Practically Free Low-Tech Tools for Pronunciation

Teachers of pronunciation can use these simple, inexpensive and effective tools when teaching.


Kazoo – One of the easiest tools to use when teaching rhythm and melody is the kazoo.  Do not blow into the kazoo.  The kazoo’s job is to amplify humming. By learning humming patterns and melodies, ESL students learn to make their rhythm closer to English rhythm. I got 72 kazoos for $6 at Oriental Trading Company, about $0.08 each.

Square of paper – Cut a small square of paper, about 2 inches x 2 inches.  Hold the paper square in front of your mouth to demonstrate the breath of air needed on sounds like TH, P, T and K, etc.  When said correctly, the paper will move away and down from your mouth then pop back up after the sound is made. Now students can “see” what previously was unseen.  Practically free, snipped from a piece of paper I had.

Rubber band – Use a size 64 rubberband stretched between the 2 thumbs.  Stretching the rubberband is a physical reminder to hold out the sound longer, or to go slower.  A thick rubber band is best so the student can’t stretch it too easily. A quarter-pound bag of size 64 rubber bands (about 70) at an office supply store is $2.79, or $0.05 each.

Hand Mirrors – Some students benefit from seeing what their mouths are doing when pronouncing English.  Cosmetic mirrors are compact and portable. Or buy at a drugstore for $3 – $5 each.

Hand to throat – Help your student understand voicing by having them touch their hand to the front of their neck.  Start saying “S” and change to a “Z” without breaking or stopping.  Your students will feel the vibration of their vocal chords. This sensory feedback can be very helpful.  Voicing is important when teaching -ed and -s endings. Free.

Whisper phone – A simple “phone” can be made from pvc pipe using two 3/4″ (inch) pvc elbows, and a 3 1/2 ”  (inch) straight pvc pipe section.  Students use the phone when they speak or read outloud.  It increases the sound of their voice in their ear (quiet voice or whispering is all they need) and students can hear small differences more easily (like the difference between “seat” and “sit”).  $5  at a hardware store for the parts to make 5 phones.

Click here for a free printable on Practically Free Low-Tech Tools for Pronunciation.

Picture Description Lesson 3

Working with ESL students, I often need something to show them, if we are going to practice speaking (oral expression) and listening (listening comprehension).

Often with beginning and intermediate students, their vocabulary is not large enough to have a conversation unless we use objects or pictures.  So describing photos is a very handy activity for oral expression.  And even advanced students benefit from picture description activities.TalkAbout

Below are some worksheets with photos, I made up for oral expression with my Skype students. The photos I located on the internet.  I will send the worksheet to my students by email ahead of their lesson time, and they had a chance to think about what they saw in the picture and how they could talk about it.  Then during their lesson they described what they saw in the picture.  Then I asked questions about what was in the pictures such as Who? What is happening? Where is this? etc.  I call these worksheets “Talk Abouts”   If you try them in class, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Talk About Worksheet 1 Dog-Cat

Talk About Worksheet 2 Kitchen-Music

Talk About worksheet 3 Lemonade-Puzzle

Talk About worksheet 4 Ride-Read


Social Stories Flip Book

SocialStoriesFlipBookMy son, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (high-functioning) in elementary school, has always had excellent verbal ability.  But although he talks well, he does not listen well.  He was also very poor at understanding and using social skills. Early on (in about the 3rd grade) I was using many techniques for social thinking that Michelle Garcia Winner outlines in her Social Thinking program.  Carol Gray’s Social Stories was working well at our house too.  My son never needed the pictures, he understood the stories that I wrote for him, to help him learn and use positive social behaviors. I began a personal social stories flip book for him.  I’d like to share with you how I did it, and the kinds of social stories I included in it. You’ll see photos below.

An exciting thing happened when I started collecting social stories, or social rules into a flip book.   I no longer had to talk to my son about things that we had gone over time and time again.  No more reviewing the rules outloud, which for an Autism Spectrum kid with good verbal skills was often and excessive!  Now I just wrote it into the flip book and showed him the page when I needed to.  

