Crocodile Dentist Adapted for Communication

7 Feb

I updated Crocodile Dentist with a new communication board.   It was a popular game with my early language learners and I managed to wear out two crocodiles since the original posting in 2013. This was a great game for speech therapy reinforcement and to encourage communication. Apparently some of you are still using it.

Readers  have requested the communication  board I made to go along with the game but unfortunately I don’t have it any longer.  It was left behind with the game when I moved on to other schools.  I no longer have access to the program Boardmaker to print the digital copy. However, there is a free program called Picto-Selector that I have been using to make communication boards.  This program may be a good option for some of you.  Click on the colored print to find the site to download it. I made the board below using it. If you want to download this board click on the board below.

Meanwhile, here are the game adaptations I posted about in 2013.

Crocodile Dentist is a plastic crocodile that has a spring loaded mouth.  The mouth closes when a certain tooth is pushed down. Kids enjoy the suspense of seeing who is going to get bit. I give the  kids an option of using using a tongue depressor because some take this quite seriously. The trigger tooth changes location each time the mouth is opened.

Some of you may already use this game for reinforcement.  I thought you might like to know how you can expand its use a little further.  I use it to expand a student’s verbal output to 2 to 3 word phrases using a communication board and to follow directions using prepositions.

I colored the teeth alternating colors using permanent markers.  I used pink, green, and orange because I already had a die that had those colors.  If you don’t have a die you can make a spinner or use colors for a die you have.

For my students with limited verbal abilities, I use the communication board along with the die in a plastic jar.  I have the students shake the die to get the color of tooth they need to push down.  I then model phrases using the communication board while playing the game.  The game creates a lot of opportunities for repetition of phrases such as “I have ….” or “push down green tooth”.  I also reinforce saying “your turn” and “my turn.”   After repetition the students start to say the appropriate phrase when you point to the correct icons as a prompt.  Finally, they may prompt themselves by pointing to the icons and verbalizing.  This is a good way to break up an imitative pattern that often happens when training non-verbal children and uses a natural context for turn taking.

The colors are used in the direction cards also.  Click on the free download icon for the cards.  Cards were made using the concept vocabulary:  next to, beside, between, right, left, colors, not, side, front, either/or.  Children take turns drawing the cards and following the directions for the tooth to be pushed down.  We play a variation by giving each child three poker chips.  They feed the crocodile a chip if he bites.  The person who feeds all three chips is the winner.             

 I provided a word program down load because I thought people may need to adjust the color words for their needs. If you have any difficulties with this, leave me a comment.  Print out the cards and have the students pull them out of a bag and then follow the directions while playing the game.

A reminder that Teachers Pay Teachers is having a February sale.  If you have been putting off purchasing, now is a chance to get a discount. Don’t forget to use the code.



The Virtues of a Grab Bag and Grab Bag Hack

1 Nov

Have you ever wished for extra arms while conducting speech therapy?  Who can forget those early days of  SLP training and starting of clinical hours.   At the time, it seemed impossible to manage everything. I wished for more hands to manage materials, data taking tools, and especially the young clients.   If you turned  your back, your clients had control of the materials and you became an octopus trying to get them back.  This was not a good start to the session.

I got  to thinking about the hacks I discovered along the way that made a difference.  A grab bag was one of my real life savers. If you haven’t discovered the virtues of a grab bag  you have really missed out.

There are lots of advantages to using a grab bag.  A bag allows for control of the materials and prevents students from helping themselves to  items before you are ready to use them.  It allows for controlled  turn taking.  Only the person with the bag has access to the items. They  take items one by one before handing it on to the next person.

It creates  intrigue for some  students who would not otherwise be interested. Who doesn’t like discovering what is hidden in the mystery bag?   And finally, when you find yourself switching locations and working from room to room, you can keep better tabs of those small pieces if they are contained in a  bag that is portable.

