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Thoughts About Saying Sorry and Thank You in Speech Therapy

posted on February 9th, 2016 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Thoughts About Saying Sorry and Thank You in Speech Therapy

As a speech-language pathologist who has the privilege to work with school-aged students, I'm consistently thinking about the words that my students use. Are the words that they are choosing to use effectively communicating what they want to communicate? Or are there any other words that they could be using that might be more effective than their current word choices? Questions like these are the internal bits of dialogue that fill my "speechie" brain on a daily basis.

Thoughts on using the word 'sorry.'

It's not too uncommon for students of mine to apologize to me and tell me that they're sorry about something. One boy might say, "I'm sorry I was late for speech today." Or another girl might say, "I'm sorry what I'm saying right now makes no sense." While I appreciate their politeness, I can't help but wonder if we, as a society, have conditioned our youth to say the word 'sorry' way more than they actually should? What if there was an alternative that could be explored?

'Sorry' vs. 'thank you'

Every now and again, I'll come across a blog post on the Internet that resonates with me in a big way. It'll be just SO good that I automatically keep on reading it a second, third, or maybe even a forth time. In the instances that this has happened to me, it always feels as if I've hit the lottery because in my heart I believe I've stumbled upon a priceless gem. The most recent piece of literary treasure that I’ve fallen in love with is the post titled "Stop Saying "Sorry" And Say "Thank You" Instead" which appeared on not too long ago. It highlights a recent work of art by the New York City-based illustrator Yao Xiao. The artist created a thought-provoking comic that features side-by-side tiled examples on how to spin your negative "I’m sorry" communication to more positive "thank you" communication.

'Thank you' in place of 'I’m sorry'

After studying and thinking about Yao Xiao's comic for the last few weeks, I've come to the realization that not only do some of my students say "I'm sorry" too much, but that I'm also just as guilty. So I've made the personal decision to think about how I can change some of my own "sorrys" to "thank yous." Making this small change in my expressive communication has been one heck of a positive experience.

For example:

A couple of days ago, I had to write an important email to a colleague. With email, I always try to make the messages as short as possible because I know that we're all quite busy. But with this particular email, it was impossible to keep short. I needed to write a lot of details because all of those details were vital to the message. And here's the interesting part, once I got to the end of the message, I caught myself typing out, "I'm so sorry that this email was this long." Then it hit me like a bag of bowling balls - why was I apologizing?! For that particular communication intent to be effective, it had to be long. If I kept it short, the email would have not communicated what it was intended to communicate. Thus, I would have executed ineffective communication, which is a huge no-no for an SLP.

Tweaking my sentence, ever so slightly.

Instead of belittling myself with saying, "I'm so sorry that this email was this long," I tweaked the sentence to say, "I really appreciate your willingness to read this email." I chose to appreciate the reader's positive behavior instead of saying sorry for my own self-perceived shortcoming. That was big. And that's something I think we, as SLPs, could (and should) teach students on our caseloads, whether it be through indirect means, or more direct ones.

Encouraging students to analyze.

In no way am I shouting from the rooftops that our students should never say, "I'm sorry" at any point throughout their day. No way. Not even close. There's tons and tons of legitimate situations that our students will find themselves in where a sincere apology is absolutely appropriate. The kiddo on your caseload who made the choice to throw his slice of pizza at the substitute teacher; yup, he BETTER apologize for that. And it better be a sincere apology because pizza is for eating, NOT for throwing. But when a student says to me, "I'm sorry I was late for speech today." Or, "I'm sorry what I'm saying right now makes no sense." I'm not so sure those are situations where an apology is truly necessary.

For example:

In the "I'm sorry I was late for speech today" example (he's a private client where I come to his house for speech therapy once a week for an hour), it wasn't his fault he was late. There was construction going on around town and that caused his mom to have to take a detour home while I was waiting in my car for them. So he would have been better suited to say, "Thanks so much for waiting for me, Mr. Raj!" And for the "I'm sorry what I'm saying right now makes no sense" example, she was actually wrong because what she was saying DID make perfect sense to me. So she would have been better suited to say, "Thanks for listening to my story and if you need any clarification, please just ask."

In closing . . .

There are many situations where all of us apologize for situations that are either beyond our control or just not true. When we allow ourselves to do that over and over again, we are inadvertently planting little seeds of negativity in our minds. So the next time you and/or your student says, "I'm sorry" about something, try to analyze it to see if maybe it makes more sense to turn it into a more positive, "thank you" comment. The more we do this, the better our communication can become. Wouldn't you agree?

