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In this episode, SLP Venita Litvack blows my mind with her deep understanding and passion for AAC.

This field goes even deeper than the average speech pathology education, using a range of techniques to bring communication and literacy tools to folks with significant disabilities.

It’s important, it’s challenging, and it’s rewarding!

Venita shares some powerful frameworks for practice and loads of amazing resources to support us in teaching those whose functional literacy skills may not be served by general literacy programming in schools.

This episode is an amazing jumping off point if you’ve been looking for a gateway to this kind of work!

What might be the most inspiring thing about Venita is her commitment to the Literacy Bill of Rights — that all persons, regardless of the extent or severity of their disabilities, have the right to use print.

I’m so glad (and so stinkin’ proud!!) that SLPs like Venita are working hard in the world to bring literacy (and the autonomy that comes with it) to folks with abilities that are so different than our own.

Holy smokes you’ll want to take notes in this one. I know I say that a lot, but it always seems to be true! 😂

Don’t worry about writing down all the links and resources — we’ve done our best to do that for you in the links section below. 👇 So save your scribbling power for those big a-has, grab your beverage of choice, and listen in.

Key Takeaways + Topics Covered

– Venita’s background and some AAC preliminary reading
– RAAP framework (read, ask, answer, prompt)
– Literacy Bill of Rights – every learner has the right to this education!
– Determining student needs – comprehensive emergent literacy instruction vs. conventional instruction
– Areas of emergent comprehensive literacy (and activity ideas for each)
– Tie-ins between this AAC and the general school curriculum
– Tons of amazing literacy resources for AAC and beyond!

Links Mentioned in the Podcast

First Bite podcast interview: “Speechie Side Up” Presents AAC – Venita Litvack, MA, CCC-SLP
Speechie Side Up
@speechiesideup on Instagram
Ten Ways to Boost your Knowledge of AAC
Core Calendar Club Facebook group
Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write
Literacy Bill of Rights
The effect of pause time upon the communicative interactions of young people who use augmentative and alternative communication. (Hilary Mathis)
Video of RAAP method in action
Predictable chart writing
Story Grammar Marker
Braidy Doll
Tarheel Reader
Epic Books
Novel Effect
Literacy Through Unity
Tell Me curriculum
UNC Center for Literacy

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Thanks so much!


Marisha: Hello there and welcome to the SLP Now podcast. I am so excited to introduce today's guest, Venita Litvack. She is a speech language pathologist currently serving as a full-time augmentative and alternative communication and assistive technology consultant for public schools in Florida. So, she has a passion for using AAC, AT and literacy to support individuals with complex communication needs, autism and other disabilities. Venita has also just delivered poster presentations in several topics related to AAC at ASHA. She also coauthored two articles published in the ASHA Leader as well as the Lou Knows What To Do book series published by Boys Town Press. She's also an amazing fellow podcaster and blogger at Speechie Side Up and just an all-around rock star, SLP and person.
So, today we're going to be breaking down all things AAC and literacy. And then before we dive in to all of the things, I just wanted to, because we're kind of taking ... This is like AAC 102, maybe 201. And so, before we dive into all of the things, I just wanted to give a really quick recap of some other amazing resources that Venita has shared.
Her Speechie Side Up podcast is amazing first of all. If you haven't subscribed yet, definitely do that. She has several episodes on AAC, so I will link to those in the show notes at And then she also did a podcast interview with my colleague and fellow podcaster in the speech therapy PT network for Michelle Dawson's First Bite and she has a really great crash course on AAC there as well. And then she has an absolutely amazing blog post with some tips to help you start navigating AAC if it's new to you. So, it's called 10 Ways to Boost Your Knowledge in the Area of AAC. And so, I'll link to all of those resources in the show notes in case you're just trying to start navigating AAC because I think that would be an amazing supplement to all of the tips and tricks that we're sharing here today. But that was a little bit of a longer intro, but hello Venita.

Venita: Hi Marisha. Thank you so much. That was such a nice intro and I think you covered a big part of where I would recommend people get started before they dive into a topic like this with AAC literacy because this is definitely going to be a very comprehensive and dense topic, but I'm really excited to chat with you about it.

Marisha: Yeah. I have been nerding out, like we've been going back and forth and I cannot wait to hear from you on this topic. Like as you guys know, I am a huge advocate of using literacy in therapy and a lot of you have been asking about how to use this with students who use AAC. So, I just cannot wait for us to break this down and you're the perfect person for it.

Venita: Oh yay. Well, I'm excited that we were able to kind of combine both of our interests.

Marisha: No, that is so amazing. And I think we're going to have a blast or I know we are. And then I'm curious, is there anything else that you'd like to highlight in terms of places to get started? Like if there's anything in particular that really stands out to you like from your blog posts or do you think that's a good enough place to start at this point?

