Motivation, humor, and ideas that every school-based
speech-language pathologist will love!

5 Analogies to Help Your Speech Therapy Students Better Understand the Importance of Home Practice

posted on October 7th, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
5 Analogies to Help Your Speech Therapy Students Better Understand the Importance of Home Practice

It's a cliche saying, but it's one that's absolutely true: Practice. Makes. Perfect! Over the last few months, I've been putting a lot of thought into how I can better encourage my speech therapy students to actually practice their speech at home. The reason why is because (and you know this) the more a student practices at home, the faster he will meet those goals and objectives. And the more she practices at home, the stronger her communication abilities will get. So, how can I help them to better understand this?

Practice makes perfect.

Trust me, I've told students on my caseload "practice makes perfect" over and over again. I've even contemplated getting that sentence tattooed on my forehead because I've said it that often. Well, the tattoo thing might be pushing it, but you know what I mean, right? I say it and I say it, and yet, an overwhelming majority of my students don't feel the need to practice at home. Why?

My friend Jen to the rescue!

I have a good buddy named Jen Ernst (Hi Jen!). She is a fantastic SLP and this past summer she and I were chatting about my little dilemma. Then, like the SLP superstar that she is, she threw some amazing advice my way that seriously blew my mind. She told me to think basketball.


"Here's a basketball analogy you might like." She said to me.

"I say this, or a variation of it, to a number of my students. Think about playing basketball. Now, think about one part of playing basketball: dribbling. How awesome of a dribbler would you become if you went to the gym and practiced twice a week for 30 minutes? You probably would get a little bit better, but you wouldn't be the all-star on the court. What would you need to do to be the best player you could be? Practice every single day, even if your team didn't work out that day. You could dribble out on the sidewalk, in your garage, or at the park. The more you practiced, the more amazing your dribbling would become. After a while, you would be dazzling everyone with your expert dribbling skills."

Jen went on with, "Well, the same thing works for speech. If you just practice your speech twice a week for 30 minutes with me, it's only getting to get a little bit better. But, if you practice every single day, in lots of different places, you're going to develop expert speech skills and dazzle everyone when you talk to them."

That analogy stuck with me. I loved it!

Well, I finally used her basketball analogy last month with a private articulation client I've been working together with and it really resonated with this particular 4th grader. You know how sometimes you can just SEE that light switch go on in a child's mind? That's what I saw and I loved it! And after I told him Jen's basketball analogy, I showed him THIS AMAZING BASKETBALL TRICKS VIDEO on YouTube to further drive the point home. The basketball analogy paired with the basketball video – it was the perfect combination. He was sold. He was all in. I just KNEW IT!

Practice makes perfect.

It's been almost a month and let me tell you, my private client's articulation is improving at a very fast rate. Mom has even told me that she caught him looking at the mirror in his room and practicing some of my tips and tricks ON HIS OWN. He is practicing. He motivated. He believes that practice makes perfect.

It doesn't have to be a basketball analogy.

Basketball might not be your student's thing. That's fine. Use Jen's basketball analogy as a template, but plug in whatever works best with what your student is a fan of. Here are 4 that you might consider:

  • Is your student a fan of the culinary arts? If so, you could compare speech practice to cooking. The best chefs and bakers didn't get that way overnight. Their first time in the kitchen was sloppy, but with practice, they were able to perfect their culinary creations. Yum!
  • Is your student a fan of the painting? If so, you could compare speech practice to painting works of art. The best artists didn't get that way overnight. Their first time in front of a blank canvas was sloppy, but with practice, they were able to perfect their painting. Yes!
  • Is your student a fan of music? If so, you could compare speech practice to being in a band. The best musicians didn’t get that way overnight. Their first time on a stage was sloppy, but with practice, they were able to perfect their tunes. Rock on!
  • Is your student a fan of video games? If so, you could compare the speech practice to video game programming. The best video game creators didn't get that way overnight. Their first time in front of a computer was sloppy, but with practice, they were able to perfect their programming skills. Hooray!

In closing . . .