I used grab bags frequently with my  early language learners, especially in small groups.  It creates a natural context for communication boards when training core vocabulary such as “I have, I see, I want,” and that mportant question for vocabulary development,  “What is it?”.   I have used grab bags with a activities such as potato head, the car races, and windup toys.  You can use a clear freezer for students who need  to see the parts and request them.

Here is an example of a communication board I used with  mechanical toys and a grab bag. The board is made from Picto-Selector graph which is a free download.  It can be found at  

A bag can also be used with older students seated around a large table.  The bag can be passed so items can always be reached.  You have one less thing in your hands which really helps when taking data.  You can even have different  bags and different cards in each so students can work on different objectives by pulling from their bag. I have a lot less trouble with a stack of cards being scattered across the table and floor.

I imagine you are saying, “I want one of those. Give me the directions for that grab bag already.”   Well here they are:

Find an old sweater or sweatshirt that has long sleeves and cuffs.  Simply cut the sleeve off, turn it inside out and sew across the flat bottom.  You can glue the bottom opening closed with a glue gun if you can’t sew or don’t have a sewing machine.  Turn it back to the right side and you should have a bag with a cuff opening for the top. Now tell me that isn’t simple.



Communication Board Maker and Pass the Pigs

19 Feb

I thought I was going to have a break for a while but I find myself working in an elementary school again. There is a high need for substitute  SLPs in the schools here and I couldn’t say no. On the bright side, it provides opportunities for blog post  topics.

So now you are wondering how Pass the Pigs has anything to do with communication board software.  Well this is a recent game I added to my collection and so I  did not have a communication board or access to software to make one.  Before thinking of making a purchase I started on a quest to see what was available on the web.  I found Picto-Selector.  I was surprised to  see the  possibilities with this free program.  A donation is encouraged. Best of all sharing was not prohibited as long as you  made sure you provided a link back to the site for recognition. The site is here: Picto-Selector.  You do need to download and install a program but it didn’t take long and I was happy it  passed the virus check on my computer. For a free product, I found the program to be quite flexible and user friendly.   A library of pictures is available within the program. You can use their grids but I chose to use my Power Point program  and make my own grid. I was able to drop pictures from the program and size them on that grid.  This also allowed me to insert my own pictures of the pigs.  I am happy with the results. You may want to give it a try.  The board at the top is an example.

As I have said before, I found that providing communication boards and game activities not only aids nonverbal students but add structure for building sentences and listening skills for some of our students with language processing difficulties.  Games can be used to reinforce turn taking and handling disappointment for those having difficulty with social skills.  Deep breaths and dot pressure anyone?

Here is your warning for  a topic change.   Recently I have I used Pass the Pigs as a game reinforcement. I was surprised to find my youngest students at the elementary school  found this game appealing.  A cup with 2 rubber pigs doesn’t seem that enticing to me. They were more then willing to give it a try though. As with most of my games, I adapted it for my purposes.  Most of the students worked  toward their goals as a prerequisite  for taking a turn. This game was ideal for short turns.   I simplified scoring for my youngest students.   The score sheet that was included with the game was difficult to follow and we spent too much time figuring out pig positions for a score.  I put the new scoring on a communication board for easy access.  I also have some students who had a hard time dealing with the “pig out” score which meant they lost all points. I switched it to zero points which is difficult enough for some students to handle.  I also switched the scoring to if they got 2 pigs with scores above 5 they could add them together for the score.  It was just easier to know that then trying to look up the variations.  Each student was allowed one roll instead of going until they decide to stop.  This was so turns remained short. No one knew the original rules so I didn’t have  complaints.
I joined the February blog link up for special education.  It will bring you to similar blog sites.


What animal is it? Question Activity

12 Mar


Do you have a collection of stuffed animals that seems to reproduce before your very eyes?  I do.   I inherited a collection of Beanie Babies from my children when they left home.  They were so adorable that I had difficulty parting with them.  Naturally they ended up in my  room of misfit toys, my therapy room.  I have them stored in a shoe storage unit that fits over a door.  As people noticed them they added more to the collection.  After I started using them for therapy, I found how valuable they truly are.

