A humorous and educational look at speech pathology.

Archive for April, 2012

Board Games and Speech Therapy: Hedbanz

Today’s game is a mass-market game that’s been through frequent reprinting and is probably the most frequently misspelled activity on my progress notes: HedBanz, currently published by Spin Master.

Variants/Expansions: It looks like most of the variants of this game are just republications under another name (Hedbanz for Kids, What’s Up, and What’s On My Head appear to all be the same game). It also looks there’s a version of the game for adults; this version contains more difficult concepts like “Tahiti”. In addition to the general game, there is also a Disney version of the game.

General Overview: Hedbanz is, at its heart, 20 Questions in reverse. Each of the 2-6 players puts on a fashionable blue plastic headband and puts one of the picture cards in the headband without looking at it. On a player’s turn, that player asks the other players yes/no questions trying to determine the object on their card. When an object is correctly guessed, the player takes a new card and continues. When time runs out, it is the next player’s turn. The scoring system in the game starts each player with three chips; a player who correctly guesses an object loses a chip, and a player can give up on guessing an object and get a new card if they take a chip. The first player to lose all their chips wins. The game also comes with prompt cards that contain a number of sample questions for modeling.

Skill Support:

  • Item Description – Describing items, in small chunks, is the primary skill of the game. This game addresses item description in multiple ways – the player who is guessing the object needs to think of a method of describing an item (color, size, features, category), and the players answering the questions need to accurately describe the item.
  • Auditory Recall and Synthesis – The player who is guessing the object needs to be able to recall the answers to previous questions and synthesize the answers given into a mental picture of the object.
  • Question Formation and Answering – Framing a question in a way that gets you information you need – and answering the question that’s asked instead of providing topical information that was not asked for – is an important component of the game being played smoothly.

Strengths:

  • The game is simple: This is a game that can be played out of the box with less than five minutes of setup and rules explanation. Modeling game play is easy.
  • The content is entertaining: The visualization of the game itself – wearing pictures on your head with a blue plastic headband – is, for many students, entertaining enough that they enjoy the game, even if it challenges them.
  • Low literacy friendly: While each card has a word on it, in most cases, the word is just an additional prompt; the pictures themselves can provide enough information for the student to know what the object is.
  • Collaborative: This is one of the few games in my collection that encourages students to collaborate rather than compete (the other notable one being Backseat Drawing). Because the student asking questions needs a single answer to get a good idea of what their object is, requiring the other students to collaborate and come up with a single answer promotes teamwork skills.

Challenges:

  • High memory requirement: The student has to remember all the answers they’ve been given in order to do well at this game; students with poor auditory memory are likely to struggle.
  • Closed-ended questions: Asking and answering yes/no questions – and providing only the information asked for – is hard if you’re excited and into the game. I have to, more so than in most games, redirect students to asking a yes/no question instead of an open-ended one, probably because asking an open-ended question is a one-step process (“What color is it?” requires you only to think of the information you want), but asking a yes/no question is a two-step process (“Is it blue?” requires you first to think of the information you want, then to make a guess as to what the information might be).
  • Rules reliant: I’m not sure why this is, but I seem to have a larger incidence of “accidentally” dropping a card and peeking at it or providing additional information beyond the question asked in this game than with most other games. Hedbanz doesn’t work nearly as well with students that have difficulty following directions or adhering to rules – if a student cheats or does something they weren’t supposed to because they didn’t understand the game, the play experience and treatment benefit of the game are ruined. I have one group of third graders who can’t play this game at all because the headbands don’t stay on their heads and they like to whisper the objects to one another; after numerous redirections, the game became about not getting caught cheating rather than playing the game, so it became nonproductive as a treatment tool.
  • Timed: Timed games are terrible for students with processing issues or delayed responses. Furthermore, they put the focus of the game on speed rather than accuracy.
  • Incongruous rewards in scoring: Positive behavior support practices indicate that when a student does something correctly, they should be given a token to reinforce the behavior. This game takes a token away from a student who answers correctly and gives a token to a student who gives up. It’s not a poor scoring system from a mechanical perspective, but it works against most behavioral strategies used in the classroom.