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The Origins of Jenga and How We Could Help Inspire Our Speech Therapy Students

posted on January 25th, 2016 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
The Origins of Jenga and How We Could Help Inspire Our Speech Therapy Students

I don't know of any surveys out there that have asked school-based speech-language pathologists to list off what materials they use most often with the kiddos on their caseload. If there was such a survey (and I'm sure there is, I just don't know of it), I'd assume that the game Jenga would be at the top of the survey's final results. And if Jenga isn't in the first slot, it certainly would have to be somewhere in the top five. It's wildly popular and almost every single elementary and middle-school aged student of mine LOVES playing it. In short, Jenga is quick to learn (carefully take one block out of the tower and don't let the tower tumble down), easy to play (use your physical and mental skills to remove a block juuuuuust right), and always triggers a wave of happy hoots and hollers from my kiddos. Big thanks to Leslie Scott for inventing it.

Wait. Leslie Scott?!

Yup. Here's the crazy thing about Jenga, from a clinician's point of view. Most of us use this game on an almost weekly basis. Most of us have cheered sweet cheers of victory when our opponent knocked the tower down by mistake. Most of us have cried tears of defeat when WE were the ones that caused the tower of 54 blocks to come crashing down. If ever there was a game so intertwined with the world of speech therapy, it's this one. But yet, I'm willing to bet you've never heard of the name Leslie Scott before.

Don't worry, I didn't either.

Leslie Scott is the inventor of Jenga and let me tell you, her latest video interview on YouTube is quite interesting. During the interview you'll learn how Jenga was invented by her in the 1970s, the origins of the name, and some examples of early Jenga marketing that's beyond fascinating. You'll also learn how down-to-Earth the inventor is and how hard work and dedication always pays off.

Inspiration. Pure inspiration.

I plan on showing most of my students the Leslie Scott interview video over the next few weeks. Why? Well, for the obvious reason that we play the game often and the information within the interview opens up a whole new appreciation and respect for the game, but also because I have a feeling that it will change the way that my students look at everyday items.

Everything was invented by someone.

Jenga, that was invented by someone. The shoelaces on my sneakers, that was invented by someone. The eraser at the top of my pencil, that was invented by someone. Heck, the pencil itself, that was invented by someone. I want to remind my students this simple but powerful fact because I believe that MY STUDENTS are some of the most creative youngsters on the planet. When we, as clinicians, have conversations with our students about the humble beginnings of everyday items, we are giving them permission to dream. To dream about something they might want to invent. To dream about something they'd like to try to do. To dream about making their mark in this wonderful world we live in.

In closing . . .

You and I, we are SLPs who have the great honor to be working with some of the next BEST creators and innovators of tomorrow. And I really do believe that in my heart. Right now, as they sit in front of you at your speech therapy table, they might have some communication difficulties. They might be struggling to express themselves. But ya know what? There's no one more qualified than you to help your students succeed. Sure, increasing communication doesn't happen over night. It takes time and commitment. And you know what else takes time and commitment? Making your mark in this world. Leslie Scott never gave up. It took time and commitment to get to where she is today. So do me a favor, talk to your students about all of this whenever you can. Inspire them and give them permission to dream big.

P.S. In regards to Jenga, has THIS ever happened to you before? HAHA!

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The Nicest Place on the Internet and How it Could Help Your Speech Therapy Students

posted on January 18th, 2016 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
The Nicest Place on the Internet and How it Could Help Your Speech Therapy Students

A long time ago I wrote about how I take the Internet for granted. I don't think I need to tell you this but I will - I love the Internet and since writing that 2012 blog post, I can confidently say that I DO NOT (all caps!) take the Internet for granted any longer. Over the years, the Internet, and more specifically the World Wide Web, has allowed me to connect with and meet so many wonderful clinicians. It has also provided me with a sort of digital blank canvas. And on that digital blank canvas, every other week or so, I attempt to paint a colorful lil' speech therapy related blog post that hopefully inspires you to try something new within your speech therapy room.

So with all of that being said, I guess you could say that I use the Internet for good.

Using the Internet to connect with other speech-language pathologists. That's good. Using the Internet to share speech therapy thoughts and ideas. That's good. Using the Internet to look at a video compilation of a bunch of bunnies yawning. That's good (VERY good, actually).