The animals are very enticing even to some of my older students who have moved on to Minecraft. I  have used them for calming distraught Kindergarten students.  Teachers  have borrowed one for the day to get a student through trauma.  Students have used them when they forgot theirs on a “Read to your stuffed animal day.”

I have used them when reading animal stories.  Students take a animal from a grab bag and  listen for the part of the story where  their animal shows up.  It keeps them focused on the story and gives something for their hands to hold.

I have some unusual ones that become a help for expanding vocabulary.   For example, some students have not had exposure to a jelly fish.  I know my stuffed animal is not an exact replica  but does give the idea.   This leads  to a discussion to what is different about a real jellyfish and the stuffed version.  My jellyfish has the typical stuffed animal round eyes which led to the question, “Do jellyfish have eyes?”.    We explored this on the iPad and it provided a very interesting topic.

They are great for categorization according to traits.  A favorite activity I made up is ” Mystery Animal”.  I especially like this activity for its use of questions and cognitive skills. It is a memory and cognitive task to remember the details and use that information in a meaningful way. I have a velvet box that is the mystery box.  One student hides an animal in the box and the other students ask questions to determine its identity.  The rule is they need to ask a descriptive question before they can identify the animal. Some of  my students have difficulty coming up with relevant questions or ask the same questions several times.  I made this communication board to help them with formulating questions.


This is a pdf version you may be able to download and print  for use.   What animal

They have been used as rewards for behavior plans.  Students earn animal babysitting priveledges and  swap one out occasionally.  This keeps the incentive going.  It is nice to have an incentive that doesn’t need funding or involve food.

Amazingly, I have only lost a few over the years.  They seem to find their way back to my room at the end of the school year.


Adapted Who Shook Hook Game

11 Dec


who shook hook

        Who Shook Hook Adapted Game


I know some of us do pirate themes in our therapy rooms at some point during the school year.  It helps to develop that ARRR you know.  This is a game that would work with that theme.   I found this game unopened  for a few dollars last year at a Goodwill store and decided I couldn’t go too wrong with such an inexpensive game. I see  there are some 2nd hand ones you can order quite reasonably on ebay or amazon.  Keep your eyes open for it at thrift stores or Goodwill.

I used it for a variety of speech goals.  It is good for developing some vocalic r words such as sword, barrel, tweezers, treasure, shark.  It also had quite a few sh, ch  type words such as treasure chest, cash sack, shovel, beach, shark, bridge, and fishing pole.  A lot of the items used in the game were not familiar vocabulary words such as tweezers,  hammock, palm trees, and barrel.  It seemed that everyone knew what a sword was.  Finally, there was a good use of prepositions as there was a shark beneath or below the hammock, the hammock between the palm trees, and Hook hopefully staying above the shark.  You of course can add other task cards to get more drill incorporated.

It is not a game  I would normally have bought. Some of my students have difficulty with small motor skills and this one looked like it could be frustrating for them.  In the game, players  move figures around a track.  They land on squares that tell them to use various tools  to remove treasures from the hammock without letting Capt. Hook fall. I was surprised to find that this game actually worked out quite well.  Hook doesn’t fall off the hammock that easily.  You can hook his heels into the hammock which makes him pretty steady.  You can adjust the difficulty somewhat by his placement.   Most of the students could find a tool that worked for them and the tools were quite motivating. Some students just used a tool to shove the treasure off rather than pick it up.   It was a fast paced game that didn’t end until all the treasures were gathered or Hook fell.  Students enjoyed the challenge of the tools and didn’t get hung up on winning.