Between Jen's basketball analogy and the other 4 analogies I came up with, I think you have more than enough ideas to try with all of your students. Give them a go and keep me posted. And ya never know, one of these gems just might be THE THING take helps your student to see just how powerful practice is. Practice makes perfect.

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Talking About Really Long Town Names in Speech Therapy is Really Fun

posted on September 22nd, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Talking About Really Long Town Names in Speech Therapy is Really Fun

In the past, I've written about a speech therapy idea that consisted of chattin' about unusual town names with your speech therapy students. Every single time I've done this during a therapy session with kiddos, it always generated a large amount of awesome conversation. So because that speech therapy idea was such a hit, I decided to expand upon it. And when I say the word "expand," I mean that word literally. Expand. As in, to make longer. Much longer!

Let's focus on VERY long town names.

Did you know that the longest town name in the world is one that's found on the North Island of New Zealand? This town name is a whopping 85 letters long and it sure is a mouthful. Check out the town's name over at its Wikipedia page and give this YouTube video a watch to hear the pronunciation of it.

Or how about this town in the United Kingdom?

If you've ever heard someone speaking about the town called Llanfair, just know that Llanfair is not its real name. Llanfair is the shortened version. The real version is a staggering 58 letters long. Check out the town's full name over at its Wikipedia page and listen in awe as a skilled weatherman beautifully articulates the town’s full name on live television in this YouTube video.

Have you ever heard of this lake in Massachusetts?

Some people call it Lake Webster because it’s in Webster, Massachusetts, but did you know that it’s real name isn't Lake Webster? It's actually a word that is 45 letters long and such a blast to say. Don't believe me? Listen to this newscaster talking about it in this YouTube video and while you're at it, read up on the lake over at its Wikipedia page.

Why focus on VERY long names?

It's all about the articulation. When we present our students with location names that are super long, the chances of these names containing at least one instance of the students' target sound is extremely high. And in all honestly, it's not too uncommon to hear a specific sound appear three, four, or even five times within one of these long names. So your students will have lots of opportunities to practice properly articulating while attempting to read one of these long location names out loud.

Why else focus on VERY long names?

Because it's fun! Like, REALLY fun. Because here's the thing, I know you'll absolutely agree with me when I say that articulation practice can get SO boring sometimes. I mean for example, let's take the /R/ sound. If we have a kiddo working on the /R/, we usually have him or her say words like rabbit, rocket, rainbow, etc. Been there. Done that. But now you can go to this long list of long names and throw a word like Rhosllannerchrugog into the mix (that's a village in the United Kingdom). I dare you to try to say Rhosllannerchrugog without cracking a smile. See! I told you it was fun! Am I right?! Hooray for fun articulation practice!

In closing . . .

There are hundreds of different ways to introduce long town names into a speech therapy session. Let your imagination run wild and give this idea, or some variation of it, a try. Oh, and if long town names aren’t quite your thing, don't worry because I got your back. How about this list of the shortest place names? HAHA! So much fun. I love my job.

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A Speech-Language Pathologist's Thoughts on Digital Zombies and Semantics

posted on August 27th, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
A Speech-Language Pathologist's Thoughts on Digital Zombies and Semantics

My buddy and I were out to dinner a few evenings ago. As we were sitting at our table enjoying some delicious cheeseburgers (I love Five Guys Burgers, just in case you were wondering), we couldn't help but notice this one table across the restaurant - the one with the father and his presumably 8 or 9 year old son. What drew our attention to that table was the fact that they were both zombies. And no, they weren’t eating brains. Not THAT kind of zombie. They were, what I like to say, digital zombies.

Digital zombies?

My definition of a digital zombie is a person who is just so obsessed with his or her digital device that he or she doesn't even seem alive! The individual just mindlessly looks at the digital device. As glassy eyes stare deep into the screen, that person isn't talking to anyone. He or she would rather look at the device than engage in communication with whoever else is also in the room. It's crazy! It's bananas! It's such a shame.