Accommodations/Modifications:

  • Get rid of the timer: Timed games focus on speed rather than accuracy. By eliminating the time pressure, students are better able to focus on the language objectives.
  • Get rid of the tokens: The scoring system doesn’t reward students for correct answers in a manner that’s consistent with behavioral reinforcement in schools. Getting rid of the tokens and allowing students to keep correctly guessed cards as points (similar to how Apples to Apples scores) provides positive reinforcement and allows the game to proceed indefinitely (or as long as the treatment session allows).
  • Visual prompts for questions: The prompt questions provided by the game are great, but they’re also written language and there’s 24 of them. Using visual prompts to generate questions (plug Expanding Expression Tool once again here) helps students to generate questions that fit within the rules. Using the EET, I make question generation for my students a two-step process: they select which description area they want to know about, then they ask a question about it. In groups of students who aren’t at that level yet, the students can just select a descriptor and get the necessary information.

Alternate Uses:

  • Hedbanz cards work great as visual prompts for a variety of games and activities that, in and of themselves, rely too much on literacy (Apples to Apples) or don’t have a large number of prompt cards in the activity (the Expanding Expression Tool).
  • The cards are great for sorting for categorizing activities – having students take the cards and put them in categories based on location, function, color, or any other group can provide students with a visual or kinesthetic reference to reinforce the information.
  • The headbands themselves can be used to add guesswork to another game for additional challenge or just variation. For example, using the headbands with the Storybook Game can provide a student with the most recent three or four words used to help reinforce the most recent additions to the story. Similarly, putting the prompt card in Backseat Drawing into a headband allows all the students to give drawing directions while the artist guesses what he or she is drawing.

Hedbanz is a popular and easy to find game for speech therapy. It uses a spin on a common car game with strong visual reinforcement to help students develop descriptive and expressive language, and doesn’t require much modification to be used in therapy. In addition, the headband itself allows an enterprising therapist to modify a number of other activities to make them fresh and interesting for students who might be bored with them.

Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you used?

-John

Board Games and Speech Therapy: The Storybook Game

After my week-long break (I’d blame spring break, but the way my schools are scheduled, I didn’t really have one this year), I’m addressing a game that’s already come up in a number of other posts in this series: The Storybook Game, published by Fundex.

Variants/Expansions: None.

General Overview: The Storybook Game includes 54 cards, each with a word and picture on them. Players take turns using the cards as a prompt for a sentence to add to a story. Unlike many storytelling games, however, this one requires recall. The first player uses one card as a prompt for a sentence to begin the story, then turns it face-down. The next player must then repeat the first player’s sentence, and add a second sentence to the story using the card that player drew. The third player must repeat both sentences in the story before adding a third, and so on. A player who cannot accurately recall the story (I tend to make the minimum requirement of recalling a story segment using the word on the card) is out, and the last player left is the winner. There’s a variant rule set that doesn’t eliminate a player who errs and declares the first player to remember all 54 cards in order to be the winner, but I haven’t found that to be a realistic objective – I’ve never had a group break twenty, and that’s working as a group.

Skill Support:

  • Item Identification/Description – Playing the game requires players to accurately identify items and know their function and properties in order to use them in the story.
  • Attention/Auditory Processing/Short-Term Memory – Recalling the story, even in a relative sense, in order challenges the recall abilities of any student (or even adult, since the best possible result in the game is recalling 54 story items in order – a challenging task for all but the most talented storytellers; the most any student of mine has gotten to is 15).
  • Sequencing – Putting together an easily-recalled narrative requires students to think about various ways to sequence items using various kinds of relationships. Given the nature of the prompts, I’ve seen sequences including food chain, elevation, size, fighting ability, and even evolution.
  • Increased Utterance Length – Producing sentences that indicate relationships between items or further a sequence provides a concrete context to encourage increased utterance length in students with good comprehension.

Strengths:

  • The game is simple: This is a game that can be played out of the box with less than five minutes of setup and rules explanation. Modeling game play is easy.
  • The game is inexpensive: This game will set Americans back about five bucks. At Target. That’s a pretty good deal for a game that seems tailor made to speech.
  • The students define the game’s parameters: Once the SLP or teacher describes the rules of the game, all the other contexts and rules of the story are in the students’ hands, allowing them to shape the narrative to an extent limited only by their ability to think of novel uses and relationships between prompts.
  • Low literacy friendly *and* strengthens literacy: This game’s prompts feature cards with pictures and words, allowing low literacy students to participate with literate students and providing the SLP an opportunity to strengthen and scaffold literacy skills during play.
  • Varying degrees of mastery: While it’s likely that students will be able to master the concept of the game, it’s unlikely (rare) that even the most talented student will be able to completely master the game. Remembering two or three items in a row is a goal that lower-functioning children can work toward, and higher-performing students can try to get as close to 54 in a row as they can.
  • Addresses a variety of concepts: Joe, Jane, and Jimmy are in the same class. Joe is working on auditory processing. Jane is working on developing expressive vocabulary. Jimmy is working on using proper sentence syntax. How many games allow an SLP  to address all three of those goal areas at once – with no modification?

