Authentic Topics and Materials

Building Motivation, Resilience, and Rapport Using Authentic Topics and Materials with Middle and High School Students. 

I will be sharing therapy ideas that focus on learning by doing and provide student-choice in order to establish an empowering therapeutic environment. 

I am SO EXCITED to share these therapy ideas with you, but I should warn you… These ideas are NOT print-and-go, they are NOT worksheets, and NONE of these ideas include games. These are project-based activities that need more than one, thirty-minute session to complete. They are authentic activities aiming to build motivation, resilience, and rapport with your older students

Idea # 1 Blackout Poetry

Therapy Idea #1: Blackout Poetry. Okay, don’t freak out or roll your eyes. You guys, poetry units can be SCARY. When a high school student asked for my help with a poetry assignment, I’m pretty sure I started to sweat. But, I fessed up and I was honest. I told this student, “Poetry is not a strength of mine, but I bet we can figure it out together.” 

So, What is blackout poetry and how do I use it in my speech room? Well, I started by selected poems written by teenagers and young adults. Then I got a little bit more specific and found poems and books of poetry written by teen boys. I thought, If I’m going to tackle poetry, it needs to be relatable and authentic or I’m going to get ZERO buy in from my students. After I found some examples and grabbed some books from the library, I played around with the idea of using “blackout” poetry in my speech room. I took one of the poems, randomly, and I started to “blackout” the parts that did not resonate with me. I used the poem Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. I printed out a copy of the poem, grabbed a sharpie and got to work. I literally crossed out words, phrases, and entire sections that didn’t “fit” with me as a person. What was I left with? A new poem, my poem, and that felt exciting. I gave it a whirl with some of my middle schoolers, and  I found that this is such a powerful exercise. Specifically, for our students with language disorders because they don’t need to generate the language in order to create a poem. 

Websites to checkout: 

Books to Consider:

Paint Me Like I Am from WritersCorp

Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems by John Grandits by John Grandits 

Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25 by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poems From Homeroom by Kathi Appelt

You Hear Me?: Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys by Betsy Franco

Possible Goals to Target: analyze text, figurative language, poetic vocabulary, creative writing, listening comprehension. 

Idea #2: Video Game Dictionary

Activity #2: Fortnite Dictionary for Teachers. If you work with teenage boys, then you know video games often DOMINATE the conversation. If you’re anything like me… you’re clueless. When my caseload switched from Paw Patrol to Fortnite,  I had two options: 1) avoid the topic completely; or 2) let the students be the experts. One thing I’ve learned about this age-group is you CANNOT fake it. They know when you’re faking it, so don’t even try. 

Real talk… our students are almost never the “experts”, they are left behind in conversations, and often don’t understand the vocabulary thrown around in the classroom. This activity allows them  to LEAD and puts them in the “seat of the expert.” 

You guys- I don’t love Fortnite, but I love this project. It has become part of our routine. It is predictable and expected, and it is student-led. It has become part of our routine. When we come across a word we, meaning I, don’t know we add it to our virtual dictionary. We write a definition, determine the word’s part of speech, include an image/drawing, and use it in a sentence or short story. The hope is when the students feel their dictionary is complete, we will share this virtual dictionary with teachers. 

You may think you know what the words stream, skin, and dip mean… but you don’t. 

Possible Goals to Target: homonyms, perspective taking, apply background knowledge, comprehension

Therapy Idea #3: Storefront

Therapy idea # 3: Set up a Storefront. I’ll admit this activity is a bit tricky due to #covid, but my post-grad clients are making it happen. ⁣The post-graduate students I support can no longer go out into the community and explore different jobs. However, this resilient group of young adults DID NOT give up. They saw a need (😴 teachers ) and created a job (☕️ cart). How awesome is that!? AND they are making a profit! This coffee cart offers more than just coffee, seltzer, handmade masks, and snacks… It provides opportunities to practice important life skills, including: money management, social skills, sequencing and SO MUCH more.

⁣This activity is not just for older students- it can be modified for later elementary students too! Last year a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders started a Seltzer cart.⁣

Possible Goals to Target: turn taking, multitasking, social interaction, calculation, verbal interactions, follow a verbal script, multistep directions, AAC, problem solving

Therapy Idea #4: Use a Podcast

Why? Student Engagement & Student CHOICE– this is HUGE in middle and high school! When students love what they’re doing, they are engaged. Plus students get to choose the topics they get to listen to. 

Where? One website to checkout is; however, I’ve found it more helpful to search by topic. 

Possible Goals to Target: analyze online sources, listening comprehension, planning, sequencing, social interaction, following multistep directions, understanding multiple perspectives, defend opinions, evidence from text

Therapy Idea #5: Interview Skills Unit

YOU GUYS- this could be one of the most important “units” you work through with your high school students.  I am describing this as a unit, because as I said at the beginning of this series: the ideas I am presenting are project-based and take multiple sessions to work through. 

Here is the thing, our students want careers and they want to know how to make that happen. 

✅ Creating a resume

✅ Conducting a job search

✅ Filling out a job application (paper & online)

✅ Going on an interview (in-person and virtual)

✅ Post-interview follow up 

⭐️ This list could easily flip to college/university applications and interviews depending on the student(s) you are supporting. ⭐️

💡 Use Video Modeling 

💡 Roleplay with familiar and unfamiliar communication partners

💡 Attend a Job Fair

Possible Goals to Target: functional life skills, verbal interactions, syntax, perspective taking, executive functioning, comprehension, planning, social interaction, career transition, expository discourse

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