So here we have two people out to dinner and no communication is being exchanged. Dad is tap tapping away on his iPhone and his son is swipe swiping away on his iPad (I think the son was playing one of those Fruit Ninja games?). They both fit the digital zombie criteria to a T: mindlessly looking at the device, glassy eyes, neither one of them talking.

"Jeez dad, put your phone away and talk to your son."

My buddy mentioned to me how he believed that the father should put away the phone and talk to his son. I wholeheartedly agreed. But there was something about my buddy's statement that I kept thinking about. "Talk to your son." I couldn't put my finger on it, but something about the "talk to your son" statement sounded off to me.

It wasn't until a few days later that it hit me.

Warning: this is going to sound like a bit of a semantics game, but bare with me. You know how we both said that the father should, "talk TO his son?" Well, what about if instead we said that the father should talk WITH his son?

Talk to children VS. Talk with children

Don't you just love discussions about the meaning and interpretation of words? I sure do! So this is the reason I wanted to dig deep into the words TO and WITH. Here's why I think saying, "we need to talk WITH our children" is better than saying, "we need to talk TO our children." Take this example: let's mix it up a bit and look at the following pair of sentences that doesn't mention talking, but mentions playing:

I'm going to play TO my child.

I'm going to play WITH my child.

To me, the first example with the TO sounds like a musical performance. Like, if I had a guitar (and I do have a guitar) and I was actively playing a song while my child was passively listening to my song. That would be me playing TO my child. To me, that scenario seems one-sided. I would be doing all of the playing and my child would be doing all the listening. Or in other words, I would be doing all the "talking" and my child would be doing all the listening. There's little opportunity for a true back-and-forth to occur between the two of us with that play TO example.

Now, let's think about the second sentence.

If we wanted to keep the same music and guitar scenario going, that WITH sentence seems to imply that my child and I both have guitars and the two of us are jamming out together. To me, that scenario seems like there's give-and-take. I might do some louder strums for a bit while my child does some softer strums. Then, my louder strums might temporarily decrease in volume to make room for my child's louder strums. Can you see (or hear) the back-and-forth in that WITH sentence? In my opinion, since I am playing WITH my child, it seems like we are BOTH "talking" to each other, not just myself "talking." This illustrates how the WITH sentence seems far from one-sided. It's two-way, all the way.

So, what's the purpose of this blog post?

First off, this blog post was a lot of me thinking out loud. I suppose I wanted to type out the reasoning why I plan on choosing to be a bit more careful with the words that I use when encouraging people to engage in active communication. I think WITH works better than TO. Plain and simple. We need to talk WITH our children, not TO our children. We need to communicate WITH each other, not TO each other. Ya feel me? So in the future, that's what I'm going to do, use WITH instead of TO.

Secondly, I suppose I'm using this blog post as a way for me to check myself, with regards to digital etiquette. Because here's the thing: you know how I mentioned the whole "digital zombie" thing at the beginning? And you know how I was all like, "they weren't talkin' at all because they were just too interested in their digital devices and it was crazy and yada yada?" Well, I'm no saint. I've also been a digital zombie before. Many, many times before. So I need to make sure that I practice what I preach. Therefore, in the future I'm going to remind myself to not be a digital zombie. I'm going to remind myself that whatever it is that is on my phone, it can wait. When I'm with someone else, especially at a restaurant, I'm going to talk WITH him or her and not mindlessly look at my device, all glassy eyed. We will be in the moment WITH each other. We will talk WITH each other.

In closing . . .

Let's not be digital zombies. Instead, let's be in-the-moment humans who embrace in-the-moment communication. So remember, when we work with the students on our caseload, let's talk WITH them more often, and talk TO them much less. To me, that makes more sense. And I know that at the end of the day, it's all semantics, but I guess that's one of the reasons why I became a school-based speech-language pathologist - my love for having discussions about the meaning and interpretations of words that we used every single day. Fun!

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Stars Wars and Speech Therapy Just Might Be the Perfect Match

posted on July 29th, 2015 by Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Stars Wars and Speech Therapy Just Might Be the Perfect Match

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . came a wonderful app that is out of this world (pun intended, lol!). The app that I'm writing about is none other than Disney's official Star Wars app. Though it's currently summer vacation for many of you wonderful clinicians located in the United States, this break from providing speech therapy services gives all of us school-based speech-language pathologists the perfect opportunity to "test drive" some new apps in anticipation for the upcoming academic school year. And right now, I'm testin' this one.

