Monday, March 17, 2014

Teaching Core Words with Games

Mad Libs
Mad Libs, the classic fill-in-the-blank game, is a fantastic way to work on parts of speech.  You can do this game using store-bought Mad Libs, Mad Libs or similar type activities from the internet or simply by eliminating words from a story or essay you already have.  It may be helpful to create parts of speech cue cards using the color coding in the AAC system.  If working in a one-to-one or small group situation you can hold up the cue card and ask the student(s) to give you a word matching the category.  In a large class situation it might be ideal to go around the room asking the students to each give a word for the part-of-speech named.  The fun comes in the end when you read back the silly story you have written.

Silly Sentences

A version of this game is available commercially, but it is easy enough to create and play on your own.  You will need to create a sentence grid for each player.  How you create these will depend on the needs of your students, the simples grids would be two squares labeled, “Noun. Verb.”  A higher level grid would be, perhaps, five squares labeled, “Adjective. Noun. Verb. Adjective. Noun.”  You may wish to use symbols on the grids and/or color code the square using the same color coding in the AAC user’s system.  Laminate the grids so they can be written on with dry erase markers.

You will also need a spinner that has the parts of speech used on the grids.  You can use an Ablenet All-Turn-It Spinner, one of the many create your own spinner apps on an iPad, the free interactive spinner available at or make your own.  You could also use custom dice.

To play the game each player spins the spinner.  If the player spins a part of speech needed for his or her silly sentence then that player names a word to fill in the box that is the correct part of speech.  The player or a helper writes the named word onto the sentence grid.  However, if the student names a word from the wrong part of speech the turn is lost.  If the player spins a part of speech which is not needed the turn is also lost.  The first player to complete their sentence wins the game.  That player, or the whole group, corrects the sentence, filling in noun markers and other missing words as well as correcting verb tense and then the sentence is read aloud.  

Word Hunts

            Word Races
Word races are a fun way to practice finding vocabulary on an AAC system.  This activity works with two or more AAC users, a combination of AAC users and typical peers working on dictionary skills or an AAC user and an adult who is also using an AAC device for the game.  A list of words is preparing, focusing on vocabulary the student needs to learn to locate.  The words can be written on cards, printed out in symbol form or displayed on a computer, mobile device or interactive white board.   Each word is reveled and then the participants race to find the word, AAC users on their device and typical peers in the dictionary.  Two points are awarded for finding the word first and one point for finding the word in general.  The winner is the player with the most points!

Read the Room
Read-the-room is an activity found in many early elementary classrooms.  A variation of this, to promote AAC use, is to play a version where an adult or peer goes around the room and points to an item, for example the door.  The AAC user then finds the word in his or her device.  Another way to play is for the AAC user to have to find a word related to the item which is a named part of speech.  Thus if the word were, “door” and the part of speech was verb the student may “find” the word “go”, “shut” or “slam”. 

Describing Games

            Guess Who?

You can play this with the commercial game, with the commercial game replacing the cards with your own or you can create your own game.  To create your own you need to print out two sets of photographs of people (can be real people in your setting, celebrities or characters of books, etc).   Using a velcro board or similar hang up one set of pictures.  Choose a student to be "it", preferably one who is working on yes/no.  Allow that child to pick a person from the second set of photo cards.  Once chosen the other players ask yes/no questions and the child who is "it" answers.  Students asking the question using AAC can focus asking questions which use descriptions, “Does the person have black hair?” The player who asks the question which narrows the choices down to one option wins and is then “it” for the next round.  Variations include playing "Who Passed the Gas?" using pictures of people in the room and activating a whoopie cushion as a reward for finding out who!  Also using characters from a theme unit or book as the people to guess.

            Guess What?           
This game is played in a similar fashion to guess who only it uses objects instead of people.  You will need two sets of identical objects, photos of objects or symbols of objects.  One student is chosen to be “it” and privately selects chosen object.  The full set of objects (or photos/symbols of objects) is displayed.  The other players, using AAC, then ask questions using describing words to eliminate choices.  Questions might be, “Is it shiny?” or “Is it big?”  The player to successfully eliminate all but one choice is “it” for the next game.

            Magic Bag
For this game you will need a large opaque bag and an assortment of objects.  The adult hides an object in the bag.  Then one player reaches in and handles it without taking it out of the bag.  In the first version of this game the other players ask the child reaching in the bag yes or no questions using their speech devices until they guess what it is.  In the second version of this game the child reaching in the bag creates descriptive statements about the object, such as “It feels cold” and the other players guess what it might be.  You can also play this with the commercial “Ned’s Head” game.

            Where is it?

For this game you need a motivating prize.  One student is chosen to be “it” and hide the prize in the room while all of the other players close their eyes.  No peaking!  Then the players ask the chosen student yes or no questions about the location of the prize.  Adults can help the students focus on using position words such as under and near in their questions.  The student who is able to correct guess where the object is wins the prize. 

Alternate version:  In this version a visual scene of a location is created using paper cut outs on a Velcro background.  The scene might be a classroom, a restaurant, a store or a forest.  A cut out character is also created to go into the scene.  The character might be a cut out photo of a child in the class, a character from a story or a fictional creature like a leprechaun or cupid.  If it were a forest there might be a rock, a tree, a stream, a bush and a stump in the scene.  One child, privately, points to where they will hide the character.  For students who have difficulty remembering it may help to have a picture symbol of each object in the scene so that they can hold it and refer to it as a reminder.  The other players then ask questions to guess where the character is hiding.  So they might ask, “Is he getting wet?” or more directly, “Is he behind a tree?”  The player who guesses correctly gets to be the “hider” during the next game.

Adapting Commercial Games

Many commercial and traditional games can be adapted to make them learning experiences for AAC.  Here are some examples.

Candy Land:  use the colors of the squares to ask students to find parts on speech in their AAC systems.  You can do this by creating new cards to replace those that come with the game, by writing on the included cards or by writing on the squares.  For example drawing a green square means the child has to find an action word on her system. 

Go Fish:  you can create your own cards which feature core AAC vocabulary words on them.  This way students will practice finding core words just to ask, “Do you have a ____?” 

Connect Four:  Label each of the columns on the grid with a word.  (Try printing on re-stick-able labels.)  Students must find the word on their device to drop the piece in that column. 

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