Gaming into Education: Can Even Angry Birds Promote Learning?

(This post originally appeared on GeekSLP)

Opportunities for teaching and learning are everywhere. Language is also everywhere. Given this scenario, it drives me crazy when I hear someone say: “this is a horrible tool”; “I don’t know how this could be used for teaching”,or  ”this is just a game”.

I have always been an advocate to the fact that a good teacher and a good speech therapists will not need specific tools to teach students. Well, specific tools that do the work for you are great because they guide us on the teaching experience; however, we must not forget that a tool is JUST a tool and it was not designed to replace you as a therapist or a teacher.(Please note I am not at all discrediting the advantages of apps for learning ; as I have created 21 of them myself).

The explosion of apps for children with special needs, has pushed us to want tools that do more and betters things all the time. I am afraid we may be forgetting to use our creativity to transform any “useless” app into a great tool for learning. It all starts with the need to motivate the students to want to learn; what better way to do that than using something that already draws their attention? I have decided to start this series on “from useless to learning apps” with one of the biggest game apps of all times: Angry Birds!

If you are not already hooked into Angry Birds, or are afraid of loosing your prestige because you downloaded it, you may find a good excuse for downloading it or owning it on this post. The idea behind Angry Birds is that the birds need to hit the pigs to move on to the next level. You may have noticed that in order to win the greatest number of stars you may need some strategic thinking prior to sending your birds out there.

I see that Angry Birds can be used in so many different ways to teach students new vocabulary, the use of coherent language, basic question/answering skills and even story telling skills. You will just need to adjust the level of scaffolding needed to get into the skills you are trying to get into.

As a parent, instead of prohibiting your child from playing the game, consider having activities your child needs to complete prior to or after moving on to the next level.

Here are some ideas I was able to come up with on how even Angry Birds can be used to promote learning.

1. If your student/child is already familiar with Angry Birds, get him to explain the whole game to you. If you are working on writing skills, this can even be a written assignment.

Imagine all that can be worked on just from having a student describe the whole concept behind Angry Birds! You can even have some “food for thought” kind of questions such as:

Why do you think the creators picked birds as main characters?“,

Do all birds work the same way?“,

” What is the goal of the game?”

“Why do you like Angry Birds?”

There are several questions that can be used to get students to use language just by talking about the game itself.

2. You and the child can play one or several levels together; however the child has to describe their strategy to getting to the pig prior to playing the level. If you are with a group of students; how about having each student think out their strategies separately and get them to discuss which strategy is best and then put into action?

You could even have a list of vocabulary words you would like the student to use when describing their strategies such as:

a. Verbs such as : deploy the egg (the white birds have to deploy the egg at the appropriate time); pull back, drop, explode, fly, fall, hit,

b.  Different adverbs when describing the order of the birds and their actions;

c. Lots of different prepositions to guide where exactly the birds must land, and also how the objects and barriers are being arranged;

d. Adjective: used when describing the areas & targets in which the birds must land.

Maybe students can take turns to guide each other  using key words to complete the levels.

3. Select a level and ask the student to play it once, then ask them to describe their strategies verbally or create a written material that describes their strategies.

When teaching students to describe activities using coherent language (a skills that can be very limited in children with language disorders) we want them to follow an order…” you first did this.. then that”. You can use each level on Angry Birds to teach that skill. The game has an order in which things happen. You can guide students to describe it step by step which you guide them. You can both sit together to reproduce the steps he describe on the same level and even think out better ways to achieve the same goal.

There are tons of other ways in which Angry Birds can be used to promote language learning. These were just a few examples of how creativity can have more weight than the specific tool you have in front of you. In the end it is all about how you decide to use it. I will be back on this with more ” from useless to teaching app”. In the end it is all about how YOU choose to use the tool that makes the difference! Think about that. ;-)


Barbara Fernandes is a trilingual Speech- Language pathologist, a geek  and an app developer. She is the founder and CEO of Smarty Ears Apps , a company that creates apps for speech therapy. Barbara is also the face behind GeekSLP TV, a blog and video podcast focusing on the use of technology in speech therapy. Barbara has also been a practicing speech therapist both in Brazil and in the United States. Barbara has created over 21 applications for the mobile devices for speech therapists.

