Top 10 Oscar Moments 2016


Happy Oscars! Whether you watched last night or you went to bed early, everyone is buzzing about the Academy Awards today. Our students shouldn’t be left out of the fun! Be aware that this activity is most appropriate for high school-aged students and older. There are some sensitive topics, like racism and sexual assault.

Use the embedded Playlist to follow along with some of the top moments of this year’s show and record answers on the downloadable worksheets (click below). One weird thing… The movie ‘Spotlight’ is listed as a ‘Who.’ Just don’t tell your SLP and we will be fine.

Download the worksheet here: Oscars 2016

And enjoy the corresponding videos below:



Finding the intersection between interest, ability, and autism!


I have been repeating the ‘presume competence’ mantra all year and, as a result, I have been working to create lessons that are:

  1. high interest
  2. relevant to the student
  3. accessible to the student
  4. age-appropriate
  5. related to the general education curriculum (adapted from books/materials/topic that the general education classes use or addresses an essential element of the standards)

This is not easy. It takes a lot of creativity, time and effort to develop meaningful lessons that meet the criteria. Sometimes I can’t meet all of the criteria, but I think students benefit from the attempt even if I fall a bit short.

One of my students this year is both very smart and very autistic. He doesn’t perform well with academic or communication tasks unless he is motivated and interested in the material. I allowed him to choose a book to study out of a field of 5-6 high interest teen novels. He chose J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I have been working to develop visuals/summaries for the student to use alongside the book, along with worksheets that target the student’s IEP goals. I will include examples of both to download below. The student listens to the book using Learning Ally while following along with the text. Occasionally, I will read a chapter to him. I also supplement the chapters with clips from the movie.

hp ch 2

Sample summary, including spelling/AAC words and visuals of the characters.

I have been pleased with the student’s reactions to the novel study so far. He continues to show interest in the book–if he sees me working on the summaries or worksheets, he will often pace behind me to monitor what I am doing!

If you would like to include adapted books in your curriculum for students with disabilities, you don’t have to recreate the wheel like I am doing. There are websites available that offer adapted books in a variety of formats. One such website is through the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities and can be found here: . Make sure you preview the books before you assign them, since some are better than others.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

HP worksheets

HP summary

Happy Holidays!


Happy Holidays, everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad, Happy Festivus, Happy New Year and Super Solstice! I haven’t written as much as I would have liked this semester due to a variety of (good) reasons, but I do want to share the way we wrote a class holiday letter!

First, I had everyone in the class complete an ‘About Me’ page… and I mean everyone! I had students, peers, and classroom staff complete them. I offered picture supported choices for students who needed the extra help, but others I only handed the template to.

After we completed the sheets, each student presented theirs to the class. We simplified some of the sentences for students who use AAC devices. For example, ‘One holiday tradition my family has…’ became ‘My family…’.

Lastly, I typed everyone’s blurb up and added it to a holiday letter! I wrote a little blurb and added a picture in the middle to tie it together. I am happy with how it turned out and I am glad that everyone was able to participate!

Holiday letter



Thanksgiving Wh- Sort


Gobble Gobble!

It has been a while, so I thought I’d post a quick activity that I created for Thanksgiving. Many students cover the Thanksgiving story annually since early childhood. I didn’t want them to do a Thanksgiving craft since a) I’m not very crafty and b) turkeys made from high schoolers’ handprints aren’t as charming as tiny ones. Instead, I used Boardmaker to create a simple sort of Thanksgiving words.

I recommend reading a book about Thanksgiving before you have students work on the sort. We read Thanksgiving, by Lynn Peppas using the Epic app on Google Chrome.

Feel free to laminate and create a file folder activity you can use for years to come, or have students cut & glue so they have something to take home!

Download the PDF here: Thanksgiving Wh sort

Familiarizing Students (and Staff! And Parents!) With a Core Vocabulary


I wanted to share some simple worksheets I created for students, staff, and parents to familiarize themselves a bit more with the core vocabulary on the students’ AAC devices. I recently had parent-teacher conferences and, with most of my students using AAC, I stressed that the student needs to use the device at home as well as at school.

After the parents protested by explaining that they didn’t need to use it at home because they can understand the student without it, I emphasized the importance of preparing them for the adult service world and that the student had the right to be understood by more people! I also appealed to the parents’ hearts, explaining that I knew without a doubt that all of the students had more to say than they were currently able to with their vocalizations and/or devices. We can all improve!

