While the majority of my caseload is language-based, I tend to have at least one or two students with pragmatic language difficulties each year. I often struggle with what to work on with these students, especially if they demonstrate good academic skills. In addition, if I can’t place them in an appropriate existing group, I often treat them individually, which doesn’t help generalize skills they learn.
Many of these students struggle with maintaining and forming friendships. During our sessions, they tell me all the right things, but when it comes to interacting with their peers, they don’t quite get it. I use the activities listed below to help them practice their skills outside the treatment room:
- Form a school club: Helping a middle or high school student set up a club creates a great way for them to connect with other students who share similar interests. Perhaps a club already exists that they want to join, but if not, why not help them get one started? One student of mine was into bowling. Unfortunately, the school didn’t offer a bowling team. Together, we drafted an email to the school administration, and they thought it was a great idea. The student and I came up with ways to get other students involved, like making a flier, placing an ad in the school newspaper and holding a meeting. We hope the school’s new bowling team will start sometime soon!
- Observe students during unstructured time: Though this might create scheduling challenges, perhaps you can hold a session or observe your student during lunch or free time. It’s always interesting to see how students with pragmatic difficulties act around their peers. I once went on a field trip with a student and saw how he handled the experience. During our next session, I brought up those real-life examples and discussed ways to improve interactions or experiences on a future trip. You can also role-play with your student and go back to that event. If your student is comfortable with the idea, ask other students to participate.
- Set up pen-pals: Do other SLPs in your area treat students with similar goals? Setting up a pen-pal system helps students improve their social communication skills. In addition, if they also need work on writing skills, this activity offers double the benefits! I worked with SLP Kim Lewis from Activity Tailor on setting up pen-pals for SLPs and their students all over the U.S. This year, we received a ton of applicants! We tried our best to match students up with others working on similar goals and skills, and around the same age. The last two years that we did this program, I helped many students with various types of social skills while also working on language skills.
- Seek outside social groups: While I haven’t tried this strategy yet myself, I know of other SLPs who seek social groups for their students when one isn’t available in their school. A simple Google search may yield groups in your area—especially look for those they can join for free.
I hope these ideas get you thinking on how to engage your students in practical activities outside the treatment room. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely rewarding!
Gabriella Schecter, MS, CCC-SLP, works full-time in a grade 6-12 school. She posts regularly on Instagram @middleschoolSLP, sharing ideas and activities for this age group. Check out her blog or contact her at MiddleschoolSLP@gmail.com.