Swallowing and Feeding Issues with Internationally Adopted Children

Vegetables in Whole Foods Market

Photo by Masahiro Ihara

My children were “picky eaters.” One would only eat peanut butter and jelly, frozen pizza, chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. The other one would only eat frozen pizza and hot dogs. Neither of them would eat any vegetables. If it was green, it was considered inedible! Needless to say, cooking for them was a challenge. Somehow they survived and are both healthy adults who eat more variety than I ever thought they would.

Many of our food preferences are based on our food experiences. Children residing in orphanages have feeding experiences that are affected by the number of staff available to feed large groups of infants and toddlers. Parents have reported observing children left in their cribs with bottles propped up to allow self-feeding, given plates of food too hot to eat without utensils to feed themselves, and children fed pureed instead of solid foods. These experiences may not only affect physical growth and nutrition but also adversely affect eating and swallowing development. Some researchers have reported a wide range of eating and swallowing problems from clinical samples including (a) chewing problems, (b) preoccupation with food availability, (c) gorging and (d) sometimes becoming omnivorous (Johnson & Dole, 1999). Others found that 15% (21 of 144 children adopted from Romania) continued to have chewing and swallowing problems at 6 years old, 2 to 5 years following adoption (Beckett, et al., 2002). Beckett and colleagues also found that if solid food was not introduced before the age of 1 year, more of these children had continued eating and swallowing problems. Many of the children seen at the Saint Louis University International Adoption Clinic present with eating and swallowing difficulty or unusual oral motor problems such as facial tics or intermittent velopharyngeal closure during speech and swallow.

Children adopted from abroad are at risk of having eating and swallowing problems. Practitioners are advised to explore the presence of oral motor sensitivity, eating and swallowing problems with the client or client’s family. If problems were observed or continue to occur, a thorough assessment of oral motor structures and function and possibly an assessment of eating and swallowing behaviors may be needed. If children demonstrate eating disorders related to mental health issues such as bulimia or anorexia, it is important to refer them to clinical psychologists or counseling and family therapists.


Beckett, C. M., Bredenkamp, D., Castle, J., Groothues, C., O’Connor T. G., Rutter, M., & the
English and Romanian Adoptees (ERA) Study Team. (2002). Behavior patterns associated with institutional deprivation: A study of children adopted from Romania. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 23(5), 297-303.

Johnson, D. E., & Dole, K. (1999). International adoptions: Implications for early
intervention. Infants and Young Children, 11, 34-45. Retrieved from:

Deborah Hwa-Froelich, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a Saint Louis University professor and Director of the International Adoption Clinic with interests in social effects on communication such as culture, poverty, parent-child interaction, maternal/child health, and disrupted development.


No Wifi? (Mostly) No Problem

(This post originally appeared on Therapy App 411)

I had a reader over at SpeechTechie who recently contacted me with a question.  She (very admirably) planned to purchase an iPad for use with her students with autism, but had NO interest in employing it for her own personal use (so, even more admirable).  However, she works in a school with no wireless internet available to students or teachers.  Her question: should she proceed with buying this iPad, and would there be enough apps that function without wifi?