I was able to use the game for some of my early language learners so  I made a communication board to go with it.  You may notice that I try to keep my boards quite similar. The pronouns are to the left and connect easily to my core verbs that are usually want, have, get, or put. My middle area after the verbs has the vocabulary that changes and the far right is the my turn, your turn.  This seems to work for me for being consistent and allowing students to find the words they need to  develop short sentences and phrases. I print them out on regular paper and slip them into plastic page covers.  The board is flexible so fits easily into the game box.





Whirly Therapy Fun

1 Apr

20150331_154939I am not sure what they are called, but as a child I called it a Whirly.  They were a great find this last weekend in the Easter basket toys at Walmart.  It would be a good time to look for them.   I  was trying to find new mechanical toys for my early language learners who get engaged by anything that spins and pops.  For $2 you couldn’t go too wrong.  I did wonder how long it would last but it was sturdy enough to make it through a morning of therapy with the younger K through -2nd grade Life skills class.   There is a precaution for aiming it at people and there is the string to watch out for.

 I used it this week and it was a big hit.  It was great for learning  communication intents and making requests.  It gave opportunities to review the concepts  of  around and over.  If the string was pulled strong enough the spinner would stay on the ceiling a few minutes spinning over our heads. The students would give me the Whirly and make requests for fast pulls.  We also practiced a few more prepositions when  finding  the location of that spinner after it came down.   A few of my students needed a person to hold the device while they pulled the string.  This encouraged joint attention to a task. I like it when a toy can offer so much opportunity for natural communication with very little effort.

Here is the communication board I used for the activity.

twirly board

Adaptive Don’t Spill the Beans

5 Mar

20150305_074758_resized       Don’t Spill the Beans is another game that I have used with my language learners. It has always been good for general reinforcement.  Many of you probably have the game already.

I often became annoyed by the spilled beans.  They were difficult for my students with poor fine motor concerns  to pick up and took precious therapy time collecting them.  I thought there had to be a better way.  Then I remembered my Chipper Chat therapy materials.  It is a product from Super Duper which many of you may also have. You can breathe new life into your  “Don’t spill the Beans”  game by switching out the beans with the magnetic chips. The students are always enthused about using the magnets and it makes it easy to pick up the spilled chips.  I usually have the students pick up the chips with the magnets and place them in individual saucers to compare the amounts.  You can also vary the game by having students collect specific colors that spill. The magnets have really helped with quick clean up.   I added a communication board to practice sentence frames and turn taking..


Poppa’s Pizza Game Adaptation

28 Jul


Poppa's Pizza Topple.

I have some of my therapy games home for the summer since I had grandchildren visiting.  I noticed that I missed putting this one up on the blog.   Poppa’s Pizza Topple is a game I found at a garage sale a few years ago and I think it is still being sold in a few stores. It is a game  my students enjoy no matter what their ability level.  Pizza seems to be a favorite food of most children. I have used this game with students who are working on basic communication skills such as turn taking and making requests.  It can easily be adapted for students with limited verbal abilities by adding a communication board.    It also works well as a simple reinforcement for doing therapy tasks. At the most simple level, just use the pizza crust and have the student request ingredients and place them on the crust.  At the most difficult level, students place the ingredients on an unsteady pizza  crust propped up on Poppa’s finger.  They pick up the ingredients  according to what is rolled on the dice.   I recommend picking this game up and adding it to your collection if you get the chance.

Poppa's Pizza Topple.                                                                         pizza board

I had a request to show the communication board.  I do not have Boardmaker available on my home  computer to open this board. I ended up taking a picture of it. It will give you an idea of the symbols used.

In Search of the Best AAC System: Is it ChatAble ?

