Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Using a Themes Effectively in Teletherapy is important for teaching communication skills in the virtual environment. Although "cute and fun" has aesthetic appeal, a thematic approach is so much more. The Thematic Approach for teaching has been well researched for effective student learning. The results of the comparisons to a traditional approach are that a Thematic Approach can create more meaningful and comprehensive learning. A thematic approach is also not to be confused with using metaphors to explain challenging concepts. Speech materials that use metaphors to instruct are also proven to be a highly effective skilled intervention. However, the focus of the following information is on themed (i.e., "doctor") speech therapy.
First, a theme must be relevant to the child's life or natural environment. This can get challenging when we've spent prep time planning an entire week around a particular theme that we thought was fun and age appropriate, but the theme selected turns out to be a bad choice. A great example here of a poorly selected theme for a student is the selection of a holiday theme when the student's family doesn't celebrate that particular, or in some cases any, holiday. I'll never forget the teletherapy sessions I started with all my themed materials opened and websites bookmarked, but the student's first words are, "I don't celebrate that holiday." WHOOPS! These students taught me that their natural environment needs to be the first consideration when selecting a theme.
There are tons of potential themes, many of which follow an academic calendar year of special days, weeks, and events. If you're a school-based Tele-SLP you may want to get your hands on an events calendar from the school you're contracting with to make planning a breeze. For instance, when "Fire Safety Week" is planned, you can incorporate a "Community Helpers" Theme into your speech therapy sessions. However, you may want to consider the changing interests and experiences of a child throughout the school year and be flexible with your planned themes. Additionally, consider how speech and language goals work better with certain themes.
Once you've got a relevant theme selected, use your planned terms, facts, and principles to guide your selection of materials and resources.
This is the part of implementing a thematic approach in speech teletherapy that can get really exciting for a Tele-SLP and every student. As a Tele-SLP you've got access to books, tours, videos, and more at your fingertips from various websites. Most of these discovery-style resources are free as well!
Why implementing themes is hard: you don't have time to search through tons of websites to find exactly what you need with each theme. With so many resources, you'll want to make sure you bookmark websites by theme so you'll have them organized for a quick click-and-go therapy session. In each of my themed bookmarked websites folders, I like to have at least one of the following types of websites:
Kids News Articles
Online Stories (i.e., businesses that may pertain to the theme)
Want access to my bookmarked websites by theme? Become a VIP Subscriber and you'll receive a monthly email with ideas for digital speech and language resources by theme as well as handy website links! There's also a Google Sheets™ freebie in the VIP Subscriber library that will help you plan your themed speech therapy!
Websites aren't the only place for discovery, though! Many digital speech and language materials that use an integrated theme incorporate a discovery component. When I created the Map My Language series of map companions for elementary students and the Mapping Out Language series for middle and high school students, I purposefully incorporated exercises that promoted discovery of the maps before asking students to answer questions or complete tasks that required integration of multiple mental domains.
The next step in implementing a thematic approach for SLPs is gathering activities that include the mental domains of aesthetic, affective, cognition, language, physical, and social as recommended by Rohde, Howe, Spalding, Payne, & Kostelnik in their highly informative book Teaching Young Children Using Themes and discussed at length in Kostelnik, Soderman, Whiren, & Rupiper in their publication Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum - Best Practices in Early Childhood Education.
The biggest difference in digital speech and langauge materials that are based on a thematic approach instead of a simple "cute and fun" activity is the integration of your terms, facts, and principles. You'll want to be able to answer YES to the following question:
"Is the vocabulary/sequences/etc in this resource relevant to the theme?"
If the answer to this question is NO, then the resource is likely in the "cute" category, rather than the "thematic approach" category and doesn't promote discovery. If the answer is YES, the resource you're considering will be more salient and functional for your student.
Take for instance, my NO PRINT Superhero Language Pack. Instead of seeing superhero images mixed with random words to compare and contrast, you'll see superhero images that match the target goal.
Likewise, my Following Directions and Language Concepts with Pets Boom Cards™ contains directions that could actually occur with pets rather than random "pet themed" images paired with a direction that would never occur with pets (i.e., "Put the dog in the tree after you put the cat under the bench.").
With young children in teletherapy, incorporating a physical activity is a great way to keep their fingers and bodies busy while their mind is hard at work. It's my experience in teletherapy that parents and learning coaches are more than willing to gather supplies or print a page or two, but they need you to plan ahead and guide the craftivity or other physical game. That's when being a personable collaborator is key!
If you'd like to read more about implementing a thematic approach in teletherapy from the gurus, check out the following references!
Angela C. Hancock, MSP, CCC-SLP
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