The question was illuminating to me because I have to admit I am totally spoiled.  Not only do I work in a district with ubiquitous and pretty reliable wifi, but our IT department also embraces teachers using personal iPads to connect to the Internet. I previously received a similar question (to which I do not really know the answer, as the politics and other factors are different in every district): how to convince the powers that be to allow teachers connecting personal devices if they are not so liberal in this regard. I always need to remind myself that not every district has wireless.  Additionally, and perhaps because of this, I realized I didn’t know in general how many apps that are useful to SLPs require wifi to function (function meaning to be used in activities with students, not to back up data or update the app, tasks that can be completed when wifi is available).  Unfortunately, upon examination, it appears that the profiles on apps in the iTunes store do not indicate which apps require wifi, at least not universally.  So, I turned to the power of the the PLN (Personal Learning Network) and threw the question out on Twitter.  Here’s what ensued:

(via Chirpstory)

iPad Apps and WiFi

By SpeechTechie  with

Conversation about which apps require wifi connection to function (re: schools that do not have wifi available)

So, this was a very helpful discussion for me (and I hope to this reader, who has since purchased the iPad!), the upshot being that the vast majority of apps that are of interest to SLPs do not require wifi to function. The ones listed are really exceptions to the rule, though of course this list is not comprehensive and will likely continue to expand. Really, only apps that need to pull live content (audio, video, text, pictures) from the web in order to function would be useless in a school without wifi. For many other apps, one needs to have a connection to the Internet to build libraries or update, but the app would be useful. The reader brought up the point that we perhaps should indicate here on TxApp411 if an app requires wifi, and I will be mentioning that to the other editors here. Thanks for your excellent question!


Sean J. Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and instructional technology specialist working in the public school and in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He has presented on the topic of technology integration in speech and language at the ASHA convention and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: LookingatTechnologyThroughaLanguageLens.

Considerations for Taking the Private Practice Plunge

Waves crash in

Photo by Bruce Guenter

One of the great perks of being an SLP is flexibility in your work environment:  schools, hospitals, travelling therapist, out-patient clinic, nursing home…But to many, being in your own employ lingers on the horizon—a “someday” proposition both terrifying and thrilling to contemplate.  Wondering what this entails or where to start?  Consider the following:

  1. Money:  Being self-employed means an immediate increase in your pay/treatment hour.  However, this is offset by numerous factors.  You will have a lack of payment for hours without patient contact, lack of paid vacation time, lack of reimbursement for dues or CEUs.  There may also be a lag between time of service and time of payment.  Don’t forget to also consider loss of health benefits (or increased cost for self-pay) and an increased need for malpractice insurance.  If you choose to start your own clinic you will gain the additional expense of renting space.  Initially, you may want to only do home visits or contract with a school (usually at a very nominal charge per treatment hour).  Another possibility is to rent space within a practice (e.g. audiologist) that can give you an established infrastructure (office/billing assistance) with a built-in caseload.
  2. Time/Scheduling:  If you are currently overwhelmed with your caseload numbers, private practice can seem positively luxurious.  Due to insurance constraints (not to mention practical constraints if doing home visits), you will likely see only one patient/hour.  You can also schedule as it suits you, which may alleviate the stress of your own child care issues.  However, you will be responsible for increasing or maintaining your own caseload and the uncertainty is not for the faint of heart or financially tenuous.
  3. Lack of Co-workers:  There may be days where losing a coworker or two sounds just perfect.  But self-employment can be rather isolating.  You may not have easy access to other professionals to bounce ideas off of.  You may find yourself in your own company a lot as you travel around town.  Even if you contract in a school setting,  your “outsider” status will often have you feeling just outside the loop.
  4. My Way:  Of course your chance to call the shots will be a big draw.  Choose to specialize in one age group or with one diagnosis if you choose.  Make recommendations for treatment frequency/time and even techniques that may not have been possible to you in other settings.
  5. The Buck Stops Here:  Unless you employ a billing manager, you will find yourself with additional non-therapy responsibilities.  Be honest with yourself.  Can you firmly enforce cancellation/billing policies?  Do you have the time to pursue insurance filing? (Just a note:  I would recommend not being a preferred provider and asking patients to self-file initially.  Otherwise you’ll likely be too overwhelmed with “non-paying” tasks.  But be sure your market will support this!)

I’m sure there are plenty of other considerations as well that I’ve neglected to mention.  Please don’t be put off; be inspired!  You can do this!  Good luck!