Venita: I think you've mentioned some really great resources. One other one that I might recommend is the Core Calendar Club Group on Facebook that I am doing with and page from Beautiful Speech Life and Kristen Bell from the Daily Dose of Speech. It's a year-long AAC challenge where we provide you with weekly resources for a specific core word. And then we also present discussion topics weekly where people share their favorite AAC tradings, the troubles that they have with AAC and how they're addressing them. So, we have about 1100 people in that group and it's just a really great supportive group. We have a goal in mind, which is to increase your AAC knowledge. So, it's not just going in there and asking questions whenever they come up, but kind of structured format for learning more about AAC across the school year.

Marisha: That is so amazing. And that's a free group?

Venita: It's free. Yup.

Marisha: Oh my gosh. I feel like that would be worth ... Ugh, that's so valuable. That is amazing. Especially if you're really wanting to tackle AAC in your practice, like as a listener and just like having these resources plus the Facebook group to just get like continued inspiration, I mean that's amazing. I'm so glad that you guys are doing that. So, helpful.

Venita: Thanks. It's a lot of fun.

Marisha: Oh yeah. And I will definitely link to that group as well in the show notes if you can't find it with a quick search. But okay, so, I think we are ready to dive in. So, let's just get straight to the strategies. And so, let's start with some evidence-based strategies for teaching literacy to children who use AAC. I've heard you talk about, and it's RAAP/ I forget how you like how you say that acronym. Is it RAAP?

Venita: It is. Yup.

Marisha: I know you've shared a lot of other strategies as well, but it'd be amazing just to get an overview of some of the ones that you found in your research and just help break that down for us a little more.

Venita: Sure. Yeah. I think this is a really important topic and a great starting point. I will definitely reference the RAAP strategy as we get into specific activities that you can use. So, in the timeframe from when you first asked to an interview and we decided that the topic would be literacy, this amazing book came out and as soon as I saw it I was like, "Oh, I have to get that." And this book is kind of taken the AAC world by storm. Everybody's getting it. And it's called comprehensive literacy for all teaching students with significant disabilities to read and write by Karen Erickson and David Copenhager. I hope I'm saying that right. And it's amazing.
I mean, they have just synthesized all of the research on teaching individuals with significant disabilities to read and write. And their basic premise is that all students, no matter how severe their disabilities, can learn to read and write, and they provide a framework for that. So, I'd like to start with providing the Literacy Bill of Rights because I think that that's really important for people to keep in mind when they're working with students who use AAC and keeping in the back of their mind. Like maybe it doesn't seem like they could learn to read and write at this point, but here are their rights that they're entitled to. So, I'll briefly summarize these. And these were outlined by Yoder, Erickson and Copenhager back in 1997.
So, number one is that all students have the right to the opportunity to learn to read and write. All students have the right to accessible, clear, meaningful, culturally and linguistically appropriate texts at all time. All students have the right to interact with others while reading, writing, or listening to texts. All students have the right to life choices made available through reading and writing competencies. All students have the right to lifelong educational opportunities incorporating literacy instruction in use.
All students have the right to teachers and other service providers who are knowledgeable about literacy instruction, methods and principles. I think that's really important for us to keep in mind. And there's two more. All students have the right to learn in environments that provide varied models of print use, which we're going to outline later today. And then all students have the right to learn in environments that maintain the expectations and attitudes that all individuals are literacy learners. And I love that last, right? Because I think it's so important that attitude makes a huge difference. And when we presume or assume that the child has the ability to grow and has the ability to learn and read and write, then we're already setting them up for success.
I know that was a lot and I definitely encourage anybody who has not seen that Literacy Bill of Rights to go look at the full version because that was an overview even though it might've not seem like it, but I like starting there because I think it's important. Then the next thing, this book, the Comprehensive Literacy for All that I told you about earlier, they share in there that when you are starting with literacy instruction for students who use AAC or any individual who uses AAC, you need to determine where are you going to start and what the student needs. Do they need comprehensive emergent literacy instruction only? Do they need conventional instruction only or do they need a combination of both and that's really for like a group-based setting.
And the way that they tell you to determine that is by asking four questions. The first question is, does the student identify most of the letters of the alphabet most of the time? The second question is, does the student engage and interact during shared reading? The third question is, does a student have a means of communication and interaction? And then number four, does the student understand that print has meaning.
So, if you answered no to just one or any more of those questions, then you should start with comprehensive emergent interventions. If you're able to answer yes to all four of those questions, then you would start with comprehensive conventional interventions. So, for today's purpose, I'm going to be sharing mostly about emergent interventions because according to Janice Light, she said currently the majority of individuals who require AAC do not have functional literacy skills. And I heard a quote recently where something around 80% of individuals who use AAC or who are nonspeaking verbally are at the emergent literacy level. I tried looking for the research reference prior to this interview, but I wasn't able to find it. So, I did quote Janice Light instead. But I think that's really important and I'll kind of stop here in case there's anything you wanted to say about those.

