TELL ME About It: AAC Literacy Kits
Combining AAC learning with literacy activities is one of our favorite ways to support young learners. We start off the week with a taste of how AT specialists in one school district are helping preschool special education teachers build a foundation of core vocabulary in their students.
Maggie Judson and Jeanna Antrim are speech-language pathologists who work in the Assistive Technology Department for the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative (BASSC) in southern Illinois. They are AT/AAC facilitators and provide evaluations, direct therapy, consultations, and trainings with school teams.
This is the first of a series of posts in which Maggie and Jeanna discuss ways that books from the TELL ME program can be used to support AAC learning.
As AAC facilitators for a special education cooperative, we are always on the lookout for effective ways to provide our students access to instructional materials and activities that not only target communication skills, but that also incorporates literacy skills through reading and writing opportunities. One of our go-to resources to support the communication and literacy development of our early childhood special education (ECSE) programs and preschool classrooms is the ‘TELL ME AAC in the Preschool Classroom‘ program developed by Dr. Carole Zangari and Lori Wise. TELL ME stands for Teaching Early Language and Literacy through Multimodal Expression and is a comprehensive program designed to address the communication needs of young students while incorporating literacy learning through storybooks. This program is an excellent addition to your therapy plan or classroom curriculum, as it focuses on providing high-quality instruction to teach basic vocabulary and core words through repeated readings of storybooks. It is filled with information and materials to help support and guide educators as they get practice using books as a vehicle to infuse communication and literacy opportunities throughout the school day! The TELL ME manual guides teachers and related service providers through 11 different books to assist in developing good AAC teaching practices and routines that can then be implemented when planning classroom or therapy lessons with other books.
To help guide our ECSE and preschool teams through the use of TELL ME, we have developed literacy kits for each book included in the program. We utilized the TELL ME materials to customize our kits with core and fringe word supports, songs, story props, shared reading, shared writing, and extension activities. Today we are going to explore our kit for the warm-up book in the program, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle.
To make it easy to see what the focus will be for the book, we have prepped our kits with a “cheat sheet” of key concepts. These concepts include the core words, the letter focus, and the print concept that will be addressed through the storybook. We have a lesson plan sheet, as well, that breaks down all the materials in the kit, organized in the categories of ‘Before Reading’, ‘During Reading’, and ‘After Reading’ to help keep our staff organized as they get practice building their teaching skills.
Let’s take a closer look at everything included in our Brown Bear, Brown Bear kit!
Core Word Focus – To support the communication needs of students, we have a variety of manual communication boards included in the kit, based on the AAC systems most commonly used in our classrooms. On each communication board, we have outlined the core words that are addressed in the book to provide a visual cue reminder of the vocabulary to focus on during reading.
We have also highlighted these words in the book to remind staff to concentrate on them during reading.
The goal is for students to repeatedly hear, be provided with aided language stimulation, and have opportunities to practice saying the core words using their natural speech, communication boards, or personal AAC systems.
Fringe Word Focus – To support students with exposure and learning of additional vocabulary introduced in the book, we have created visual supports for fringe words by attaching vocabulary strips to the top of the manual communication boards.
Book Song – Each book has a fun, catchy song to help introduce the book and some of the vocabulary in the story. This is a great way to set the stage for reading and to get in extra exposure to those core words!
Concepts of Print – Each story has a book concept focus to target specific print/book concepts. We have included a “book elements and concepts manual topic board’ to provide students access to vocabulary to target these concepts. These boards are available through Saltillo from their free Chat Editor software, which is available for download on their website (bit.ly/2XwQdDr).
Letter-Sound Focus – To work in phonological awareness skills, each book has a particular letter focus to address letter-sound correspondence, along with a letter song to help introduce the letter name and the letter sound. We have included a low-tech keyboard so students can get practice finding and saying the letter.
Picture Walks – Picture walks are a great way to activate background knowledge, focus on core words, and to establish a purpose for reading! We have a handout of possible comments and questions that can be used during this activity.
We love using the CAR (Comment – Ask – Respond) strategy during shared reading, so we have prepped the book with questions to help make it easy to put the CROWD in the CAR while staff gains practice using this instructional strategy. We have each question typed out and placed in the book with a paperclip.
To take it a step further, we have included a CAR visual from the Literacy Instruction for Students with Significant Disabilities website (bit.ly/2XiLK7n). We also have a handout from PRC that has ideas for core words that can be targeted during reading (aaclanguagelab.com/), and a shared reading checklist from PRC to support teams in providing a rich shared reading experience (aaclanguagelab.com/).