So let's take some time to chat about Star Wars!

I have to be completely honest with you . . . I'm not the biggest Star Wars fan. And please don't take that the wrong way because I totally respect Star Wars for it's brilliance and excitement. The original movie was absolutely ahead of it's time and it brings me joy to know that the Star Wars saga continues to live on and evolve for new generations to enjoy. But for some reason, it never really did it for me.

So why "test drive" the Star Wars app if you don't love Star Wars?

Simple. Because my students love Star Wars and I love my students. Period. So that alone drives me to give this Star Wars app a go. Here's what I think: providing speech therapy services and educating students to help them as communicators, it should never about the clinician, never ever. It's about the client. It's always about the client. So with that being said, as long as I'm a part of this wonderful field, I will do whatever it takes to discover new ways of motivating my clients so they can grow as communicators. And if that means learning more about Star Wars and incorporating various Star Wars-themed lessons here and there, you can bet that I'm in. I'm all in.

Remember SpongeBob SquarePants?

All of this talk about Star Wars reminds me of SpongeBob SquarePants. Back in, say, 2006-ish, every student I worked with was a massive SpongeBob fan. I didn't see the appeal in that yellow sponge dude. I didn't chuckle much when I randomly caught an episode on television. I didn't think it was funny. But who cares what I thought, my students loved him so I watched the show a bunch to get the jist. I learned about characters (Sandy Cheeks is my favorite, just in case you were wondering). I learned about the setting. I learned about the plot. Long story short, I got the jist and that new information totally helped me to be a better educator to youngsters. I went all in on Bob because my students loved Bob.

From the deep ocean to deep space.

SpongeBob is still big, duh I know that, but at this very moment I would say that Star Wars is bigger. Much bigger. So because I see the trend of my kiddos loving Star Wars, it's my duty as an educator of children to learn the Star Wars language. Han Solo. Chewbacca. The Millennium Falcon. Lightsabers. So on and so forth. Just like how I went all in to know about SpongeBob SquarePants in 2006, I'm happily doing the same thing almost a decade later with Star Wars. And my first foray into Star Wars territory is this perfectly polished Star Wars app.

Gosh, this app is beautifully designed.

From front to back, the Star Wars app is superb. In addition to keeping the user in-the-loop with the release of this winter's Episode VII movie, it's packed with lots of interactive features that I believe can be easily intertwined in almost any speech therapy session. And my most favorite aspect of this app is how you can take selfies with Star Wars characters.

Selfies with Yoda? Yes please!

As my buddy Jeremy and I were messing around with this app, the first thing that came to my mind was how perfect the selfies feature could be for my middle school-aged students. With a large amount of my 7th and 8th graders, I work on getting them excited about writing so we can target goals and objectives that focus on improving their written expression. But here's the thing, most of what I've begged them to write about in the past, they didn't particularly care about. And that's a big mistake on my part because if my students aren't excited to write about a certain topic, why would I ever expect them to try their hardest?

The Star Wars app can help.

Here's where I think this Star Wars app could be quite powerful: with the tap of a finger, it can seamlessly create exciting visuals that just might excite even the most unexcitable 7th or 8th grader. I mean, check out this picture of Jeremy getting ready to do battle with Darth Vader. Or how about this picture of myself chillin' with Yoda? Showing these pictures to students on your caseload and asking them to write about what comes to their minds when they see these personalized photos, it's gonna be big! I predict these selfies to be the trampolines that can bounce them to higher levels of excitement and an overal greater love for practiing writing.

In closing . . .

Writing assignments can frustrate and bore students, but I have this funny feeling that this Star Wars app will inspire and thrill all the kiddos that I work with. I'm looking forward to trying this app out with my students and I invite you to try it, too. So, give it a go once your academic school year starts back up again. May the (speech therapy) force be with you. ;-)

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