Marisha: That is such a helpful overview. I'm just so excited to keep diving into all the other things. But just a quick recap. So, we've got three main types. So, immersion, conventional or both in terms of the intervention that we can use. And that really just depends on where the student is that, like are they identifying letters of the alphabet, are they engaging in shared reading? Do they have the method of interaction and do they understand that print has meaning? Did I get that?

Venita: Yeah. Thank you for summarizing that. And they're set up differently, the type of instruction. So, it's nice to have a framework and know where we should start with the student rather than just saying, "Okay, they need literacy. Let's read books." Because we know literacy is so much more than that. And we're going to talk about the five different areas that encompass comprehensive emergent literacy instruction.

Marisha: Okay, let's do it. I can't wait.

Venita: Great. So, I'll briefly share those. The first area of comprehensive emergent literacy instruction is shared reading. Then you have shared writing. Then you have alphabet and phonological awareness, independent writing with full access to the alphabet and self-directed reading. And all of these were outlined in that book. So, when we start to talk about the different activities that I would recommend when teaching literacy to students who use AAC, I will break them down by those five different areas.

Marisha: Perfect. Let's do it.

Venita: In terms of shared reading, Erickson and Copenhager recommend that you do this activity at least two times a day for 10 to 15 minutes a day. Now, I know SLPs, we have different schedules, different settings, so you have to do what you're able to do. When I worked in a school for children with autism, I actually got to go into the classrooms every day for about an hour, but I know that looks drastically different in other types of school settings. Maybe you're only seeing the student one time a week, two times a week.
So, kind of take this with a grain of salt or what you can do and we'll actually talk about some ways that you can incorporate these strategies in group lessons. And I am sensitive to the fact that you might not see the child every day of the week, so we'll talk about that later. But in terms of shared reading, Marisha, you brought this up earlier. One of the strategies that I really like and talk about is the RAAP strategy. And I like it, one, because I actually studied under one of the researchers, Dr. Kent-Walsh, and got to see the impacts of that research, got to help present at the actual convention, but it was developed by Dr. Cathy Binger and Dr. Jennifer Kent-Walsh. And it's not rap music, but it actually stands for read, ask, answer and prompt.
And it is an interactive reading strategy for improving literacy experiences for individuals who use AAC. It encourages aided-language input, so a form of modeling on the AAC system, which is really critical for our emergent communicators. And it gets the communication partner to slow down and allow the AAC user more processing time. And along with that processing time, I do like to highlight what the research tells us in terms of the amount of time it takes students to process questions or information that we present to them. So, there was a study by Hilary Johanna Mathis entitled, the effect of pause time upon the communicative interactions of young people who use augmentative and alternative communication. And in that, they suggest that we provide a wait time of up to 45 seconds and that would support AAC users to claim more conversational turns and use more words.
Now, I know 45 seconds seems like a really long time. So, I think on average, the research says that between 10 to 20. That was the only reference I was able to find though, and that's why I brought it up. But it just illustrates the importance of how much time we need to be giving. And in reality, we're probably getting closer to like two to three seconds.
So, the framework for the RAAP strategy, when you're reading a book together with a child is on every single page, you're going to do the RAAP. So, the first step is to read the book or read the page and model two symbols on the device. Then you pause for five seconds by maintaining eye contact and looking at the AAC learner expectantly. Then you're going to ask the WH question and model two symbols on the device. And again, you're waiting for five seconds.
The reason you're waiting for five seconds is because you're allowing the child to comment to answer the WH question, whatever they want to do in order to be an active reader along with you. And then the third step is if they didn't answer the WH question, you'll answer it for them and model two more symbols on the device and then pause again. And then if they don't say anything or if they do say something, you're going to provide a two to three-word response using the AAC system and verbally. So, you might say something like, your turn or show me the, if there's something on the page like a caterpillar, show me the caterpillar and you actually repeat this process for every single page of the book. And it really helps the reader or the student who uses AAC to be more active in the reading and less passive, less of a passive listener. So, that's my shared reading activity that I wanted to share. Do you have anything you want to add to that before I move on to the next area?

Marisha: No, that was perfect. And do you know if they have ... I'd be super curious to see this in action. Like do they have examples of this like on YouTube or anything?

Venita: That's a great question. They definitely have videos. I'm not sure if they're sharing it on YouTube, but there's a name of the lab and I'll try to get that for you. What I'll do is I'll share that in an email with you and you can put that in the show notes, but they have a lab and I would assume they put the videos on there, but I'll do my best to get those for you.

Marisha: Amazing. Thank you so much.