Kim Lewis M.Ed, CCC-SLP has a private practice for pediatrics in Greensboro, NC.  She is the blogger at, providing creative ideas for speech therapy, and the author of the Artic Attack workbook series.

Summer Writing: Try a Tomato?


Photo by Thelonious Gonz

Summer always slips through my fingers, like the fish that got away. I never manage to get to the beach, or out on my sailboat, or to the free outdoor concerts, as much as I hope to in April (or, as I dream of in February, as the snow falls). September always brings a to-do list with lots of stuff that, sadly, is still left to do.

Academic summer writing is the same way. As we reconvene in September, how many of us cast our eyes down and mutter that we did not get anywhere near enough done. The mood, the timing, the temperature, the situation…something kept us from it. As the summer winds down, we frantically try to finish off the stuff we have been (let’s face it) goofing around with all season long. It’s disheartening.

As a graduate student, I had to write almost all the time, and even as I deposited my dissertation, I felt that I was still developing my method of getting it done without too many tears. Now that it is almost a year later, I still struggle with the best way to get the most done as a productive writer. I would rather lecture, supervise, carry out my current research, plan my next research project…but, if I don’t write up and publish, my research will remain unknown, and where’s the good in that?

So, here’s my proposal: We’ve got six weeks of summer left; let’s help each other. I will tell you a few of the tips that worked for me, and you share some that worked for you…or didn’t. I didn’t invent any of these methods, but some I have made my own. Here are a few:

  • Go someplace else. If you have been writing at home (in your pajamas, admit it), go to a library. You’ll find that any campus or town librarian will help you find a nook, get connected, and maybe even print stuff out, when they hear you are a frantic academic. It might be even better than going to your own campus, where it is too easy to get distracted by colleagues and students. I wrote my second exam paper (a giant lit review) at the local community college, reporting in the morning and working for a few steady hours. I had all the documents I needed loaded onto my laptop, so I was able to…
  • Keep the internet off. There are lots of applications out there that can either track the time you spend on non-work websites, or keep you from accessing them for a period of time. If your phone has a data feed, you can try shutting that off and just receiving phone calls for a few hours. I leave my personal email open and downloading at home, so that I cannot check it during the day (although this backfires if people contact me through my work email). Of course, there are days where I find I must immediately know the difference between a yawl and a ketch …and the morning is gone. If you are making good use of any methods to keep the internet at bay, please share in the comments.
  • Reward yourself. The oldest trick in the book. Set it up that you can’t do X until you do Y. The trick is choosing the task to be small enough and the reward to be sweet enough so that you are indeed motivated. Hey, you’re an SLP, you can make it work for your clients, now try it for yourself.
  • Try a tomato. No, not to eat. I have had some great successes using the Pomodoro method. The key components are planning out how many 25 minute sessions it will take to complete a task, and then, when you start a session, do not allow yourself to be taken off the task. Any outside thoughts or distractions can be scribbled on a separate piece of paper so you don’t forget them. I use aspects of this, with my own modifications. I find 25 minutes too short, and sometimes use the radio news report (every half hour) as my time marker, or use an online countdown timer set for 40 minutes. The tomatoes help me when I am desperately stuck, because I can commit to one lonely tomato. That’s not so scary, is it? Then, I must write something, (anything!) until the bell releases me. My dissertation contained a whole truckload of tomatoes.
  • Keep a notebook. If you are in the habit of keeping a lab notebook, this is just an extension. Jot down your progress and stumbling blocks. Then, when you are stuck, spend a tomato, I mean a few minutes, looking over what you have already accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back, and keep at it.

The last tip? Don’t get so involved crafting the perfect blog entry that you avoid working on your “real” writing for a whole afternoon!

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. She teaches courses in speech science, voice disorders, behavioral feeding disorders and research design. Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum. She has been a practicing SLP and feeding interventionist since 1998.