Story Props – Who doesn’t love story props?! Story props and toys can help students make connections to the book and support engagement and interaction during shared reading activities (and are fun!). We have pictures of characters and objects from the story velcroed on craft sticks for students to interact with during reading to help increase motivation and interest and to support comprehension.
We used the website LessonPix to create and print out the story props (http://lessonpix.com/).
Story Retell and Comprehension – Providing opportunities to practice story retell and comprehension are essential follow-up activities in the TELL ME program. In the kit, we have included a WHAT and WHO poster with guiding questions to support educators as they incorporate these elements into their instruction. Re-using the story props for story retelling and comprehension activities is another way to provide follow-up practice. Removing the pictures from the craft sticks to use with a felt storyboard can get students hands-on with sequencing the story and answering questions!
Writing Activities – Students with complex communication needs require daily opportunities to write for authentic, meaningful reasons. Tying writing in with an enjoyable shared reading activity is one way to provide that opportunity, as well as provide context for extra core word practice. The TELL ME program provides a sentence stem to structure writing instruction through the process of predictable chart writing. And as it is recommended in the manual to employ repeated readings of the book for two weeks, we have also included a second sentence stem for those teams that complete the 5-step process of predictable chart writing per week. The program also consists of a ‘letter’ book template to work in more phonological awareness and writing instruction.
For teams that are beginning their journey with providing writing opportunities through predictable chart writing, we have included a resource from The Center for Literacy and Disabilities Studies that outlines and explains the steps of the process (unc.live/2KVNrph).
Extension Activities – The TELL ME program provides a variety of materials ready to print and use to extend the vocabulary and concepts addressed in the storybook to other parts of the students’ day. Extending learning through the use of infusion activities can ensure that the core words are used to elicit a variety of communicative functions throughout the school day. We include the information on our lesson planning form, along with a list of all needed materials to help with planning and prepping.
- Apps – A variety of app ideas are included for use as extension activities during centers and choice time.
- Crafts – Each story kit has 1-2 crafts with templates and directions with core words to focus on. A great one-on-one or whole group activity!
- Recipe – Each story kit has a recipe included. Cooking activities are a fun way to practice core words introduced in the book in a hands-on approach. This activity supports generalization and real-life applications of these words. Repetition with variety, right?!
- Home – We love sending home the letter books and crafts for carryover of concepts and vocabulary. A simple but effective way to include parents in all the core word learning going on in the classroom!
The TELL ME program and our literacy kits are designed for integration into the classroom in conjunction with any curriculum or lesson plan already in place to up the level of communication, reading, and writing focus. The program recommends focusing on one book over the course of two weeks, which is perfect for busy classrooms. Repeated readings = less planning and prepping! But more importantly by providing numerous reading and writing activities related to one book, students with complex communication needs gain repeated exposure to the key concepts addressed through each target book.
What is great about having a literacy kit ready to go is that not only can teachers implement them, but other service providers can easily incorporate the literacy activities into their therapy sessions. We have SLPs, social workers, and AAC facilitators that use these kits in stand-alone therapy sessions, or in a whole group lesson format in the classroom.
For us as educators, learning to provide high-quality literacy instruction to students with complex communication needs doesn’t necessarily develop naturally. We require clear guidance and repeated practice to learn – just like when our students are learning a new skill! We have created these literacy kits in a very structured way, like how the TELL ME manual is organized, to help our teachers and therapists (and ourselves!) provide students with embedded opportunities to develop not only communication skills but also reading and writing abilities. Through the use of the TELL ME kits, our goal is that teams will gain the skill and confidence in how to take any book and plan a whole, well-rounded literacy experience while incorporating vocabulary and communication skill development.
Be sure to check back next month as we work through the TELL ME manual and share activities, teaching strategies and implementation tips for the warm-up book in the program, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”!
If you are interested in applying this in your own practice, you can purchase the TELL ME program manual from the Attainment Company (www.attainmentcompany.com/) or from ASHA (bit.ly/2XF1w1r). You can learn more about the program by watching the webinar TELL ME: AAC for the Preschool Classroom presented by Dr. Carole Zangari, available from Saltillo (bit.ly/2RNpykn).
To see our kit live, check out our video,
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This post was written by Carole Zangari