I recently wrote about the diagnosis of (C) APD as well as treatments that are available for this diagnosis and other learning difficulties – treatments that are supported by research and those that are not (According to Macquarie University Special Education Center (MUSEC)). Students who are diagnosed (or misdiagnosed, depending on who you ask) with (C) APD often present with difficulties following directions. One of the techniques that is recommended and supported by the available data is explicit instruction. I’d like to talk more about explicit instruction and what that looks like as an SLP, specifically in regards to following directions – how we can facilitate improvements in these skills and how we can support our students in the classroom.
But first, a few thoughts on explicit instruction. According to MUSEC:
Explicit instruction involves making clear to students what they are to learn and how they will demonstrate their learning, direct teaching of basic skills or strategies in small steps, clear presentation of new concepts, guided and independent practice, active engagement of students, constant monitoring of student performance and intensive feedback.
I think the best way to illustrate explicit teaching of receptive language activities is with an example. Let’s say you want to work on following directions, specifically, with prepositional concepts next to, under, and above. I will describe how you can explicitly teach these concepts while doing an activity I call “The Shape Game.” Materials required for this very simple game and instructions are available for free on my TpT store. Using paper or cardstock colored shapes (laminate for durability), you and your students take turns listening to instructions to place shapes next to, under, or above other shapes and giving instructions. I use the tokens and spinner from Grammar Gumballs to award tokens for each turn, but you could use any die, spinner, or points system you’d like.
Explicit Instruction of Receptive Language Example – The Shape Game
- Step One: Making clear to students what they are to learn and how they will demonstrate their learning: “Today we are going to work on listening and following directions. We are going to play the shape game. We are going to practice understanding and using words like next to, under, and on top. You will show me that you understand these words by following directions and giving directions using those words.”
- Direct Teaching of Basic Skills or Strategies in Small Steps: “Let me show you. If I said put the square UNDER the circle, I would put it here. If I said put the square NEXT TO the circle, I would put it here. If I said put the square ON TOP of the circle, I would put it here.” Demonstrate one more time. Provide verbal and visual cues as needed to ensure active engagement of student throughout teaching (What should I do next? Under or on top? Eyes over here. Show me that you’re listening, etc)
- Clear Presentation of New Concepts: The shape game has the potential to practice increasingly complex directions. For example, you might use differently colored shapes, shapes of different sizes, or shapes with different designs on them, or you might provide 2-step directions each turn. Here are a few examples of instructions you might use in the game:
- Put the square next to the circle.
- Put the red square next to the blue circle.
- Put the small, red square next to the big, blue circle.
- Put the small, red, striped square next to the big, blue, spotted circle.
- First put the (small) (red) (striped) square next to the (big) (blue) (spotted) circle, then put the (small) (green) (spotted) triangle under the (big) (yellow) (striped) rectangle.
- When teaching a new concept, it is important to provide the most basic examples first. Otherwise, your student may become distracted or overwhelmed by other auditory and linguistic information and miss the key terms or concepts you are targeting. If you want to teach the word “next to,” use instruction #1. After the student has mastered information at this level, you can gradually increase the complexity.
- Guided and Independent Practice: “Now it’s your turn to try. Put the square under the circle. Great job! Now, put the square next to the circle. That’s right. Now, put the square on top of the circle. Very good. Now we’re ready to play the shape game!” Guide the student through as many trials as necessary until they are successful. Take turns giving and following instructions (collecting tokens each turn if you’d like). For additional practice, send a copy of the game and instructions home with the student and provide a copy for the classroom teacher to incorporate into centers, choice time, etc.
- Active Engagement of Students: Some days, this is much harder than others. There are many ways to keep students engaged – fun activities and game play, changing up activities frequently, frequent movement breaks, incorporating movement into activities, sensory friendly atmosphere with limited distractions, rapport between student and teacher, teaching intrinsic motivation, and good old-fashioned external motivation.
- Constant Monitoring of Student Performance and Intensive Feedback: It is so important to correct student errors and model the accurate behavior while providing positive, but accurate feedback. I’ve seen educators ignore student mistakes before because they fear they will discourage the student or damage their self-esteem. There are absolutely times when ignoring an error is appropriate, but when you are trying to explicitly teach a concept, it is critical that you provide corrective feedback. You might say “Nice try, but thats not the right spot. NEXT TO the circle is right here. Here, you try. Put the square NEXT to the circle” (while pointing to the correct spot). If your students struggle with making mistakes, provide lots of verbal encouragement. You can make mistakes and see if your students can catch it. Not only is this a great way for them to broaden their mastery of the skills you are practicing, but it gives you the opportunity to model how to handle making a mistake.
- I’d like to add one more step to explicit teaching not mentioned in the description provided by MUSEC – Facilitate generalization and carryover: The shape game is one example of drill practice masqueraded as game-play, and we all know that far too often, a student demonstrates a skill beautifully in our little speech rooms and seems to completely forget what they’ve learned as soon as they walk out the door. Communication with parents and teachers is one huge way we can facilitate generalization and carryover. I like to create reminders of what students are working on with examples of ways parents and teachers can support learning. For receptive language skills, I’ll usually provide materials to play games and practice skills and encourage parents and teachers to model terms frequently. Even just mentioning the skill in the classroom or at home can help (Johnny, Mrs. Penrod told me you’ve been learning about the words next to, under, and on top! Listen to these directions and show me what you’ve learned…) Another important way we can support generalization is to practice skills in authentic contexts. For prepositions, you could join your student in class during clean up and ask them to put things away using their targeted prepositions – put the pencil next to your notebook, put the scissors on top of your book, put your pencil box under your chair, etc. Providing authentic practice of skills is so important for students to master new concepts – they can’t be expected to learn entirely from drills and game play.
Accommodations and Modifications for Students in the Classroom
If a student on your caseload has difficulty following directions, here are some accommodations and modifications you can recommend:
- Provide directions visually – in writing for students with literacy skills or with pictures for non-readers
- Break projects and assignments into smaller steps
- Modify the length of projects and assignments
- Ask student to repeat directions back to you to insure understanding
- Simplify language in instructions
- Frequently check for understanding
- Allow group/partner work
- Alternative seating (close to teacher and/or quiet work space to limit distractions)
And now, without further adieu, here are my favorite resources and activities for receptive language skills:
FREE Resources and Materials
- The Shape Game
- Granny Says! Following Directions Freebie
- Fishy Following Directions
- Following Directions Farm
- Thanksgiving Following Directions Freebie
- Move Over Rover! Following Directions Freebie
- Flip it! A Back to School Themed Following Directions Freebie
Search for “following directions” on TpT for many, many more great resources!
- Roll & Play – I like the directions cards in this game because they have pictures. I incorporate these cards into lots of activities and don’t necessarily play the game according to the rules.
- Ring Bling by Super Duper
- Obstacle courses
- Clean up
- Pretend play – doll house, play kitchen, cars, zoo, etc. Lots of opportunities to follow directions! Put the baby doll next to the puppy, put the elephant under the tree, put the pizza on top of the stove, etc.
- Simon Says
- I Spy – I spy with my little eye something under the table, next to the window, on top of the bookshelf, etc
Additional Resources and Materials
- Super Duper Following Directions Fun Deck
- No Glamour Following Directions
- Following Auditory Directions – Tip: place pages in plastic page protector and have students use expo markers to save paper and printing costs!
- The Processing Program – Two books – level 1, and level 2/3
- From my TpT Store – All receptive language materials now 20%! Sale ends 7/25/16.
What are your favorite following directions games, resources, and activities?
Thanks for reading!