I think by writing these down, he could use another modality (reading rather than listening) to process the information and learn the behavior.  He was able to read the rules, think about them, and remember what to do so that eventually we didn’t need the book any more.  On occasion, I still have to write some things out for him to understand.

For his personal social stories flip book, I used a set of spiral-bound 4 x 6 index cards that I bought at an office supply store.

Here are some of the social stories (social rules) we used for around the house.  This one for good behavior after eating:


This one was used to help him learn about how to handle his dirty clothing:


When he asked me why he had to do chores, I wrote it down for him:


Staying organized for school work was pretty hard.  He lacked the executive skills or organization and planning. And if the project did not have a sample picture of what it looked like when finished, he struggled with “picturing” it.  For a long time he would forget to put his name on his school papers.  So we had another social rule for that:


Helping him understand that expectations increase as you grow older, this idea landed in the book too:


Writing social rules down also worked well with discussions about delicate subjects like swear words, that neurotypical kids seem to know instinctively, but our autism spectrum kids often need specific teaching here:


And my favorite, when he just would not stop talking.


Social Stories Flip BookSo there you have it.  That’s just a sampling from our social stories flip book.   If you try this with your kiddo, I’d love to hear how it goes!



Whisper Phones

whisper phonesI am always on the lookout for inexpensive tools to use in therapy. Part of my budget conscious desire comes from the fact that our ESL program is all-volunteer.  And our budget is infinitesimally small, so I need a small amount of money (my own)  to go a long way. Today I’m posting about easy-to-make and inexpensive “whisper phones” that can be used in speech and language therapy, or with ESL students when teaching pronunciation.

The “phones” are used by the student as they read or repeat.  They speak into one end, and hear their own voice magnified  in the other (if you do it, it’s pretty loud in your own ear, so you will naturally want to “whisper.”)

This amplification is helpful for students to “hear” how they sound.

Here’s how I made 5 phones:

PVC elbows and pipeI got a bag of ten 3/4″ (inch) 90 degree elbow PVC pieces (cost $3.49 at my local ACE Hardware) and a 2 foot 3/4″ (inch) straight PVC pipe ($1.29).  These are the kind of pipes used with plumbing, spinkler systems, furniture, fishing, nearly the most common product in the world and used in so many things!)  The come in 2 feet or longer and you will have to cut them up into 3 1/2 ” (inch) pieces.

At home my husband saw my little project and reminded me that we had leftover straight PVC pipe in the toolshed, so I didn’t even use the straight pipe I bought at ACE Hardware. (I’m gonna go get my money back on that one.) I just used the leftover PVC pipe we had.

My husband and son got out the hacksaw and cut five 3 1/2 ” (inch) straight pieces. Next they sanded the ends. It’s easier to assemble them once they’re sanded.  whisper phoneLast I pushed the elbows on each piece to make a “phone.” You could paint them, or cover with pretty duct tape, if you want.  I just left mine plain. I made 5 phones for $3.49. With sales tax, that comes to $0.75 per phone! So awesome!



Book Review “The Autistic Brain”

This week I’m reading a great book by Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science and a professor at Colorado State University. Her new book is “The Autistic Brain”.  ab2

Temple Grandin is an adult with autism.  She has written several books about her experience of having autism, and recently there was a movie made of her life, starring Clare Danes.

Her newest book addresses the sensory piece of autism, which I really appreciated.  Many students I work are so disregulated by their sensory experiences, that I have to work on their regulation first, before I work on their speech and language skills. However I have tried to treat these students without addressing their sensory needs, and we can’t get as much accomplished.

Much of her book outlines her idea that people with autism are either “Picture Thinkers”, or “Word-Fact Thinkers” or “Patterns Thinkers”

She also devotes a chapter to understanding that some some autistic people feel that have two selves – one self that thinks, and a different self that does. One autistic person reported that he “spun” (common behavior of autism)  since his arms and legs felt to him like they weren’t connected to his body, and spinning helped his body to feel connected.  This helps me to understand some of my students better.

