I realized quickly after starting as an SLP that language skills and executive functioning skills are incredibly intertwined. Since then, I’ve purchased several books, attended countless webinars, and tried tons of strategies with my students.
After lots of trial and error, I’ve found a few strategies to be effective and simple enough to teach to others (students, parents, teachers) and wanted to share them with you!
I personally believe that language skills can often be used to bolster, or support, many EF skills. For example, having a strong ability to direct your actions with “self-directed” talk can help our students learn and implement other speech/language strategies.
So, without further adieu, here are my top 6 tips for supporting executive functioning skills in your speech therapy:
Executive Functioning Skills #1 – Teach your students to “read the room”.
This skill will help improve their situational awareness. I found that many of my students rushed into situations (peer groups, other groups, classrooms) without first assessing their environment.
When doing this with my students, I often focused on them looking at the “time, place, and people“. What time is it? What is appropriate at this time? Where are you? What is appropriate in this place? Who is around you? What are they doing?
The special education teachers I worked with were great at carrying over these questions and prompts in lots of settings so my students got pretty good at being able to describe “time, place, and people”.
Executive Functioning Skills #2 – Encourage self-directed speech.
Self-directed speech has been shown to improve behavior because it improves our students ability to make intentional, thoughtful decisions. I also call self-directed speech “self-talk”, especially with students and families because it’s much less jargon sounding.
To encourage self-directed speech, or self-talk, my top tip is simply… to model it! And get everyone else in the child’s life to model it too!
I’ll talk a little more about self-talk in some of the tips below, but I wanted to mention it separately because it’s so important for SLPs to teach language skills that boost self-talk skills. We also know that strategies like rehearsal and visualization can be effective in teaching how to follow directions. These strategies hinge on our students’ ability to use self-directed language.
One question I like to ask my students is “What do you want to keep in mind (or think about) while we do this activity?“. It’s been a helpful first question to having my students identify what would help them and applying strategies to “keep it in mind”.
For example, if they are supposed to be searching for topics to research in class, they should “keep in mind” something like “I’m looking for something to learn more about” so that when/if they get distracted, they can redirect their attention back to the task at hand more easily.
Executive Functioning Skills #3 – Make it clear what an activity will look like when it’s done.
Sometimes, for many of our kids, it can be tricky to get started on something when they’re unsure of what they’re working towards. An easy to implement strategy to help with initiation difficulties can be providing an example (or even just a verbal description!) of what the activity will look like when it’s done.
This is helpful strategy for learning pretty much anything! Can you imagine learning how to organize your locker without seeing an example of what an organized locker looks like? Or how to do a back flip without seeing one done first?
When implementing this strategy, you could say, “What will the room look like when it’s time to leave speech and head back to class?” or “This is what I want your worksheet to look like when it’s done”.
Executive Functioning Skills #4 – Think through ideas and problems together.
This is very linked to modeling self-directed speech. Model how you solve problems and think through ideas in front of your students!
Teach them how to come up with and consider different possibilities.
For example, “Today we were going to play a game but I just noticed that the one I wanted to play is missing. Let’s figure out together what we’re going to do instead. We could….”.
While you’re doing this, model how to predict or infer what might happen or what people might think. “I think that _____ will probably happen. That means I should probably _________.”
Fade prompting (and avoid over-prompting!).
When working in a middle school, many of the students I saw with executive functioning difficulties had been wayyyy over prompted throughout their schooling thus far.
To avoid this, avoid telling your students what to do and instead, ask your students indirect questions that guide them to come up with the answer themselves.
For example, I might say things like…
- “We’re going to draw something today. What do you think we need to do that? Can you help get it out?”
- “Let’s pause and think about what we’re going to do next.”
- “Hmm…. I wonder how we could solve this.”
Tip #6 – Model making a “back-up plan”.
This has been one of the most effective strategies I’ve taught my students, their teachers, and their families because it can be implemented at any time.
Many SLPs I chat with struggle with how to teach our kids to be flexible. This is the first strategy I recommend!
To do this, talk through something that you and your student want to do or are going to do. “We are going to play on the iPad.”
Then, discuss what your “back-up plan” will be in case your first plan doesn’t work out. “If we can’t find the iPad, or if the battery is dead, what should our back-up plan be?”
Deciding on a back-up plan ahead of time is the key here. Our students need to know what they will do ahead of time (including what they will say!) so that there is less to process in the moment.
Now, when they encounter a problem with their original plan, they are ready to use their self-talk skills to think something like, “This is no big deal. I have a back-up plan. I was ready for this!”
This might be a good opportunity to tackle size of the problem activities and concepts as well. You can model appropriate responses to small problems.
If you want to learn more about executive functioning skills and what to do within your speech therapy sessions, I’d recommend learning from the experts! I’ve linked a few helpful resources below:
Smart but Scattered *affiliate link
Improving Executive Functioning Skills (including goal ideas!) from Smart Speech Therapy
I hope this post was helpful!
PS: This post came from an email I sent to my newsletter subscribers. You can sign up to get my emails in the box below or by clicking here to learn more.