball. The game can be played solo, with another player or online. Adults and kids will enjoy this free app so much, they won't notice its language benefits.

The second app is Inspiration Software which has reduced the price of their Mac and PC software by 50% for a limited time. (Inspiration Maps for the iPad is just $9.99. Using it with a touch screen is great for students.) You've read about this software on our blogs about writing. It's a software program that allows students to work in diagram or outline form for brainstorming ideas, mapping out ideas about a s research topic, and organizing information for writing as well as verbal formulation. We can't say enough good things about this software for elementary to college students. So, if you were thinking about getting Inspiration, now's the time to buy it. In fact, we use Inspiration when we are "mapping out" our ideas for apps and research ideas.

Thanks to all of our supporters! We've passed the 2,000 mark on hits to our blog and we are so grateful!

Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP
Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP

Main Idea Versus Detail Trouble??

Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP
Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to 2013!  I'd like to share a couple of ideas for talking to students about Main Idea versus Details.  Have your students/children ever attempted to share a main idea by re-telling the entire story? As if every detail were just as essential as the detail before? Deena and I see this frequently with our students.

Two techniques come to mind that seemed to work for these particular students, so if they can help you to help one other child, that would be wonderful!  One is a third grade student who is a Math Whiz and is really smart. I kept talking to him using "language terms" and I finally realized I might get farther with him if I spoke "his language."  I had him read a story that had five sentences.  The story came from Visualizing-Verbalizing Stories Book 1 (If you are not familiar with Visualizing-Verbalizing, it is AMAZING--more information can be found at I randomly assigned single digit numbers to each sentence and asked him to add the numbers up. Like this:

Math Example Main Idea

He wrote the numbers in a column, then added them up, quickly solved the problem, and provided me2+3 with the sum.  I compared the paragraph to a math problem, that it is our job as readers to "figure out" the answer/main idea--that we cannot simply repeat the sentences.  We wouldn't simply repeat the numbers to be added.  This really seemed to open his eyes to what we were trying to do.  We still had quite a bit of work to do, and lots of practice working on this skill, but finally I had stopped explaining, "Main Idea" using words he was not understanding.  We started talking about the "sum" of the story instead.

The second example is with an eighth grade girl who has significant difficulty, "Seeing the Trees for the Forest" (i.e., she gets the big ideas, but she's not sure how the details fit in.)  She is an artist, thinks in big ideas and loves all things visual.  We were working on writing a summary of an article together. She was not "getting" the process.  As it often happens with many of my ideas, it hit me at 2:00 in the morning that our job as "article-summarizers" (and really when we write any type of research paper) is to take someone else' perfectly beautiful puzzle (an article, articles, books, etc.), pull out the pieces that carry the most meaning, leaving behind the puzzle-pieces that are not necessary to the scene.  That is the index-card/note-taking portion of the process.  Then, we re-arrange the puzzle pieces, adding our own "pieces" (language) to make a cohesive whole that is similar to the original, but has our artistic flair and our viewpoint as the authors.

Puzzle PieceFor the next session, I brought a 100 piece puzzle and had her physically extract the pieces she saw as being important.  As we extracted important details from the article (not always an easy task,) we wrote them on index cards.  I had my student tape a puzzle piece to each index card. I made sure that similar topics were attached to puzzle pieces from the same area of the puzzle so they would be grouped together in our summary in a way that matched the themes within the puzzle.  Once we had our index cards/puzzle pieces written, we used post-it notes to connect the ideas into a cohesive paragraph using conjunctions and sequence words. If there is interest, I would be willing to duplicate this process so you have a visual--I wasn't yet in the "digital age" when I was working with this student.

Hope these ideas might help someone else working with a student on main idea/details!  Let us know.

Happy Holidays

We want to wish everyone Happy Holidays! We are so enjoying sharing ideas and learning from you all.  We look forward to a wonderful year in 2013.


Deena & Beth

Memory Strategy for Timelines

Beth Lawrence, MS, CCC-SLP
Beth Lawrence, MS, CCC-SLP

Hi.  I wanted to share a short post showing how important it is to anchor all information that will be needed for a test (and hopefully for long-term recall!)  The images are pretty small, but if you click on them, they pop up larger.
This student was required to recall not only the  events leading up to the Revolutionary War, but also the dates.  He tried to simply "memorize" them, but he kept choosing the wrong dates for each event.  We created a visual timeline and, because he has benefited from using rhyme in the past, we created rhymes to connect the dates and the events when we could.
Revolutionary War 2
In the second section, I used another strategy--ANYthing to get the information to stick! The student had to recall two facts about 1775, and we couldn't think of very much for this one, so I broke down what he had to remember into syllables, making it fit so that the first one had seven syllables (i.e., The-Bat-tle-of-Lex-ing-ton = 7) and the second had five syllables (i.e., Bat-tle-of-Con-cord = 5) for 1775.  We would love to hear from you teachers, tutors and parents, about strategies you are using!
revolutionary War 2

Language Games to Improve Sentences Skills

Deena SeifertM.S., CCC-SLP
Deena Seifert

If you are looking to add some games to your family or work collection, there are quite a few games in the stores now to improve sentence structure.  Improving a student's sentence structure is not just important for conversational skills, but it's the building block of written language.