After hearing that, all parents agreed that they need to incorporate the AAC device more at home. The biggest concern, however, was that the parent had no idea how to use the device or where anything was. I had one parent explain that when he is trying to show his son where an item is, he always just opened the keyboard and typed the word out. This was frustrating to the student, who had poor spelling ability, and prevented the parent from learning to navigate the vocabulary.

I showed the parents the ‘Find Word’ feature that is available in many of the WordPower vocabularies and also assured the parents that you need to learn how the vocabularies are set up and, when you get the gist of the organization method, it will get a lot easier!

I do a lot of activities in the classroom to help students and staff better know their way around their core vocabularies. These activities cannot stand in isolation—students will also need to be explicitly taught through modeling and other structured activities what the words mean and how to use them functionally. However, they do meet the goal of helping people learn where to find words quickly and how the system is organized. Whenever I complete activities like these in the classroom, I send them home as “homework” for parents to complete as well!

AAC grammar hunt 1 AAC scavenger hunt 1

These worksheets are organized as scavenger hunts. The first scavenger hunt is focused on categories and the second is focused more on simple grammar. You can download the worksheets in PDF format here: AAC scavenger hunts

Happy hunting!

Classroom Environment for Students with Autism and Other Low-Incidence Disabilities Part Two: One Year Later


New school year, new students, new goals. My classroom structure and schedule has changed this year as students and their needs change. I often stop and reflect on what I am doing: Am I maintaining the status quo because it is easier and within my comfort zone, or am I maintaining the status quo because it continues to meet student needs?

When I asked myself that question as I set up for the year, I realized that maintaining the status quo in its entirety would be entirely for the benefit of my assistants and me. I decided to make some changes in order to better meet student needs.

The primary reason that I made the changes that I will describe is that I am reacting to an influx of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) users. To meet their communication and literacy goals, I have to incorporate many more language exercises. I have tried my best to strike a balance between independence and providing adequate communication opportunities. Social group activities have also been incorporated in order to teach and practice social skills and social communication.

Another reason for the change is that my school started a Digital Learning Initiative. Each student in the building received a Chromebook and I wanted to incorporate the technology meaningfully for my students.

Morning Meeting:

In order to facilitate communication and practice conversational turn-taking, we have a morning meeting at the beginning of each school day.

morning meeting

We start with a turn-taking conversational exchange. I started doing a new question each day, but it quickly became obvious that we needed much more repetition. Now we are practicing the same question for an entire week. This gives us an opportunity to practice other skills that are relevant to appropriate conversation, such as facing your communication partner and using appropriate volume.

Next, each student ‘checks in.’ We are currently using a version of the Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers. Each student and staff member ‘checks in’ by describing how they are feeling and what “zone” they are in. Staff members model that we are not always in the “green zone” and that is A-OK by placing themselves in other zones and describing why they are feeling that way.

After we check in, we discuss any special activities that are happening that day. These can include students who are going to an off-campus job, community trips, holidays, student or staff special family events, etc. We usually have at least 3-4 ‘special’ things happening on a daily basis. Students are encouraged to share their own news using their devices through sentence starters.


Schedules look a lot different this year. All students are currently using a checklist-style homeroom schedule to navigate their homeroom activities. Homeroom activities include Chromebook tasks such as typing personal information into Google Forms or spending time on a website working on academic skills.

homeroom checklist update

Most students access their daily activity schedule on their Chromebook. Some students type their own schedule using the application Wunderlist. Non-readers use the extension Read & Write by Google to read the next activity to them.

Wunderlist screen shot

Other students access their schedules on The idea of this website is great, but there are some glitches on the Chromebook. If the student closes the lid or the Chromebook goes to ‘sleep,’ then the student needs to log in all over again the schedule starts all the way back at the top. That being said, it is still the best web-based picture scheduler that I have found up to this point. Students are able to manipulate it independently when it is working well!

go vizzle schedule screenshot

Off-Campus Jobs

In previous years, I have added off-campus jobs on to students’ daily schedules. This year, I left them off and instead I am discussing them during the ‘anything special’ portion of Homeroom. I am also assigning a time to those activities. This way, students practice being mindful of the actual time on the clock (or period in the school day) rather than simply following the sequence of activities on their schedule. This also gives me more freedom throughout the day to let one activity go long or cut another one short without it throwing off the schedule of students who have several time-dependent activities.

It also gives students practice with leaving activities in the middle when necessary. Some students with autism find it very difficult to disengage from something they are working on without completing it. Unfortunately, however, this is a fact of life! Practicing this every once in a while will help the student cope with these unavoidable schedule changes.