5 Jun

            I have always had an interest in Augmentative and Alternative Communication  (AAC).  Since I  have served many students with severe communication disabilities,  I have experienced using a lot of different systems over my career.  At the risk of dating myself, I worked with some of the beginning voice output devices for students such as the  “Hawk” and “Macaw” when every device seemed to be either an animal or bird name. Does anyone remember the Wolf?  You had to follow step by step instructions with sort of a recipe book.  The programming  was a very  repetitive pattern that in printed on your neural pathways.  A robotic voice prompted your moves saying words like “Trap” at the end of the sequence. That robotic voice would then invade your dreams while you slept.   Thankfully we have come a long way since then and children no longer need to sound like robots unless they choose to.  I remember a particular child that liked a Darth Vader type voice. Now new apps  make  it easier for speech output to be available on handheld devices and iPads.  There are so many new ones a  person gets overwhelmed with the choices and options.
When the SLPs in my district were given iPads 3 years ago there were restrictions placed on their  use.   Funds weren’t available for purchasing apps so we basically functioned with what could be downloaded free.  I think I have downloaded every trial version AAC app out there trying to find one to meet student needs and be potentially affordable for the school district to buy. Our purchase restrictions are starting to lift so soon it will be time to make decisions.

                    One downfall with using free trial apps is they often do not give you full editing powers. This means you do not get to try the full capabilities for the educational environment.  Last week an opportunity came my way.  I was contacted by Therapy Box, a company based in the United Kingdom.  They asked me to review their new AAC app named ChatAble.  I could actually download the complete program and check it out.  As a disclaimer, I am not being given any compensation other than a free download of the app. These are my views alone.  I hope they are of value to you as you look over my shoulder.  I certainly enjoyed being able to view the whole working program.

So what are the characteristics of a good program for school use.  The  program I am searching for needs to serve  a wide  range of students  because the school population is ever growing and changing.  Any program would likely serve multiple students over the years of its use.    It would be best if it could  use photos as well as  icons.   You need to have easy editing of the communication grid and the amount of vocabulary available.   It would be nice to also have the written word or keyboard for students who advance to that level.   Being able to use the device to complete academic work as well as provide voice output would be a real plus. We have students who are visually impaired and would benefit from auditory prompting and scanning.  Those with physical impairments may need a switch to activate cells.  Let’s not forget the teachers and assistants. I have seen AAC equipment sit on the shelf because it is too complicated and no one has time to get it programmed for classroom use . It needs to be user friendly but with some safequards so students do not  get to edit freely.  So does Chatable meet my needs? This is what I discovered.

I found the program easy to access.   I discovered a lot just through exploration. There was a quick start guide I looked back on and I learned a few more capabilities but you can pick it up and use the program immediately.   A Home display is the first thing to come up.   This is a plus.  It means that staff will not be intimidated and teachers and teacher assistants working with the students will not need a lot of training to work with the student. It saves staff time.

When I opened up to the first screen I have to say I was immediately impressed.  The core vocabulary was easy to view and reach in category files.  It didn’t feel cluttered.   The  typical classroom vocabulary was already programmed in.  You could choose the number of cells present.   The message window was a nice size and very apparent at the top.  It was easy to activate the voice output by hitting once in the message window itself.  It deleted easily by touching the black square once for a one word erase and twice for the entire window.

photo (1)

The little blue square below the black square gives access to social media like messages and Facebook.  It is also possible to copy and print.  This is a good feature for growth.   It makes the device useful for completing homework and printing it out. Don’t worry, it can be removed in the settings if a  students is not ready for that yet.  It seems like that feature could be a good motivator for older students.

The  icons on the file folders  are  not too distracting and  remind me of Boardmaker icons.  The classroom where I work uses Boardmaker icons so there is always the question if the students will be able to make the transition to new icons.  I think most students would be able to make the adjustment.  The program has an extensive library of icons. You can   import photos or take pictures if you wish.

