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6 Tips for Creating Your Own Communication Café

by Katie Bell
little boy baking

“What’s in the bag?”

The students—sitting at the cooking table—are talking to the resident expert, puppet Chef Talkie. Next, they shriek with laughter as Chef Talkie dives into the grocery bag, offering clues as the students determine each ingredient for this weekly “Cooking With Communication” intervention. Incorporating food and cooking processes, this treatment approach whips up student enthusiasm and communication. I see, hear and feel the learning taking place.

katie and chef talkie

Katie Bell, AKA Chef Talkie

As a school-based SLP treating children with significant cognitive, communication, behavioral and physical challenges, I wanted to find functional and engaging activities for all my students. Food often highly motivates—or becomes an aversion needing intervention—so their teachers and I developed “Cooking With Communication.” During our weekly Communication Café sessions, we use visual supports, sensory-seeking opportunities, routines, verbal scripts and music to create a recipe for success.

Our youngest students’ activities focus on phonological awareness and number sense, coupled with visually supported recipes. Chef Talkie (AKA me) encourages students to touch, taste and learn social communication skills as they stir, chop, pass and measure recipes. Our second- and third-grade students use recipes centered on science curriculum vocabulary and pragmatic language objectives.

The school has a state-award-winning, student-run restaurant that allows students to rotate through typical restaurant jobs. They follow visual scripts to promote communication independence as the students greet, converse and prepare food for a rotating group of general education peers.

Every intervention targets current IEP objectives, with data collection and analysis supporting significant gains in expressive, receptive and pragmatic language, and speech production skills.

Interested in this engaging approach? If so, consider the following six “chef secrets”:

  • Establish routines. Every lesson begins with a unique song or verbal script and ends with the product—food.
  • Go visual! Visual recipes abound online. I find many favorites on Speaking of Speech or Boardmaker. You can easily find or make other cue cards, like “Time to eat” or “No eating,” to support communication.
  • Stay simple. No, we aren’t going for Food Network greatness here. We’re allowing students to increase intrinsic motivation as they explore and feel proud of their own creations.
  • Creativity counts. Yep, finding a recipe that started with “y” was difficult, but Yummy Yellow Yogurt was a raging success! In fact, our Café workers develop and write their own recipes. Mmm…Smiley Face Waffles, anyone?
  • Get messy! A successful lesson equals frosting on faces, handprints on tables and messy AAC devices. By the way, if students are hands-on, you should be too (hence, ingredients sometimes in my hair, face or clothes at the end of the day).
  • Use technology. Create and store social stories on iBooks, along with video-modeling and easily accessible and highly effective AAC apps.
  • Multidisciplinary matters. This team effort means we rotate responsibility for who leads the weekly lesson, allowing the occupational therapist and me to provide individualized supports.
  • Engage all stakeholders. Parents and other community members are frequent VIP customers at the Café and provide critical support—along with our parent-teacher organization—to supply our ingredients.

 

Katie Bell, MA, CCC-SLP, works at Hardy Elementary School in South Lyon Community Schools, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatieBellSLP or email her at bellk@slcs.us.

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3 comments

Deboraj August 11, 2016 - 12:31 pm

Excellent article – great tips!

Tabitha August 19, 2016 - 7:58 am

Katie,
I would LOVE to implement something like this at my child’s school. I’m “just” a parent though.
In your opinion, who would be a good person on staff to get on board and back this idea internally?

Katie Bell August 20, 2016 - 4:29 pm

Hi there! I would encourage you to speak with your child’s teacher or if he/she receives ancillary supports, the SLP. Honestly, it is through the generous support of “just” parents like you that we are funded with our food donations! It is a lot of work to initially set it up, but if your child’s educators can see the efficacy and value in this intervention, the rewards are SO generous! Please let me know if I can provide any additional information for you- I have written some newspaper articles and have documented data to support our students’ growth.

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