Challenges:

  • Redundant Patterns of Redundancy: It’s very easy for students at all functional levels to fall into a pattern of “And then X ate/killed/hit/found Y.” Not only is this incredibly boring, it’s not very useful at generating stories that can be recalled beyond five or six items.
  • Player Elimination: In a therapy activity, you want all students to remain involved, and player elimination is the opposite of engagement.
  • Attention-focused: Students with ADHD or ADD are going to have a hard time with this game, and it can quickly lead to frustration and shutdown if you’re not careful.
  • Low-Level Optimized: The cartoony images and relatively simple concepts and demands may cause this game to be less than interesting for middle school students – even if they’re challenged by the concepts, the theme and prompts may make the game appear to be “for babies”.

Accommodations/Modifications:

  • Cooperative Play: Instead of eliminating players, encourage the players to support one another to see how many cards the whole group can remember. Allow each player to attempt the entire story on their own and give each student an “oops” card to be used when the player reciting the story makes a mistake. Each time an “oops” card is played, ask the student who played the card to explain where the error was made, and reveal the appropriate card to determine which player remembered the story correctly (hint: it’s not always the player who played the “oops” card). By making the game a team effort, players are encouraged to remain engaged during other students’ turns, and weaker players don’t spend too much time on the sidelines.
  • Visual Narrative: As the students create their sentences, encourage them to picture the scene in their mind and expand on their sentences using other things in the scene. Using this and other memory strategies is especially useful for students whose auditory memory isn’t likely to improve and need adaptive strategies to help them keep track of what’s going on in class or in their community.
  • Additional Rules: I usually add rules for my older students; for example, “Every sentence must use a different verb/action”. Adding rules not only adds challenge for students who are getting bored, but it also breaks up the naturally forming patterns in the game.

Alternate Uses:

  • Prompts in other activities: Many, many other posts in this series mention using the cards in the Storybook Game as prompts – they’re simple nouns and the cards have both pictures and words. Among activities that can benefit from using these cards as prompts are the Expanding Expression Tool, Apples to Apples, Backseat Drawing, and pretty much any other activity that involves identifying or describing objects.
  • Visual/manipulative aids for organization. Using these cards to give students something to move around as they create storyboards or graphic organizers for stories they create on their own is a great way to build familiarity. It also gives students a way to try out various styles of organization or planning with *zero* writing or organization.
  • Exploring relationships between objects and scene creation: Frequently, when you ask a student with expressive language or vocabulary issues to describe a scene in a picture, they freeze up because they don’t know where to start. Using cards from the Storybook Game, you can build this skill by working backwards. Start with one card. Ask the student to place it in the scene. Add another card, and ask the student where it is in relation to the first object. Keep doing this, placing cards near each other approximately as the student describes, and then once the scene is created, ask the student to go back and describe the scene in its entirety now that the student has described each individual component. This schema-building technique can be used with a wide variety of tools, but this is one of the most portable and least expensive.

Many of the games in this series aren’t the cheapest or smallest, and that’s because I typically take games I already own and adapt them for speech therapy. The Storybook Game, on the other hand, is a game I specifically bought for speech therapy, which required that it take up minimal space in my game bag, be inexpensive (because I don’t get reimbursed for materials), and be something that I can use in a variety of contexts. No buyer’s remorse here. Even if you just need a set of noun prompts for your students, The Storybook Game is a great tool that doesn’t break the bank.

Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you used?

-John

The Noun Project

"Speech" icon designed by Edward Boatman for thenounproject.com

I took last week off of blogging (and many speech therapy-related activities in general) to look into other projects I’m working on. One such project had me looking for icons to represent various things (similar to those found on the die faces for Rory’s Story Cubes). What I found was The Noun Project, a website dedicated to “sharing, celebrating, and enhancing the world’s visual language”. What it seems like the project is actually working on is developing an icon for every noun in existence (and I’m not kidding about “every noun” – words like diabetes and mammogram are already part of the database). Even better, the symbols are all in the public domain. It looks like this is a resource that, when fully (or even partially developed), can be used to help build communication boards, augmenting existing systems like PECS or Smarty Symbols. I don’t think this will be able to fully replace such systems – it lacks verbs and adjectives – but the goal of developing and supporting universal visual language in a black-and-white, easily understood format is one that goes hand in hand with a speech therapist’s goal of supporting and developing communication skills. It’s an interesting project to keep an eye on.

I’ll be back to the board games sometime this week.

-John