Efficiently Meeting Speech, Language, and Learning Goals and Celebrating Halloween!

  • October 15, 2007
  • Henriette Langdon

Prior to coming to the United States for graduate school in the late 1960’s the idea of Halloween, trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns, carving, eating, drawing pumpkins or decorating my house with various Halloween related artifacts was somewhat foreign to me. I knew about the holiday and celebrations from things I had read, but I had no experience with the American celebration.  Children in Mexico, where I grew up, did not wear costumes on Halloween. Instead, November 1 was designated as a celebration to pay tribute to all Saints and November 2 was a date to designate the remembrance of those who had passed. For these occasions, special bread was baked called “pan de muertos” (bread of the dead) and to dispel evil spirits, candy skeletons and skulls were made.

It is very difficult for anyone living in the United States to escape the sight of Halloween preparations beginning in October and sometimes even earlier. All are so prevalent in many public places including malls, supermarkets, drugstores, and of course, schools. Therefore, I have decided to capitalize on the popularity of Halloween to plan my speech and language therapy this month. But, I need to keep in mind that my speech and language goals should be curriculum-based so I need to go back and consider curricular standards listed for various academic areas for any specific grade. Please keep in mind that I am a very busy SLP with a caseload of 60 in two different schools. Needless to say, I don’t have too much time. Therefore, I have to get the “greatest mileage” of what I have in terms of ideas and materials to reach my students’ goals and objectives.

In my current setting, I will need a few materials such as various sizes of pumpkins, a trick or treat plastic pumpkin container, a puppet in the form of a witch, and one book that I have in both the Spanish and English versions:

“The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything” Linda Williams (1986)-Harper Collins Publishers and, its Spanish adaptation/translation of the same book by Yolanda Noda (1996) “La Viejecita Que No Le Tenía Miedo a Nada.”

The ideas that I am listing below are based on these two books, but you can carry out the activities with any book or materials. In planning the activities it is also important to remember that as SLPs we are responsible for enhancing our students’ reading and writing skills as stated in the ASHA (2000) document titled: “Roles and Responsibilities of Speech-Language Pathologists with Response to Reading and Writing in Children and Adolescents.”

Please keep in mind that the provided suggestions are only examples of what you might do to enhance connections between oral and written language development. Naturally, the activities will need to be modified depending on the goals and objectives set for a given student and his/her grade level. I realize that those of you who are reading this column may have varying degrees of experience, therefore, please do not get offended if these activities are too familiar to you. However, I never know!!

So, below are some ideas and I do invite you to write to me with more activities and comments:

1. To develop listening/ oral language comprehension skills:
  1. Read a couple of pages (at a time) of the book while you show the pictures. Then point to each word and ask some questions to assess comprehension. For example, “Who was not afraid of anything? – “What might she be afraid of? (before you turn the page) – “Why did the old lady leave her cottage?” – “Where is her cottage?”
  2. Show page three and ask students to tell you “How can they tell it is dark?”
  3. Reread the book and then stop at the end of a sentence. Request the student(s) to complete the sentence.
  4. Ask the students to clap each time they hear the phrase “old lady,” or the word “viejecita” as you read the story in either English or Spanish.
  5. Ask each student to take turns telling a fragment of the story using his or her own words. They can refer to the pictures to aid their recall of the story sequence. Write what each child says on butcher paper.
2. To develop articulation/phonological skills:
  1. Select specific words from the story depending on the single sounds or patterns you are working on with your students. For example, if you are working on /s/ clusters/ sequences, select practice words by emphasizing them as you read the story. Write the words on the board and have the students read them with you.
  2. Reviewing the words in the story offers students a chance to heighten their awareness of sequences where /s/ is included. For example, “stop” – “scared.” Utilize this opportunity to differentiate clusters or sequences of sounds and diagraphs as in shirt, shake, shoes, she, and shine.
  3. Request students to use those words when retelling the story you wrote on butcher paper.
  4. Ask each student to use the target words to form sentences. For example, one student might say: “School started at 9 o’clock” – “We stop recess at 10:30” – “A girl stumbled on one desk as she was leaving the classroom.” – “The little old lady got scared when she saw the pumpkin” – “In the story, the shirt went shake, shake” -. “The old lady lived in the forest” – “She went to look for spices” – “I want a sliver of melon.”
  5. Some students may benefit from a discussion regarding linguistic contrasts between Spanish and English. In Spanish, there are no initial or final /s/ sequences, and the /sh/ sound does not exist (except as a dialect variant in pronouncing the /s/ sound).In the Spanish text, examples of /s/ sequences include bosque, especias, espantosa, respirar, estuvo, estaba, hasta, asustar, and despierto,
  6. While reviewing each word, the SLP can discuss why a given word is a noun, verb, adjective or adverb in addition to stating the tense of verbs.

The SLP can focus on therapy goals that are specific to particular students while integrating all four skills at the same time: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. And, very importantly, the same materials can be used over and over.

The SLP’s art and skills consist in being able to adapt those materials to students of different ages, needs, and abilities. I will leave it to your imagination on how you may use the pumpkins of different sizes, the witch puppet and the trick-or-treat plastic container in shape of a pumpkin.

Hope to hear from you soon!
Happy Halloween

As always, I do welcome your comments.

Henriette W. Langdon, Ed.D., F-CCC-SLP
Communicative Disorders & Sciences
College of Education
San José State University
San José, CA 95192-0079
408-924-4019 voice
408-924-3641 fax


Gracias – Thank you.

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