230: 10 Things I Wished I Knew When I Started Working with Older Speech Students

Show Notes:

In this episode, we’ll talk about my personal journey and the valuable lessons I learned when I first started working with older speech students. From understanding the pivotal role of language comprehension in reading success to the game-changing power of building genuine rapport,  join me as I share my secrets to successfully working with older speech students and revolutionizing your approach with the knowledge I wish I had from the start.

Here’s what we learned:

  • Using materials that match students' independent reading levels rather than their grade levels.
  • How to boost students' confidence by initially removing the reading barrier.
  • Guidance on when to continue speech therapy versus allowing students to participate in their regular classroom environment.
  • The superiority of fostering intrinsic motivation over-relying on external rewards such as prize bins.
  • Effective methods for teaching unfamiliar vocabulary and the balance between using games for engagement while ensuring educational value.


Learn more about Hallie Sherman  and SLP Elevate: 

💜 Speech Time Fun

🎧 Check out the Secondary Secret Podcast here!


Q: What time is it when the clock strikes 13?

A: Time to get a new clock.

Where We Can Connect: 

Subscribe to the Podcast

Follow Hallie on Instagram 

Follow Hallie on Facebook

Follow Hallie on Pinterest

Subscribe & Review on Apple Podcasts

Are you subscribed to the podcast? If you’re not, I want to encourage you to subscribe today so you don’t miss any future episodes! I already have so many amazing guests and topics lined up, I would hate for you to miss a single one!  Click here to subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

Could I ask a big favor? If you are loving the podcast, I would LOVE it if you would leave me a review on Apple Podcasts. I read each and every review. Plus, you get to pay it forward because it will allow other teachers like you to find the podcast! Wondering how to leave a review? Click here to review, then select “Ratings and Reviews” and “Write a Review”. So easy and so appreciated! 

Do you have a question you would like me to answer on the podcast?




00:01:58 Hallie: Welcome to SLP Coffee Talk, the podcast designed exclusively for speech language pathologists who work with older students, grades 4 through 12. I am your host, Hallie Sherman, your SLP behind Speech Time Fun, the Speech Retreat Conference, and the SLP Elevate Membership. And I'm thrilled to bring you conversations, strategies, and insights that will give you the jolt of inspiration that you need. Whether you're tuning in during your morning commute, on a break in between sessions or even during a well-deserved relaxation time. I am here for you each and every week. Let's do this SLPs.

00:02:38 Hallie: Hey, hey, and welcome to another episode of SLP Coffee Talk. When I first started, I had no idea what I was doing. I was thrown into this age group, zero training, and no one to ask for help. And I was just trusted to do a good job. I inherited goals, and I just found whatever I could to find what to work on. And I had no idea why we were even working on them, how it was relevant or how to even teach it. And I made a lot of mistakes. And I decided to do an entire episode here, sharing what I wished I knew when I first started. 

00:03:20 Hallie: Maybe you are just graduating or switching to working with this age group, middle school, high school, upper elementary. Maybe just work, gonna be starting to work in the schools and you just found this podcast. Or maybe you can just relate because you wished you knew these things too. Maybe you can learn something new from learning from the mistakes I've made. Whatever it is, I hope you can find this episode helpful. And if you do, please share it with friends. 

00:03:46 Hallie: All right, so the 10 things I wish I knew when I started working with older speech students. Number one, language comprehension is essential for reading success. I wish I understood language's role in reading and how I can help support it. If you Google Scarborough Reading Rope, you will see different components of language that goes into reading, such as genres, vocabulary, background knowledge, reasoning, all that fun stuff. And we, as SLPs, are the language expert. We can contribute and make such an impact on our students and their reading success and academic success. 

00:04:29 Hallie: Our students with language impairments are behind in reading, and we can assist. And that is how we are relevant and can do relevant activities and make a difference. This is how we can impact the curriculum without actually having to use the curriculum. I know we often wonder how can we have carryover? How can we, you know, show the students how what we're doing in the speech closet can help them outside of the speech closet. But by us understanding the language's impact on reading and being able to even share that with our students, show them the Scarborough Reading Room if they are questioning why they are there. The more we understand, the more easier it will be for us to allay that to our students. 

00:05:10 Hallie: All right, number two. Rapport is more important than data. Our students need to trust us. We need to take the time to get to know them and let them get to know us. And this is more than just those back to school time, you know, all about me, icebreaker type activities. Taking the time, a few minutes at the beginning of each session or the beginning of the week, checking in with them. How are they doing? What did they do over the weekend? How can I support you? Just showing them that you care and you're listening and not just asking just to like check a box off. The more they feel comfortable with us, the more willing they will be to take risks, make mistakes and ask for help, which is essential for their progress. Okay?