Before a child can write simple, compound and complex sentences, they must first be able to use them aloud.  We do a lot of practice with our students in oral syntax (grammar).  We practice making complete sentences aloud with and without pictures for cues.  Just practicing this skill can be veryhum drum, so I try toincorporate a game or two into our speech-language sessions to make working on this skill more fun.  Here are just a few of my favorite sentence games...


You've Been Sentenced
You've Been Sentenced

You've Been Sentenced is a fun game of pentagonal-shaped cards.  Each side of every card has a word and the points that word is worth.  Players try to make the longest, most grammatically correct sentence they can and score points in the process.  This has been a big hit with middle school and high school students.  You can play the game as is or add on additional decks.  It has add ons for players interested in pop culture, science fiction/fantasy, word challenges, sports highlights and gourmet.

Mad Libs Criss Cross
Mad Libs Criss Cross

MadLibs Criss Cross Board Game is a fun inexpensive way to work on sentences.  Cards come in 3 categories: nouns, verbs and miscellaneous.  Players work on creating the longest possible sentence, each card worth points for the player.  You can write in some of your own words on blank cards.  Players enjoy the wacky sentences they create themselves.

Rory's Story Cubes Actions
Rory's Story Cubes Actions

If you are familiar with Rory's Story Cubes did you know they make an actions deck?  Sometimes students get a blank look on their face when asked to create a sentence or a story.  When this happens I pull out the story cubes and watch it inspire a student to create a story.  The small visual pictures on the dice trigger names, objects and events to help a student create a sentence or story.

Hope this helps with your holiday shopping or inspires you to look at games in a different way.  What's your favorite speech-language game or activity? Let us know!

Writing Checklists for Students

Deena Seifert, M.S., CCC-SLP
Deena Seifert,

My child is consistently getting lower marks on writing assignments, because he forgets to add a title or other detail.

Sometimes I wish I could sit on my students' shoulders in class or at home when they are writing their papers and remind them to indent, to edit their work or to remember to include a title.checkmark Recently, I decided to print out a checklist for one of my students whom I'll call, "Ben." I printed out multiple copies, slipped them in a polyurethane sleeve, labeled the sleeve with the class name and had the student add a set to each class binder that requires writing.

I just got an email from Ben's mother saying,

Ben revised his writing assignment tonight and did such a great job. I am so proud of him. Having the checklist in his head helped as he wrote. I sat with him, asked questions, and watched him type his own thoughts. At the end he went thru the checklist again and realized he had done everything. It was such a pleasant experience. No fretting, just cheering.

Here's the checklist Ben's mother is referring to:

Writing Checklist pic

Something that was so easy to create, made a big difference in Ben and his mom's evening.

Working Memory Strategy

Beth Lawrence, MS, CCC-SLP
Beth Lawrence, MS, CCC-SLP

A couple of weeks ago, we had a post on how to help students with working memory deficits.  The first step is to engage the student in dialogue about how the brain works, educating them about the processes required to perform simple short-term memory tasks versus tasks requiring active engagement while "holding onto" information.  In the last year or so, I have begun using a technique that may seem a little strange, but I have seen some good results! In fact, just last week, one of my students was performing a complex language processing task that relies heavily on active listening and working memory: note-taking from an orally-presented paragraph.  My student said, "OH! I just have to write down the MANCALA WORDS!"  That will make no sense unless I back up and tell you the technique I had introduced to him about 4 months ago, and upon which we have been building his active listening/working memory skills.

For years I have been teaching students traditional techniques, such as visualizing, chunking and self-repetition of key words.  About a year ago, one of my students simply could not grasp these concepts, and he could not identify which words in the speech stream carried more "weight" than others.  I knew that I had to add a kinesthetic (i.e., hands-on experience using manipulatives) component.  I did not want to write the words, because I wanted him to learn the principal of how to "highlight" words in the auditory speech stream--I did not want to give him a crutch for remembering the words, as that would not help him to improve his own memory skills.  I happened to have my Mancala game with me, which contains 48 small stones and a board with 12 scoops carved into it.  I wanted this student to recall directions so he could successfully complete a pencil-paper task.  I placed one stone in each of the scoops on the top row of the Mancala board to represent each word in my utterance.  He was to select only the stones from the top that carried strong meaning, placing them in the scoops on the lower half of the board.  As he added a new stone to the bottom row, he was to chunk it and add it to the previous words.  So my direction, "Write the letter A in the square," became, "Write," "Write letter," "Write letter in," "Write letter in square," as he selected each stone.  He left the stones for the words, "the" in the holes on the top row.  When we listen, words are not uttered and "dumped," words further down the speech stream are actively added to the previous words until one has the concept in mind.

