A work of art is a form of language. Paint strokes, paper, shapes, colors and materials come together to form meaningful visual moments. Communication consists of the same basic principle. Sounds don’t have much power on their own, but when coherently strung together, they create meaningful human interaction.
For this reason, I find using art in my speech-language sessions a natural fit for working with my students.
I always loved how my college professors described the profession of speech-language pathology as “an art and a science.” As SLPs, we provide evidence-based interventions to motivate our clients, but also generate functional progress.
One of the first things my clinical fellowship supervisor taught me was about the ease of doing in-class treatment during art class. You can work on following directions, prepositions, descriptive language, executive functioning skills and more—all within a single class period. I decided to go one step further, and bring the elements of my students’ art classroom into our speech room. Thus began my creation of a monthly “Art Gallery Day.”
I found many resources online to help support my project. Let’s be honest, we don’t always have time to generate materials from scratch. Any resources to help lessen prep time means increased opportunities for carrying through with an idea. I like this free inferences and predictions lesson plan by Sublime Speech. It gave me a great starting point to develop my new art tradition.
Incorporating performances into treatment for aphasia helps participants relearn speech through the arts.
Every month, I provide my students with a famous work of art to analyze and discuss. Just by discussing one piece of art you can work on:
- Carryover of articulation skills.
- Turn-taking skills.
- Perspective taking: What do you think the person in the painting is thinking? How do you think they feel?
- Context clues: What clues helped you form your opinion?
- Describing skills.
- Forming predictions: What do you think will happen next in this painting?
- Forming opinions: Do you like this painting?
I use this activity with most of my students at all ages. I start by reminding them that there is no wrong answer. Their opinions and predictions are all valued, as long as they can provide evidence to support their beliefs. This is my key component of these sessions. By working on these complex language skills in a less intimidating manner, students realize their thoughts and opinions matter.
Once students acquire a good handle on their targeted skills, we start transitioning into other modalities. Skills we can eventually target include:
- Social scenarios: How do you think your friend felt in this situation? What can you say to resolve the problem next time?
- Context clues: Reading passages with student to target using context clues to answer comprehension questions as well as to target vocabulary skills. This is a critical concept on state standardized testing.
- Sharing opinions: A great deal of our students have a hard time expressing their thoughts and opinions in class discussion due to decreased language skills, lack of confidence, and ability to understand concepts. After sharing opinions on the artwork, students can practice turn taking through debate or predicting what will happen next in a story.
- Creating their own artwork: Have a day where the students create their own art pieces! Create a gallery of the artworks, and have the student share what they think about each other’s art. The artist can share their idea, motivation, and purpose behind their piece. Sometimes hands-on activities help students express themselves better than verbal language. I also like to provide art gallery brag tags—like these from ART Wizard—to my students after finishing with a work of art.
These young minds will grow and develop into future creative and scientific thinkers of the world. We get to help them become teachers, leaders, artists, chefs, scientists and other remarkable professionals. I use plenty of flashcards and worksheets, but those alone won’t help our students become functional members of society. Activities prompting them to produce original thoughts and ideas can teach them to use their communication skills to paint the world into an amazing masterpiece.
I value my role in my students’ lives. Every time I see them, I get to remind them, “You have a voice worthy of being heard.”
Erin Elizabeth Milewski, MS, CCC-SLP, works as a school-based SLP in the East Pennsboro Area school district outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She is a third year SLP who currently works with elementary school students. firstname.lastname@example.org