Afternoon Meeting

At the end of the day, we come together again for our afternoon meeting. Students complete the Daily Buzz sheet from the core materials on the Unique Learning System. This sheet includes cloze sentences for what the student ate for lunch, jobs the student accomplished, and how the day was overall. It also gives students the opportunity to use describing activities to rate different parts of their day.

After the Daily Buzz sheet, we discuss how each student did using the Class Dojo. We discuss different pro-social and anti-social behaviors that we saw during the day, emphasizing the positives.

class dojo screen shot

If a student has had an especially wonderful day, I offer them a treat. If the whole class has done well, then we play a favorite dance song and have a dance party!

More Communication and Social Activities!

Another change has been a major increase in communication and social group activities! We have been doing AAC scavenger hunts, playing Tic Tac Talk, practicing core words and lots more to help our AAC users develop their communication skills. I am hoping to focus on these activities in another post. If you want to check out some activities right now, I recommend the blog over at . Their blog is amazing!

Like what you see? Comments, questions, or suggestions? Leave them in a comment!

Miss Part One? Check it out here.

My Favorite Free Chromebook Apps and Extensions for the Special Education Classroom


Because my self-contained special education classroom is located within one of the highest-performing high schools in the state, I am sometimes afforded unique opportunities. This year, my school is participating in a Digital Learning Initiative and, as a result, each of my student has been issued a Chromebook.

At first, there was some discussion about whether  students with the most significant disabilities would be included in the initiative. Actually, discussion isn’t the best descriptor…the truth is, no one seemed to know what was supposed to happen with those students. Obviously, our students with disabilities might not be able to take full advantage of the benefits of the Chromebook. Some commented that they wouldn’t be able to use them independently and another device, such as an iPad, might be more appropriate.

In the end, the decision was made through inaction. All students were to receive a device at registration and so each of my students has a Chromebook for this year.

We have been in session for less than a month, but here are some of my favorite (free!) apps/extensions for the Chrome browser so far.



YouTweak– YouTweak lets you personalize YouTube  to some extent. I use YouTweak to hide suggestions from the subscriptions page and redirect to the subscriptions page. Doing this allows me some limited control over what master-clickers have access to. This will NOT prevent typists from searching for their favorite videos, but it is great for trying to rein in those high school students who, on their own, would pass their time watching Teletubbies or Sesame Street. Instead, you can help them subscribe to some age-appropriate channels that they are also interested in. Some of our favorite subscriptions so far are The Slow-Mo Guys, Devin SuperTramp, and the oddly hypnotic drawings of Heather Rooney.


AdBlock (or AdBlock Plus)– AdBlock does exactly what it sounds like. It blocks some advertisements from loading on different websites. This allows websites to load more quickly and also limits distractions.It also reduces those problem areas on websites that, if you accidentally click on them, takes you to the advertisers’ site to make a purchase. This great for everyone (except the advertisers)!

play timer for kids

Playtimer for Kids – I. Love. This. Extension.! The Play-Timer for Kids is designed for parents to limit their kids’ screentime. I love it because I can assign a certain number of minutes on an educational website. For example, my students have Chromebook time each day during Homeroom. I can set the Play timer for ten minutes and it will play a relaxing chime sound and display a ‘Time’s Up!’ banner when the timer goes off. Easy to set and use!

read and write

Read & Write for Google – Teachers get a free premium subscription to Read & Write for Google, but students can also access some of the great features of this extension. After their free 30-day trial of Read & Write, students can continue to have most websites read aloud to them. Although some sites can be kind of glitchy, it should work wherever you see the purple puzzle piece.


budget happy

Budget Happy– Budget Happy is a website that students can use to track how much money they have. My students often have goals to manage a small personal budget and this allows students with cognitive disabilities to do so fairly easily. You can make this as complex or as simple as you would like by adding envelopes with different amounts of money.

Budget Happy screen shot

I typically have students use two envelopes–one practice and one for their community money–and then they can use their receipts when we return from community trips to enter in the amount spent.


Wunderlist- Wunderlist is an amazingly easy app that readers can use to manage a daily schedule. I have ‘master schedules’ laminated for each day of the week, and each morning students can type in each item on their to-do list. Make sure you change the settings so each item gets added to the bottom of the list rather than the top as you type it in. As students finish each item on their list, they click the checkbox and get rewarded with a satisfying ding! I have yet to find a scheduler for non-readers that I like as well.

That’s all for now! I’m sure I will discover more and more useful apps/extensions as the year goes on.Remember, you can still take advantage of these apps and extensions even if you do not have Chromebooks. They should all work within the Chrome browser on any computer.