How Can You Improve Communication at School?
Building communication opportunities for our students is one of the most important things we can do as special educators. Students need to understand how to communicate with others and request their wants, needs, and thoughts. I know many SLPs would agree that we need to do what we can during the school day to expand students' vocabulary, requesting skills and sentence length. Here are 4 easy ways to improve student communication skills.
1. Give Opportunities for Choice
I like to give opportunities for choice WHENEVER I can throughout the day. First and foremost, it gives students some control in their day. It also gives me an idea of their preferred activities, which therefore helps to increase student engagement. Ultimately, it requires them to communicate their choice to me or others. In addition, did you know that giving choices can actually improve challenging behaviors? There are so many opportunities for choice throughout the school day! You can give choices for morning work, choices for snack, choices for reinforcers, choices for paper color, choices for recess ideas…and the list goes on.
2. Put Preferred Items Out of Reach
This is a sneaky tactic that I like to use once in a while to increase and improve communication skills in students. Keep toys, electronics, and preferred items for students on a top shelf or locked in a cabinet. This requires students to use communication to request what they would like to play with during a break. You can put visual icons on the cabinet to help students request the items wanted; this can especially work well for nonverbal learners.
3. Don't Give all Materials
Trust me on this one, it works! Don't always give students all of the materials that they need for a project or activity. If you are working on a project, give them some of the materials that they need but leave some big items out so that they have to initiate and request these items. One very simple way to do this is to ask students to write their name on their paper without a writing utensil in front of them. This way, you can help guide them in how to initiate asking for a pencil. Think about other ways you can use this throughout the day-if they need a spoon during snack, if they need a glue stick for an art project, etc.
4. Play Fun Games!
Have you ever noticed that students can be sillier and more chatty when they are just simply having fun? Every time I use this strategy (even with my own son at home who has Down Syndrome) I get a ton of communication from kids. Whether it's playing board games, Tic Tac Toe or Simon Says, these games will get students smiling, laughing, and contributing to conversations. If you are playing a game with students, you can ask students things like, “Who's turn is it? What color do you want to be? What game should we play? Do you like this game?” You can also make sure to celebrate and be silly when someone “wins” and create conversations that way.
I have always found that using visual supports is another great way to increase communication skills with students. It helps them with requesting, knowing what their day looks like, and knowing what they need to accomplish to get their preferred item of choice. Check out all the visual supports that I use HERE!