I was very excited about the end chapter that focused on foundational social skills that students with autism really need, to get and hold a job, and live as an independent adult, if possible.  Grandin outlines the important skills parents and teacher need to teach their students.  These are:

  • Don’t  make excuses.
  • Play well with others.
  • Manage your emotions.
  • Mind your manners.
  • Sell your work, not yourself.
  • Use mentors.

I also appreciated three lists in the back of the book that Grandin suggests for the kinds of jobs would be good, for the 3 different thinkers.

Lastly the book has an AQ test (Autism Spectrum Quotient), that readers can take to see how their brains work compared to people diagnosed with Autism.

It’s really interesting and exciting to think about the scientific knowledge that is now available to back up the brain differences of neurotypical and autistic people.




How to Have Great Field Trips with Students with Autism

In our family we have experienced several terrible field trips. There was Christmas in the Park where he didn’t attend at all because the preschool felt they could not safely take him off of campus.  There was the Gizdich Apple Farm where he interacted with no one, and could not sit long enough to hear the little presentation about apples and cider-making. There was the Exploratorium where he could not manage the long car ride, the overstimulation of the museum, and he upset his peers and teacher because he did not seem to understand non-verbal communication (facial expressions and gestures).   By 2nd grade, I was pondering throwing in the towel and not having him do any more field trips. I began to realize that if we were going to have a successful field trip I needed more preparation for my son with autism spectrum disorder (high-functioning), to be able to tolerate and appreciate field trips.  Some things I researched, and some things I just had an intuition about.

Here are the TOP TEN THINGS that worked for us with FIELD TRIPS:

field tripAdvance warning – Whenever I got notice, I marked upcoming field trips on our family calendar. Our family uses a large calendar in a central area of the kitchen for all to see.

Calendar review – We had this ritual of reviewing the calendar at the beginning of each week,  usually Sunday night.  My son had a chance to ask questions, and I could show how many days, or  weeks to the event.  His perception of time passages was really poor, so this step helped to provide the support he needed.

Frontloading the activity – Ahead of each event, I had my son use his computer and look for pictures and websites of places that we would be going to.  This was an awesome step which was worth doing because my son is a visual thinking.  He would get to the place and say, “Hey mom that’s just like the picture I saw on the website.”  That one small thing helped him to know what to expect and not feel anxious.

field trip Intel MuseumCapitalize on his interests – If your student has a special interest that he may see or participate in on a field trip, do what you can to get him to that trip.  Kids with autism usually have limited interests, but a child who loves animals could have a great trip to the zoo or a student who loves computers would probably do well at the Intel Museum trip.  My son was into gemstones, and loved the 4th grade field trip to the state capitol and “gold-mining” at Sutter’s Mill.

Skip the bus – I, or my husband, drove him.  Yes, that means a big chunk of time out of my, or my husband’s day, but they were many things we could control to keep my son regulated – the familiarity of our own vehicle, climate control, noise abatement (Did you know the decibel level in a standard school bus with school kids going to a field trip is 60-65 dBs?)

Attend the field trip with him – I know this seems like a lot,  especially for parents who don’t have flexible work schedules, but this is a really important step.  No one knows your child as well as you.  You will be able to tell if the trip is going well, or if your child’s had enough.  You can encourage him to eat his lunch (no surprises, because you packed it) and watch out for other regulation issues.  When you’ve driven there in your own vehicle, you have an escape route that is open to you and your child, and you won’t have to rely on the prepared schedule or the school transportation.

Enlist the help of an understanding classmate – If you have the good fortune of having a sensitive classmate who could be his “buddy” during the trip, by all means do it.  Once we disclosed his diagnosis and his challenges to his classmates, several students came to me , thanked me for the information, and asked about how they could be a better friend to him.  Tap into these “friends” on field trips.

