3 Ways to Increase Communication Opportunities Throughout the Day

Building communication opportunities for our students is important. I know in my classroom, we're constantly working on requesting different items to expand our vocabulary, utterances, or sentence complexity. These 3 quick and easy tips are going to help you increase the opportunities for communication in your classroom EVERYDAY.

This first tip is pretty simple. Keep items that are preferred or used often out of reach. In my classroom we have a play area where we work on PRT for communication and developing appropriate play skills. I have placed all of our classroom toys in a cabinet that locks. This requires my students to use communication to request what they'd like to play with. I added some icons to the front of the cabinet for students to request toys inside the cabinet.

Another tip, if you're doing an art project, instead of providing the student with everything they need and lying it in front of them, have an adult be in control of all of the items. Your students can request things by shape, color, size, etc. It's a great activity for working on requesting skill and expanding utterances. Here's a great example. We were making an ant project in our classroom this week (shout out to Teaching Special Thinkers Easy Art Packs, seriously the best!) and I prepared all of the materials for my students, but kept those materials in a bin. When my students needed the next piece, they were able to request "I want a big black circle" or "I want a small black circle" to get the pieces they needed to complete the project. Oh, and we also were in control of the scissors, glue, markers, etc. You name it, they're requesting it in our classroom!

Contriving situations is another great way to increase the amount of communication going on in your classroom. I have a few basic "tricks" up my sleeve that I use in my classroom all the time. The focus of these situations is to get our students reacting to things and realizing that their communication has meaning. Here are the situations I often contrive in my classroom.

When we're working on a project or activity in our classroom, I'll often give my students PART of the pieces needed and have figure out what else they need and request it in order to complete the task. This works particularly well for students who struggle with initiation. Often times, I'll give my student a paper and say "write your name". This is pretty hard to do without a writing instrument. This is when I can cue "what do you want?" and students are able to request a pencil or crayon to write their names.

This tip also works well with art projects or cooking projects. Imagine telling students to stir a cooking project together without a spoon or telling them to glue two pieces of paper together without a glue stick. Getting our students to request the pieces they don't have is a great way to start contriving communication opportunities in your classroom.

Another great way to contrive situations is to give students too little of something. I will often do this during our classroom snack time. I've done it in a couple different ways because I know my students and what skills they have and it has been super successful!

When we're eating snack and students request a snack item (lets say it's Goldfish), I'll give the student a single goldfish cracker. This will do one of two things. It will either have my students making multiple requests in order to meet their needs or it can lead to a lesson on expanding utterances and requesting by number. We can get our students to a point where they're requesting 5 goldfish a time and expanding their utterances while doing so!

Here's another fun one that gets students communicating more effectively AND solving problems. I do this often in my classroom and it's a great way to get students to use communication to solve problems instead of using behavior.

One way I've done this in my classroom is by taking students literally. Often when students begin requesting by color they'll say things like "I want yellow" and will omit the item they actually want. I'll often find a sticky note or something else that isn't what they wanted, but still yellow, and give that item to my student. This is a great way to teach students how their words have meaning and that they need to use a variety of words to have their needs met.

In our classroom, we'll often work on correcting the errors (model the correct language) and have students follow through with the correct response to get the item they initially wanted.

Choice is such a powerful tool in increasing communication and it can be implemented in your classroom in so many ways. I have often done art projects where students can choose the color of the item they want to make. As you saw earlier in this post, our play area is filled with choices students can make. Snack time provides at least 3 choices for students everyday in our classroom.

Providing choice does a few things. It allows our students to take some control in their communication and request the things they want to play with, do, etc. It also provides us with an opportunity for my student interest and buy in during the activity. The more we are able to incorporate student choice and interests throughout the day, the more engagement we're going to see from our students.

We're huge on choice in our classroom. I love this recess game choice board I put together. When we're heading out to recess, I'll often ask some of my friends what they want to play and I'll use that choice to help them ask friends to join them in their games.

Communication should be FUN! Sitting and having never ending PECS sessions isn't exactly fun in my book, nor is it in my students. Getting new reinforcers to request, getting students interested in activities, and engaging in activities that are play based are great ways to keep communication fun throughout the school day.

Let's face it, if the only time we're working on communication skills is during 1:1 PECS sessions or Speech sessions with an SLP, not only is it going to be rote and sometimes boring for our students, they're also going to fail to generalize the communication skills they learning across settings and if we want our students to become fluent communicators, it's really about getting practice in as much as possible throughout the school day.

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