But sadly, some people use the Internet for bad.

Using the Internet to spread rumors about someone. That's bad. Using the Internet to poke fun at someone. That's bad. Using the Internet to bully someone. That's bad. The list goes on and on with the bad ways that some people choose to use the Internet.

School-aged students and the Internet.

Because I have the pleasure of working with so many school-aged children, I can't help but to try to look at the World Wide Web through their eyes. Youngsters are exposed to so much negativity online. From inappropriate pictures/videos to hateful words, you name it, they've been exposed to it. And because I'm a caring educator who genuinely wants to cover up online negativity whenever I can, I'm constantly on the lookout for positive websites to introduce to my students. I want to show them the bright side of the Internet. I'm always hunting for websites where it's obvious that the creators had good intentions and that they wanted to spread some goodness online. One of the most recent websites that I've stumbled across that fits this bill is called

Hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.

Imagine an online destination that features one thing and one thing only - hugs. Yup. That's what is. It's not filled with anything bad. It's all good. It's a constant video loop of individuals smiling at their webcams and giving big hugs to their computer. And in the background, a lovely song plays that perfectly flows alongside the seemingly never-ending string of hug videos. When you watch these videos, you can't help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside because it actually feels like YOU are the one who keeps getting hugged! How sweet! The about section of the website reads, "Having one of those days? Yeah, been there too. And sometimes, a little pick-me-up is hard to come by. So come on by to turn the sad into happy and the happy into a celebration. Cause this is a nice place to visit on days like today."

Now if that's not a positive website, I don't know what is!

Can we somehow use this website in speech therapy? I think so. Easily. Here's a situation that I know you've probably been in before. Picture this - One of the students on your caseload comes to speech therapy and the moment the kiddo sits down at your table, you can just feel that something isn't right. Maybe something happened at lunch? Maybe something happened at home? Maybe it has to do with the Internet? Maybe it doesn't? Who knows?

What do you, as the clinician, do in a situation like this?

Sure, our first reaction might be to ask the student what's wrong? And by all means, that's probably what we should do. But more often than not, a middle schooler will probably deny that anything is wrong. (Most likely, they will deny while wearing a frown – it's so obvious!)

This is where I believe this positive website could come in.

Maybe instead of prodding and pleading to get the student to open up to you, that student might find some comfort in you showing him or her You might say something along the lines of, "Hey, I saw this interesting website a few days ago that I actually wanted to show you. It's called Let's take a few moments to check it out on my laptop before we jump into today's lesson."

And that's it. You show the student.

Go to the website. Don't say anything. Let the videos loop for a minute or two. Let's see if the student says something that relates to how he or she is feeling. If the student does, go with it. If the student doesn't, that's fine. Simply close the website and remind the individual that you're always there if he or she ever wants to talk. But I'm willing to bet the student WILL say something.

In closing . . .

We've all felt crumby before. Even the most positive person could get tripped up with something that puts him or her in a funk. Thankfully, there are nice websites out there like that just might get the person out of his or her funk. Because here's the truth, if one of your students is in a funk, it's almost impossible for a successful speech therapy session to occur. So let's use to our advantage if we ever notice one of our kiddos in a funk. This positive website, mixed with your positive smile, that's a combo made in Heaven, if you ask me. (And hey, if that website doesn't doesn't work, there's always the video compilation of a bunch of bunnies yawning. Am I right? HAHA!)

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Selfies with a Twist are Perfect for Students in Speech Therapy - Especially Middle Schoolers!

posted on January 4th, 2016 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Selfies with a Twist are Perfect for Students in Speech Therapy - Especially Middle Schoolers!

A few months ago, my dog Stella was making the cutest snorting noises as she was takin' a nap. I think she was dreamin' real nice dreams. It was beyond adorable, so naturally, I grabbed my iPhone to take a quick video of it. However, as soon as I tapped the red button to start the recording, a message popped up on my iPhone's screen that read:

Cannot Record Video: There is not enough available storage to record video. You can manage your storage in Settings.

What?! Not enough available storage?! I immediately went to my camera reel to try to quickly delete a couple of photos so I could free up some storage, but wouldn't ya know - Stella woke up and I was unable to take the video. *sigh*

Selfies. Lots and lots of selfies.