After the field trip, go directly home – Again if you’ve driven him there in your vehicle, you do not have to go back to school.  There is an advantage to not going back to school and just taking your child directly home.  Often these trips are fraught with unknowns, so if your child is inclined to get anxious and/or overstimulated, the sooner you get him home the better.  Be sure to OK this step with your child’s teacher ahead of time.

Provide decompression time and activities – Does your child need deep pressure or quiet?  After he gets home, support him with a nutritious snack (if he’ll eat it), and a place, and activities, that help regulate him.  My son would head for bed and asked for the heaviest blankets and pillows to be piled on top of him, then 20 minutes of quiet and he was completely regulated.

Debrief – After the trip, spend some time going over the things that worked well and the things that were troublesome.  Make a plan for the next time to take advantage of this information.

You can have great field trips with your child.  Just follow these simple ideas.

Pronouncing OO as in “look”

how to pronounce look

I’ll  like to talk about the OO sound as in “look”, “foot”  and “good”.  The IPA symbol for this sound is /ʊ/.  Words with this sound are commonly spelled with “oo”, but sometimes spelled with “ou” as in “would” or “u” as in “put”. Careful – many words with long U are also spelled with “oo” so you probably need to memorize these.

If you remember your phonics, the sound  OO, as in “look”, is not usually represented in traditional phonics teaching.   English teachers hope you’ll pick up this additional “o” sound without formally teaching it.  (Click here for my worksheet with 6 different O and OO sounds in English.)  It’s an uncommon sound in English, occurring only 1% of the time in conversation.

Here are some words with this sound:

put  foot  book  look  took  nook  cook  cookie  

good  could  would  should  pull  full  wool  wolf 

Listen to the OO words here.

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You can also try the minimal word pairs with contrasting the long U (as in “Luke”) with OO (as in “look”) .

Luke  –   look

pool   –  pull

shooed   –  should

kook   –  cook

Listen to the minimal pairs here.

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Practice contrasting the long U sound (as in “Luke”) with OO sound (as in “look”) using this printable minimal pairs worksheet.





Best Tips for Parenting a Child with Autism

aspergersI was not exposed to autism or other learning disabilities when I was growing up. I had a distant cousin with an intellectual disability, but most people I knew were neuro typical. Even in my training as a speech language pathologist, I only saw one child with autism, and he was low functioning and non-verbal.

I was certainly surprised to come to the realization that my own son was on the autism spectrum. His diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, a kind of high-functioning autism, came years ago in grade school, although we knew he was unique, and we knew he experienced the world in a different way, even earlier when he was in preschool.

While autism may not be what you expected, life often gives us things we are not expecting, or that we feel unprepared for. I’d like to share what I’ve learned in the last 15 years about parenting a child on the autism spectrum. It’s good advice to navigate the storms that you will experience raising a child with a disability.

Tips for Parenting a Child with Autism

Preparation is key.  The best days I have are often the ones I have prepared for.  Think ahead.  Plan out the day’s activities. Prep the night before with school lunches, homework etc. Get yourself and your child prepared for appointments using calendars, picture schedules or social stories. Rehearse activities. Get your supports in place. Don’t leave it to chance. Help your child know what activity is coming and when. Driving to school or appointments? Leave early and give yourself a buffer of time, in case of a meltdown.

flexFlexibility.  I can’t say enough about being flexible. If you try it one way and it brings a meltdown, change it up! Be prepared to leave the park early if your toddler is overwhelmed. Have a backup plan if your child isn’t able to handle the sensory stimulation of that birthday party or sleepover. Like the rubber band that s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s, so must YOU! I know we, as educators, try to teach flexibility to our students, but parents will benefit from learning to be flexible, too.

Expect the unexpected.  I found that when things are going along pretty well, I become discouraged when issues do happen, or a meltdown occurs. Rather than be upset when things get nutty, I tell myself to expect it. If my son has a meltdown, I am mentally prepared for it. And when things go well, it’s a pleasant surprise and a testimony that he is learning and doing better.

learnLearn from your failures.  Children with autism surprise us, and the things we thought would work (or that worked in the past) sometimes do not. When some sensory strategies didn’t work for our son, I was always ready to try new ones, till I found something that worked. I once heard the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!” This is very true. You must learn from your mistakes and try something new and different, to make the life you want with your child.

