Tips for creating a classroom environment that PROMOTES communication {freebie}

Anyone in the special education world knows that it can sometimes be tough to motivate our kids to work and communicate. As sped, teachers, it's our job to create an environment that promotes communication for ALL of our kiddos (verbal and non-verbal).

1) Find something that each kid likes and run with it.
It might be the iPad, computer, stickers, helping with recycling, but whatever it is, use it as a reward and make students WORK FOR IT! I use a "I'm working for ____" board in my classroom. Students choose what they are working for and earn stars (you can use tokens, pennies, stickers, etc.) to earn the desired item. Some students have to earn 3-5 stars to earn the item, and others just need to earn 1 star. You can give students stars for following directions, completing a task, using the bathroom, or anything else the student is working on. The point of the board is for the student to be choosing what they're working for AND for them to have to work for that desired item. Students don't want to communicate to tell the teacher the day of the week or that the sky is blue. They want to communicate to tell their teacher that they want a snack, toy, or to go for a walk. Before you expect your students to communicate about academics, encourage them to communicate to obtain a desired object. This choice board is a great way for students to tell you what they want.

This is the "I want ____" or choice board that I use with a lot of my students. You can download it for free here, the download includes the board and two pages of choices kids can pick from. Just make sure you don't give them a choice that isn't an option in your classroom!

2) Keep the toys/ reinforcers out of sight/ put away so kids have to communicate to get them!
The light table is super exciting for our kiddos. Instead of leaving the tubs of materials out and letting the kiddos just grab the tubs, I made a clipboard with pictures of the options and hung it by the light table. If students want to play with a specific light table tub, they have to communicate with staff (by pointing at a card, bringing the card to a staff member or verbally saying it).

This is another free-time area in our classroom. All of the super motivating toys (trains, cars, pins, puzzles) are put away in a cabinet and there are picture cards velcroed on the bookshelf for students to make requests.

Note: For some students, it can turn into a problem to have pictures of reinforcers everywhere... I had a kiddo last year who wanted to request trains all day long so we would have to remove the picture card from the bookshelf anytime trains weren't an option.

3) Make sure you have a procedure in place for students to request functional things like drinks, bathroom, and taking a walk. 
Put communication cards by the door so students can make requests like bathroom and going for a walk. I use the "go" card with a kiddo to request going for a walk to reduce his running/ eloping behaviors. It's been a huge help! The Ike (dog) card is used by another kiddo who requests taking the dog outside to go to the bathroom as her break.

We add picture cards to our classroom fridge so students can request drinks (juice, water, milk). *Make sure you only have drink options on the fridge if they are actually available! For example, if you are out of juice, take the juice card down because if a kiddo requests it and you don't have it, it could cause a big issue.

One of the most important things to remember is to have a variety of ways for kiddos to communicate (verbally, with pictures or objects, or with voice output devices). The most students communicate, the less problem behaviors you will see in your classroom!

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