As I was scrolling through my camera reel, I noticed something that surprised me; a majority of my photos were selfies. Selfies were the reason I didn't have enough storage! Selfies were the reason I missed out on taking a cute video of my cute dog! Selfies were clogging up my iPhone! I didn't even know that I took so many selfies! Selfies! SELFIES! Ahhh! (Calm down, Erik. Take a deep breath. It's going to be alight. You can get through this. HAHA!)

Okay, well, what exactly is a selfie?

Merriam-Webster defines the word selfie as, "An image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks." So yes, my camera reel was clearly communicating to me that, whether I knew it or not, I was a fan of selfies. And I'm not the only one that likes selfies. Apparently, more than 1 million selfies are taken every single day? Wow! Selfies sure are hip! (Does the word "hip" make me sound like an "old dude?" I hope I didn't just lose any cool points. HEHEHEHE!)

Middle schoolers and selfies.

All of this thinking about selfies lead me to ask some of my middle school-aged students about their thoughts on selfies. What's their overall feelings about selfies? Did they think selfies were "hip?" (Again, not sure if it's hip to use the word hip. LOL!) One of the 7th grade kiddos I see once a week privately said it best when he smirked and confessed to me, "I think selfies are kinda like art and art is cool so that's why me and my friends like to take selfies." He then encouraged me to check out this YouTube video of a 20-year-old that has taken a selfie every single day for the last 8 years. "See Mr. Raj, wouldn't you consider that to be art?" The genius tween had a point. That video was wonderful and it really got me pondering . . .

Can selfies be considered art?

In short, I think so. In my opinion, after wrestling with the notion of a selfie being art, I've come to realize that lots of selfies (not all, but a healthy amount) are created with skill and imagination. A huge amount of skill and imagination.

Skill and Imagination?! Really?!

Yup. For example, take this absolutely hilarious and creative online photo album that I stumbled upon called Selfies with a Twist. It features the spectacular work of a man named Gerard Raatgeep. What you will find from his photo album are dozens and dozens of creative selfies that will cause anyone who looks at it to smile, laugh, and say, "How did he do that?!" My personal favorite selfie of his is this one. I'm a real sucker for junk food.

Can selfies trigger conversations in speech therapy?

I shared Gerard's photo album with the student who mentioned to me how selfies can and should be viewed as a type of art. He loved it. Big time. And all the selfies generated a gigantic amount of conversation that I used as a type of "warm up talking exercise" before we started "the hard writing stuff" I had planned that specifically targeted his individualized goals and objectives.

I was able to ask him WH questions galore!

  • When do you think this one was taken? How do you know? (Student: "Probably right before the guy had to study for a test. I see all those sticky notes and it makes me think of when I study for tests. I will usually write vocabulary words on sticky notes and review them throughout the day. This helps me study so I can guess that maybe he is about to study.")
  • When do you think this one was taken? How do you know? (Student: "Probably in the summer when he was laying on the beach. I can guess this because people usually wear sunglasses on the beach because it's usually really sunny there. And maybe he has a lot of sunglasses because he will give them out to people who forget their sunglasses.")
  • Where do you think this one was taken? How do you know? (Student: "Probably at a birthday party because all those bows probably came from the presents. My guess is that maybe the guy's daughter had a Sweet 16 Party? Or maybe it was Christmas? Those are times when people usually give presents.")

All of those answers were legitimate.

His responses were spot on. With minimal prompts and cues from me, he was able to verbalize conclusions that drew from evidence within the given selfie and his own past experiences. And that was crucial because we all know that some of our students struggle with inferencing. So, I truly believe that the fantastic selfies by Gerard are filled with many opportunities for us, as clinicians, to have tons of worthwhile and intentional conversations with our students that lead to inferencing opportunities and hopefully, a better understanding of the overall process of inferring things based on what is already known and past experiences. I can't say it enough, I highly recommend checking Gerard's selfies.

In closing . . .

I need to up my selfie game because, as my middle schoolers have told me, my selfies are boring. HAHA! If you ask me, Gerard is setting the bar VERY high for the selfie taking population and I'm up for the challenge. So, speaking of selfies, do you think you might be able to use Gerard's photo album somehow as a nice talking point in an upcoming speech therapy session? If you give it a go, let me know some of the details. Did his photo album resonate with your students? Did it inspire them to create their own silly selfies? I would love to hear all about it.

P.S. If you liked this particular blog post, you'll totally dig this one I wrote about a man who puts funny things in his beard. So cool!

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