Tomorrow is another day.  When faced with a rough day or a failed activity, it’s important to remember that there’ll be another chance tomorrow. Take a moment to reflect on how things went and prepare a plan for next time. Getting a good night’s sleep for you (and your child) will make a big difference. It is an excellent idea to be well-rested any time. Stepping away from a problem can give you the clear head you need to think about it again and gain a fresh perspective.

valueYour child’s behavior is not the measure of YOUR worth. You are a valuable person. You have gifts and talents you use every day to make your children, your spouse and your family’s lives better. But you have value not because of what you do, and the effect you have on others, but simply because you are a human person,made in the image of God. Deeply loved and deeply valued by your creator. You will have an influence on your child’s life, but there will probably come a time when your child will make his own choices, and although they reflect on you, they do not make you the person you are. You are a valuable person. Do not ever forget this.

Tune up your friend “radar”.  Raising a child with autism/Aspergers, you will notice how friends fall away from you (it’s like they don’t want their child to catch what your son has). People from school, work, church, and your neighborhood will overlook you or exclude you. Most people with neuro typical kids will not understand your experience, be critical of your parenting skills and offer unhelpful advice. You must make new friends. Oftentimes parents of special needs children make friends with others who have children with disabilities. Look for compassionate, understanding people to surround yourself with.

celebrateCelebrate small accomplishments. My son struggled to learn how to tie his shoes. Thank God we had shoes with velcro straps for a long time. When he was 10 (in the 4th grade) he finally learned to tie his shoes using a video (Ian’s Knot). This was just a little thing, but I encourage you to think EVERY accomplishment is important and worth celebrating. Make sure you savor those moments! That feeling of joy is often the thing I try to call up at particularly stressful times in parenting my son.

Maintain a positive attitude. This one is near and dear to my heart. I see those parents who are so wonderfully positive with their kids, that even when they say no, it’s in such a pleasant and understanding way that being around them, and their children, is a delight! OK, well I am not one of those parents. Looking for the good and positive in situations has always been a little hard for me. I have to put some effort into it. But I can tell you this is one skill you will want to develop. As much as you can, try to maintain a positive attitude. And do this right away. If you can smile about things later, it’s possible you might be able to smile about them now.

havefunHave fun! Life has plenty of stress, and life with a child who has autism or other learning disabilities is more stressful than most. It very important to make sure you are taking time to have fun with your child, to laugh and feel joy. Be sure to find out the kinds of things he enjoys and make it a priority to have fun together. Our children remember the big (and little) things we do with them, and the attitude we have as we go through our daily lives. Give him happy times to remember.

Bullying vs. Kidding (Social Skills)

BullyingVSKiddingI’m working with a student, Martin, with autism who has a hard time telling the difference between “bullying” and “just kidding”.  He thinks every interaction is bullying to him, and since he has trouble understanding and appreciating non-verbal behavior he is missing cues that tell him some of these behaviors are just part of classroom fun and not designed to hurt him.  His extreme reaction to social behaviors that really are joking or fun (not harmful) is limiting his participation in his classroom.

Recently the teacher set his desk off to the side of the classroom, really kind of into the closet.  This is a good temporary solution to decrease interactions between him and his classmates, but I wanted to help Martin learn how to tell the difference between bullying and just kidding, so he would not have to be separated from them.  I made this worksheet with describing words and photos that illustrate the two ideas.

After teaching the worksheet I cut the pictures and sentences up, and had Martin go through each idea or picture, then glue it to a poster board with two columns, “Bullying” and “Just Kidding”.  He was able to do it.  By breaking these ideas into pieces, I could talk to him when the kids interacted with him, and help him see each action as one from his poster.

See the printable “Bullying vs. Just Kidding” worksheet here.