Mixed groups can be the worst. Who’s with me?

This year, I have both the fortune and misfortune of having a large group of students (around 10) who all need to be seen during the same hour block of time. Because I’m both part-time and a traveling SLP, I’m only at that school one day a week. That has led to groups of about 5 students coming at one time. And, of course, there are about 3-5 individual goals that need to be targeted during that time. It’s a difficult balance, trying to work as a group and provide the needed individual instruction.

Now that we’re several weeks into the school year and some foundations have been laid, I’ve begun looking for better ways to embed our goals into academic tasks. I love using texts when possible, but in the past, I’ve struggled to either find or make text-based materials that target all the goals I need. This year in particular, with a host of syntax goals that I find are less frequently included in text-based activities, I needed an easy way to incorporate several, very distinct areas into one text.

With a stack of grade-level reading materials in one hand and a sticky note of the goals we’re currently work on in the other, I began combing a story paragraph by paragraph. What I found is this: when looking explicitly for a target area within a text, that target can usually be found and often in a creative, but functional, way.

I recently listened to a PD session on effective language interventions for older students. The presenter shared easily implementable ways to incorporate text books into therapy sessions for middle and high school students. Although I was looking at fiction stories for upper elementary students, I still found the tips she shared in that session to be very valuable.

Most students who fall into this type of speech group present with a Language Impairment, often accompanied by an SLI, ADHD, or Autism. Their comprehension of texts is being affected by a whole host of factors: from foundational language skills to decoding to attention to the ability to make connections. That is why, as the presenter pointed out, providing intervention that accesses a host of skills can be useful for promoting real change and growth that generalizes beyond just accuracy on discrete trials.

Today, I’ll share with you an example of the types of questions and prompts I generated from a free 5th grade comprehension story I pulled from K5 Learning.

The goals that I am currently targeting with my 5th graders are:

  1. Writing and saying complex sentences using subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns/adverbs
  2. Using present, past, and future tense verbs appropriately
  3. Using context clues to determine meaning
  4. Using multiple meaning words/homonyms/homophones correctly
  5. Describing words using category, function, attributes, synonyms, etc…
  6. Answering basic comprehension questions (who, what, where, when)
  7. Using and comprehending idioms and other figurative language

Based on these goals, I generated 10 prompts and questions for each paragraph. Here is what I came up with for paragraph one.

  1. Where is Scott going over winter break?
  2. What did Scott ask his parents?
  3. Why did Scott not want to go with his parents? Use the word “because” in your answer.
  4. Why did Scott’s parents want him to go with them? Use the word “because” in your answer.
  5. Find the word “hear.” Define it in the sentence. What is another way to spell it? Define it or use it in a sentence.
  6. Find the word “booked.” What is the root word? What does it mean? What is another meaning for the word “book?” Define it or use it in a sentence.
  7. Find the word “debating.” What do you think it means? How do you know?
  8. Describe the word “mountain.”
  9. Describe the word “cruise.”
  10. Find the word “booked.” Are Scott’s parents currently buying tickets, have they already bought the tickets, or are they going to buy the tickets? Rewrite the sentence using present tense. Rewrite the sentence using future tense.

In these 10 prompts, I’ve targeted almost every goal on my list! We’re using language that is embedded in a text, giving us context and deeper meaning. Because we’re looking at the text as a whole and chunking it into information, we’re making it more manageable while also making it more relevant and easy to generalize than looking at words in isolation. AND, because we’re all using the same text, we’re working as a group, making planning a bit easier and encouraging conversation and discourse – great for inclusion of articulation and fluency and for building pragmatic skills, whether needed for IEP goals or incidentally.

So, are mixed groups the worst? They’re difficult and trying, to be sure. But like many things, that might really mean they’re the most worthwhile.