File folders mean there is access to another window with available vocabulary. I activated the feelings file folder.  I often find feelings are the most difficult to depict with drawings or icons.  I was pleasantly surprised to find real pictures.

photo (3)

This is not a feature I have seen before in other AAC programs.   It would definitely be a plus to be able to take and use your own photos to depict feelings. I went back to the Get Started Manual to see how this worked.  I found you could take pictures or get them from your picture library and make hot spots  for vocabulary access. You simply put the blue frames around the part of the picture you want to make active. You can basically take a picture of a classroom shelf of toys and then make hotspots for easy access to the spoken vocabulary. I can think of a few students who respond to photos better than icons. This feature would not only save time it would be better for some students to see photos of the actual objects they use. You can also make hybrid pages that combine  both photos and icons.

photo (2)

I discovered the arrow on the lower right corner  brought up the editing feature as well as access and settings menus.  I had a concern that students may get into this too easily.  I have had students do some self editing in the past with some interesting results.    In the settings, there is a direct link to a help source so I emailed my question.  I asked about turning off the edit feature for students who may edit on their own.  They got back to me within 24 hrs.  I thought that was a good response rate considering the response most likely came from a completely different time zone.  I was told  it was possible to edit that feature within the settings section of the iPad.  I tried and the editing feature became grayed out and not accessible.  I turned it back on because I wanted to try it out.

photo (2)

The little green box in the lower end of the curve is the edit mode. It will open up the edit feature for any window you have open.  Here is the hobby window with the edit activated.

photo (4)

As you can see along the top there are a variety of things you can do in the edit mode. This changes somewhat depending on if you are using a photograph with hot spots or a display with icons. You can take and use pictures from your gallery or choose symbols from the Symbol library.  You can record music, voices, or add text to speech.

The little red wheel is the settings access.  It is possible to adjust direct touch access, voice output, scanning and auditory support when a frame is highlighted. There are 10 voices to choose from.  This is actually closer to 2 males and 2 females with American accents unless your student wants an accent.  I tried to make a younger childs  voice by changing the speed and the pitch on the voices . This was an old trick I use to use to get a kid voice. I  thought the voices still sounded like older children to me but maybe with more tweaking it would still work.

The yellow arrow opens up a variety writing methods to include a keyboard and writing with a finger or stylus.  It also has a text to speech capability.  This means the program can be used to produce written work that can be printed if the blue button on the message board is available for email or printing.


The note pad looks like this.   You can place your written word into the message window and it will be spoken with the message window activation. You can also send messages in email.



As you can see, ChatAble is quite remarkable and meets most of what I am looking for.  I haven’t found any others to be quite as user friendly.   This is our last full week of school before Summer break and I am sad that I will need to wait until next Fall to test it out with students.  I can think of a few that could use it.  I will be showing it to the Assistive Technology Department because I feel it would be on the top of the list.  When I looked at the Therapy Box  website  it looked like they gave as much as 50% off the cost to school districts.  I think this would make it quite reasonable compared to other programs in the same range of capabilities.


Don’t Fall Through the Ice

8 Jan

This is our first week back from the holiday break. Some of us are in the grips of winter.  Baby its cold out there!  It seemed appropriate to go with a winter theme  and cold things.  I dug into my archives and brought out my version of “Don’t Fall Through the Ice”.  This activity has been in the vocabulary section and there are written instructions that can be printed out  under the link.  I didn’t include pictures so some of you may have missed it.  As they say a picture is worth a thousand words. The activity is really very simple and made from recycled materials.  I get a lot of use from my coffee cans.  All you need is a wide mouthed container like a coffee container, a large rubber band, paper towels, marbles, and a spinner made from a plastic lid.  The spinner has the words, one, couple, few, and several.  The marbles are placed in a container of water.  The paper towel is stretched across the mouth of the container and held by the rubber band.  Students take turns spinning the spinner, taking the corresponding amount of marbles from the water, and placing them on top of the paper towel.  Eventually the water will weaken the paper towel and the marbles will fall through.   I used this activity as a reinforcement for  students during therapy or as a group activity to work on the concepts of amount.  I have table groups play and then compare the number of marbles they put on top before they fall through.  In addition to the spinner words you can talk about the concepts of wet/dry, weak/strong, and most/ least.

Ice game