00:05:59 Hallie: And number three, don't just use their grade level the materials for grade level. Most of our students are reading way behind grade level. Remember I said, language has a big impact on reading success. If we keep bringing in materials that are just at their grade level, it will be too challenging and they will avoid it or shut down. We need to use material at their independent reading levels, which means levels that they can decode on their own without support. 

00:06:39 Hallie: And also, a lot of the reading levels indicative of how they can comprehend what they're reading on their own. So the more we do use at their independent level, again, what they can do on their own, they can feel more confident to work on these comprehension goals, which is what they need to improve upon their reading levels. We can even take the reading piece out to work on comprehension. We can use pictures. We can use cartoons. We can use comics. We can use YouTube videos. Let's give them a quick win.

00:07:03 Hallie: Build their confidence and show them that they can do it. Learning can be fun and that they can be successful. So when we take the reading piece out, something that they might be avoidant of, fearful of, embarrassed about. Show them how they can do these language skills. Show them they can do it and then bring the reading piece back in, okay? Show them the how and then also show them why we are doing what we are doing. All right? 

00:07:30 Hallie: Number four. We need to explicitly teach them these skills. They've been exposed to these concepts in the classroom, and probably by reading specialists, let's be real, they're probably getting some other support other than us, especially when they're working with older students. And it isn't sticking. We can't just do the same things over and over again and expect different results. We're just practicing the same skill and not showing them how. They're gonna get frustrated and they're not gonna wanna work with us.

00:08:02 Hallie: We need to try graphic organizers, chunking of information, sentence starters, and even modeling our thinking about our thinking and giving them that conversation script on what to think. Internal dialogue is still language and we can model that for our students. We can need to teach them how to prompt themselves and check for understanding. Modeling and repetition is key. We need to show them how to note take and had to listen for keywords. 

00:08:32 Hallie: We can't just say to do it and expect them to be successful. Because someone we have to assume, I know when you assume, you know, what that means, but we have to assume, they've been exposed to this stuff and it's not sticking. So then what? How can we come in without having a curriculum or a scope and sequence telling us what to teach? We can stop and stay where our students are struggling and figure out why are they struggling? What support and how many modifications and strategies can we implement, knowing their strengths to help them support their weaknesses. 

00:09:09 Hallie: All right, number five. Students can learn from each other, so why not let them all listen as we work together in mixed groups? If you are working one-on-one in a group, they aren't benefiting from each other and they aren't engaging. The articulation students could be language models. The language students can all benefit from hearing what others are working on since they all need those skills. They can benefit from learning that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. 

00:09:40 Hallie: And if you want to learn more about this, I have an entire free mini course all about working with mixed groups. So feel free to send me an Instagram DM with the word mini, and I'll give you access to my entire free mini course, it's like 15 minutes long, all about how to not work one-on-one with students in a group and how to have them all working together using one activity.

00:10:00 Hallie: All right, number six. Just because every student can benefit from working with us doesn't mean they all need to. This was a hard one to learn. We need to be okay with letting them go. If they aren't motivated or not bothered by their articulation errors, it is more beneficial for them to stay in the classroom. If there isn't an academic or social impact, stay in the classroom. Just because the teacher or parent wants it doesn't mean they qualify it or warrant it.

00:10:30 Hallie: We get to be the advocate for our students. If they aren't seeing an issue, they aren't going to be motivated and can bring the rest of the students down in their group that really truly need to be there. They may hog the attention. If it could be addressed with simple modifications from the teacher, let the teacher do it and keep them in the classroom. We need to be able to have those tough conversations, and I know it's not easy.

00:10:57 Hallie: We need to know what's in our students' best interests, and we need to fight for them. If you cannot figure out what goals to work on because they've mastered them and they already are showing progress and carrying it over into the classroom, no need to pick a random goal. Let them stay in the classroom. Remember, it is all about least restrictive environment. 

00:11:17 Hallie: All right, number seven. Random word lists aren't beneficial. We can't teach every vocabulary word. We need to teach them strategies on what to do and what they should do when they come across a word they don't know. Also, do they need to define random vocabulary words? Or is it more beneficial to get to the meaning so you can understand, get the gist of a message or a text they are reading? So if we stick to random word lists, what will they do if they come across a different word? If we're only helping them teach the vocabulary of the classroom curriculum? 