To further enhance this experience, I teach a few basic signs for prepositions as movement helps cement location words.  I  have the student listen for prepositions, quickly making the sign to lock that location word in.  Here is a video of a recent session with a student who held onto a two-step direction using this technique.  Obviously we will need to work on increasing the speed with which she processes the language, but at this stage, she needs to rely on the kinesthetic process. [wpvideo 9Qo3ha9R][wpvideo pdCvD1Om][wpvideo RP32kmTc][wpvideo tTsiqKqV]

Holiday Card Games for Language

20121129-202128.jpgTo continue our Holiday List for family games that are fun and target language skills, too, my students have a few favorites in the card game category.


Putting your thinking cap on can take on a literal meaning when you play HedBandz. (Thanks to Stephanie for this idea.) It's a favorite of elementary school kids and looking silly playing the game can create lasting memories. Each player wears a headband with a card in it. More importantly players have to ask yes or no questions and remember the answers. I talk about categories with students and how a category is the road map for where you are going with a word's definition. Discovering your mystery word's category helps you find the meaning faster.
ASAP cards 2
ASAP is another card game that helps with word-finding. You can make your own ASAP game if the mood strikes you. One player holds a deck of 26 categories and the other player has a deck of 26 letters. Each player lays a card for their deck on the table at the same time and whoever can name a word from the category that starts with the letter sound keeps the letter card.  Whoever has the  most cards at the end of the game wins.

In A Pickle

If you are one to "size up" the competition, In a Pickle is the a game for you. It's a card game for 2-6 players that involves placing cards whose object is larger or smaller than the target card. Players have to consider if a museum is larger than a library or if a giraffe is larger than an elephant. While placing cards by order of size, players have to consider multiple meanings of words and how words relate to each other - a great vocabulary skill game. I like to tell stories about the cards we are playing to work on narrative skills, as well.

Spot It!

If you are too hip to be square, then try Spot It (thanks to Karen for the idea) which is a round card game for all ages working on word retrieval, perceptual skills and cognition. Players are looking for one common feature between cards and when they Spot It, they call it out (word retrieval). It's a favorite of tutors and therapists.  It gives kids success and encourages word retrieval for object names.  The high schoolers enjoy it just as much as the elementary students.

Apples to Apples Jr.

Finally, Apples to Apples has a game for any age. Younger players can play the junior version while older students prefer the regular version. It's a game of comparison and analogies and while I'm sold on the language value of the game, kids, teens and adults just think it's great fun.

Laughter is good for any age and these games are sure to bring out the giggles. In the next Language Games post, we'll talk about games to improve sentence skills.

Holiday Games for Word Retrieval

As I make out my gift-giving lists for family and friends, I am reminded that there's no better time to think about buying family games. Did you know there are many games on the market that not only create quality family time, but also work on language skills.

One of the areas I enjoy working on with my students is word retrieval, also referred to as word recall.
is the ability to recall specific words on demand in a timely manner.
We all have some form of word recall difficulties. Have you ever walked upstairs or to another part of your house and forgotten what you were there to get? You try to remember the first sound (phonemic cueing) of the item you were retrieving. Maybe you tried to picture it in your head (visualizing) or recalled what you were doing when you realized you needed this item. You could have tried to think of what the item goes with (association) or the category of the object (categorization).

When children are diagnosed with word retrieval difficulties it is much more debilitating. It creates difficulties when talking with their friends. They are more hesitant to enter into classroom discussions. Writing is almost always affected, because if they can't recall the words they need to use in their paragraph they will choose a less-specific word or write as little as possible.

Here are just some of the many games I like to use to increase word retrieval and have fun at the same time:
Outburst or Outburst Jr.
Players: 2 players or 2 teams or players
Ages: 7 years and older
This games has two-sided cards with a topic at the top of the card and a list of 10 items associated with the category or item at the top. Players try to name as many 20121129-134041.jpgitems on demand in the given time.
Last Word
Players: 2 - 8, team play also
Ages: 8 years and older
Players names items in categories in a given amount of time and the player to provide the last word before the buzzer sounds gets to move a space ahead on the board.

Scattegories Categories
Players: 2 or more
Ages: 8 and older
Players name items in one category by letter or sound. I give players credit no matter what answer they give. If the word matches the letter, they get 2 points. If they name a word, but it doesn't start with the target sound, they get 1 point.

Showing your kids they can be successful in word retrieval and have fun at the same time is a priceless gift.

More games to come....