If you've been around this blog for very long, you know that I love using themes in speech therapy. For this SLP, themed lesson plans (especially when organized by season into a spreadsheet for quick and easy access year after year) are just drool-worthy.
I haven't always been a themed SLP though. Coming aboard the themed therapy bandwagon happened gradually. And maybe somewhat surprisingly, I have telepractice to thank. Besides all of the research-based reasons to use themed intervention in speech therapy, I have found many benefits specific to teletherapy.
Using themes in teletherapy decreases planning time.
Since beginning nearly 8 years ago, I have served (almost exclusively) a caseload of kindergarten through high school. Initially just one day a week, and eventually five days a week.
While I love the day-to-day (and hour-to-hour) variety of serving such a wide range of students, I used to feel like a chicken with its head cut off. There was very little consistency across my speech therapy lesson plans. I was basically planning every single session in isolation.... clicking around the internet and opening my digital files in search of activities that would work for each student that day. Maybe it's just me, but that is just not sustainable for a full-time caseload.
What started as a random week here and there of finding activities that coordinated with an upcoming holiday or seasonal topic, eventually evolved into using weekly themes for most of my caseload. I came to realize that having an overall theme that I can adapt to students of all grades greatly reduces my planning time.
Obviously, the activities that I plan vary for different students based on their grade levels, interests, goals, and abilities. For example, I use more picture books for younger grades, and more news articles for older ones. My younger students enjoy activities like virtual coloring, songs on YouTube, and games on PBS Kids, while my older ones participate in answering trivia questions, watching and discussing National Geographic videos, or doing online simulations.
I plan for each session using the right combination of themed activities for each student (or group) and their goals. Within each activity, I make modifications to meet each student's differentiated needs. This might be simplifying the activity, eliminating components, adding visual supports, or even deviating completely from the intended use of the activity. So rather than totally unique activities for each student or group, I am using a lot of the same activities, just in different ways.
Using themes in teletherapy streamlines the options.
Another way that telepractice has brought out the themed SLP inside of me is that it simplifies what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of resource options.
Here's what I mean. Teletherapy materials used to be LIMITED. In 2014, I pretty much stuck with whatever random PDFs other SLPs in the company had created and shared in the library, OR whatever activities I could create on the fly using annotation tools.
But now, most teletherapists have the ability to screen share any software program or website. I mean the internet only has a few activities on it, right?😉 While all these options are great and definitely make teletherapy more engaging, individualized, and functional, it's overwhelming, to say the least. Using a specific theme helps me zero in on one topic, when I'd otherwise get lost in internet la-la land in search of the perfect activity.
I generally stick to one theme for most of my caseload, which allows me to use more of the activities that I already have. Because of the way that I organize my digital files and websites, nothing (or very few things) gets forgotten. As a bonus, I rarely hear students complain that "We did this already!" when I present an activity since I can easily track what activities and themes we've used throughout the year.
Using themes in teletherapy builds a connection.
While this may be my final reason for utilizing themes in virtual speech therapy, it's probably the most important. In telepractice sessions, the SLP is obviously physically separated from the student. For some students, this distance can make the interaction feel less natural. This can lead to decreased engagement, participation, and (as a result) progress on speech and language goals.
For some students, not being able to have face-to-face exchanges of communication with the speech-language pathologist can create hesitancy. While there are many ways to encourage interaction digitally, the inability to directly manipulate actual materials in an activity, such as worksheets, toys, or game pieces, can be an adjustment for some students.
A themed approach offers a way for SLPs to connect with their students virtually. An appropriately selected theme is relevant to the student. The theme pulls from their background knowledge on the topic, making students excited to engage, participate, and converse.
Themed speech therapy activities also provide interactive and language-rich ways to build upon prior knowledge. And since the theme extends throughout the session, week, or even the month, the element of familiarity enhances participation and builds rapport with the therapist.
For these reasons, themes are my BFF when planning telepractice sessions. Using themes has led to quicker and more focused planning while fostering deeper connections with my students of all ages. Themed teletherapy allows me to save time and still be prepared to target my students' goals, session after session, day after day.
Need a handy-dandy way to store links to your favorite teletherapy websites? These free lesson planning spreadsheets are the last organization system you'll need for keeping track of themed speech therapy activities! They're completely free and editable to suit your needs, but I've got you off to a great start with tons of links to articles, videos, games, and more.