00:11:53 Hallie: When they get to a new topic or unit, well, they know what to do. We need to teach them strategies so when they come across words they don't know, they have a way to be successful when we are not there. And that is why I'm anti-random wordless or goals that say the student will learn ten new vocabularies this year or 20 new vocabulary. Like, how do you come up with which word? Maybe it's more beneficial that the student will utilize context clues to determine meanings of words that they don't know. 

00:12:24 Hallie: All right, number eight. It doesn't always have to be games to have fun. We can play games all the time, but do we have to? Sometimes we do need to do things differently. I like to keep my students on their toes. When they come into my room, they don't know if we're gonna play a game or not, but they know they're always gonna have fun, and they're always gonna feel successful and feel safe there. We can still make it fun. You can turn using a worksheet into a game. Get dice, a spinner, they get earn points for getting things right. 

00:12:57 Hallie: Using their interests also makes it interesting and motivating. So we might be just doing a reading task, but if we're reading about TikTok or YouTube, that's fun. Let them work together to achieve a task. There are a lot of free project-based learning type activities out there. I also have my teachers bay teacher store a whole resource on using magic tricks or science experiments. Change things up. Let them have some free time at the end of a session. Simple tweaks can yield big results without requiring a ton of prep. 

00:13:30 Hallie: All right, number nine, prize bins aren't necessary. And I've done it all. Prizes, I've done where they had earned speech dollars and by the end of, if they got ten sessions, they got a prize. And I found myself being a detective because they kept stealing money from each other. And I was defending… When students didn't earn their dollars, they were fighting me, they wanted their prize, and I was constantly replenishing the prizes because with a large caseload these prizes went quick. 

00:13:50 Hallie: And then teachers were angry because the students were distracted by the prizes that they got from me when they came back to the classroom. So it was taking a little too long to give these dollars and to give the prizes, and I found that it was not really getting me the results I wanted anyway. After a while I threw out the prize bin, threw out the speech dollars.

00:14:19 Hallie: And I found that when I just used student interests and made activities fun, and got them those quick wins and showed them that they can be successful because I was using resources at their reading level, it built their intrinsic motivation. And I didn't ask for prizes anymore. They stopped expecting it. Even if they came from a previous SLP that did do prizes, they weren't asking for it after like the first week.

00:14:45 Hallie: And research also does show that the more students are intrinsically motivated, the more progress they will make. So taking it from me, it's really okay. After like a week or so of them wondering where the prize minute is, they will get over it if you do other simple tweaks to keep them motivated. 

00:15:022 Hallie: And last but not least, reminders to yourself often. If you have fun, your students will too. Don't take yourself too seriously. If you are bored, your students will be too. Some lessons won't go as planned, but you just need to shake it off and move on. Your students won't know or care that it didn't go as planned. Be flexible and willing to pivot if things aren't going smoothly. You are the language expert, but don't be afraid to ask for help or be a lifelong learner. 

00:15:35 Hallie: I am here to share what has worked with me and gotten you along the way. If you're new to this podcast, keep tuning into this podcast that always keep learning and growing. And you can always go back to the 200 plus episodes that I have here for you on various guest speakers on various topics that you may be interested in AAC, just all language learning, sensory processing, apraxia, all that fun stuff.

00:15:59 Hallie: And I also have tons of trainings and support inside SLP Elevate if you're wanting to dive deeper into learning more on how to be the best SLP for your secondary speech students. All you gotta do is head to slpelevate.com to learn more of how you can join the only membership out there exclusively for SLPs working with secondary students. Great support through 12. So I hope you found this episode helpful. Maybe you learned something new. Maybe you've made these mistakes before, or maybe I prevented you from making them in the future.

00:16:27 Hallie: If you know someone who's gonna be starting to work with secondary students, share this episode with them. Maybe just listen to it again. Maybe put this on a favorites playlist so that every once in a while you just refresh your memory on some of these tips so that you can see students make massive progress and have a lot of fun and you have a lot of fun while doing it too. 

00:16:49 Hallie: Alright, I always end my episodes with a joke. Jokes are fun and builds rapport. You can use these with your students as they're walking into the room. What time is it when the clock strikes 13? Time to get a new clock. All right, everyone, until next week, stay out of trouble.

00:17:16 Hallie: Thanks so much for tuning in to another episode of SLP Coffee Talk. It means the world to me that you're tuning in each and every week and getting the jolt of inspiration you need. You can find all of the links and information mentioned in this episode at my website, speechtimefun.com. Don't forget to follow the show so you don't miss any future episodes. And while you're there… it would mean the world to me if you would take a few seconds and leave me an honest review. See you next week with another episode full of fun and inspiration from one SLP to another. Have fun, guys!