Venita: No problem. In terms of shared writing, again, Erickson and Copenhager recommended to do this again for 20 to 30 minutes a day and this doesn't have to be done just by the SLP. This can be done by the classroom teacher as well. So, you're finding this information helpful. You can share this framework with the teachers that you collaborate with, but predictable chart writing has been found to be really helpful for these shared writing activities. So, I'm going to talk about the framework that was outlined by Hanser Cunningham Hall and Williams. Separately, of course, they had different research studies looking at predictable chart writing.
But in summary, predictable chart writing is a fun and easy shared writing activity that supports emergent and conventional writers and readers. It's a way of providing some structure while allowing students to generate their own ideas. And it provides many different activities that occur around the predictable chart over a five-day period.
So, this is going to look very different depending on whether you are in the classroom every day doing collaborative teaching or if you see the student one to two times a week. But again, the classroom teacher can definitely implement this. So, I'm going to discuss all five days, the activities across all five days with you. So, on day one, you are going to write a chart. So, for that, you're going to need chart paper or you could use a big dry erase board on the front of the classroom and a single message device.
So, what happens is that you're going to pick a phrase that's repetitive. So, let's say we're going to use the phrase, "I like to." If you're working in a group, every student who uses AAC in the group or every student in your group, they're going to tell you something that they like to do. So, the phrase is repeated for each student. So, let's say you have five students. Maybe student one says, "I like to swim." The next student may say, "I like to sleep." The next one might say, "I like to eat." And the only word that changes is the last word. But they get to kind of write their own sentence or finish their own sentence by providing something that relates to them.
And then on day two, you are going to reread the sentences as a group and you're going to put them on individual sentence strips. So, you're going to together as a group, reread the chart while pointing to each word. You can clap out the words. You can rap the words. You can sign the words. But it's just getting them to recognize that those words have individual units of meaning as you're rereading them.
And then on day three, you're going to cut up the sentences. So, you want to make sure that you have the students sentence their own sentence on two separate sheets of paper because they need one as the model and the other one you're going to cut up and they're going to rearrange the words to remake the sentence and play with the words. Maybe they can even make a new sentence. So, goal of this step is to help support students in understanding that sentences are made from left to right. And that students don't have to create a perfect sentence. They just have to get comfortable with using these words, manipulating these words and the process of writing.
And then on day four, they get to act out the sentence, which is fun. So, you would give each student their AAC system or a single message device with the word of the sentence programmed into it. So, let's say you have five students in the group. One student would be I. The other student would be like. Another student would be to. And then it can be like one of the words that the students had said, maybe I like to swim. So, they're going to read the sentence together. So, the person that says I is going to do I, and then the next one's like, and the next one's to, and the last person would say swim. So, they're acting out the sentence by saying their individual words. And you can actually have them if possible, depending on like their physical limitations, line up in the order of this sentence too. And that gets them to understand like the structure of a sentence.
And then on day five, the last day of the week, you would make a book with all of the students' sentences. So, one-on-one, you're going to support the students in making their page, which will be part of a class book. So, if the first student said I like to swim, you would help them find a picture to go along with that to support the text. And then they get to make one page of the class book. Then the next student might have, I like to eat and they'll find a picture for that and they get to make the second page of the class book. And at the end, you can print it out and add it to your class library.
And it's really nice because it's a book that they created together as a group and can reference and get to know each other a little bit better. And one resource for making the book, which I really like is called Tar Heel Reader, which I'm going to talk more about later.

Marisha: That is so amazing. Like I'm just imagining this happening in a classroom and oh my goodness, I love it. Because I talk a lot about creating like parallel stories in my literacy-based therapy framework and like the students, they just love that and they get so much out of it. And I feel like for this population, like making that book and having it be a shared experience and something that they can all take is absolutely amazing. And I love my structure, so I am so appreciative of this framework that you're sharing. So, thank you so much.

Venita: No problem. Well, thanks to Erickson and Copenhager and all the other researchers that developed it. But I'm like you, I love frameworks. I love structure and I love that it's evidence-based. Like we know what literacy is comprised of. We know what makes up literacy instruction, but it's important to know what the evidence says in terms of this population, what works, you know?

Marisha: Yeah. That is so helpful. We could make up our own little frameworks and everything, but it's that much better when we do feel confident about it being evidence-based as well.

Venita: Exactly.

Marisha: Especially for the specific populations. But I feel like this is amazing that you've been able to pull together all of these different strategies to use. So, you're amazing.

Venita: Well, it's a passion of mine, but I am a good synthesizer. I'll say that.

Marisha: I agree. Okay. So, are we ready to do the third?

Venita: Yeah. Yeah. So, the third area is alphabet and phonological awareness. So, we're going to be talking about different activities to use for that area, but I think when we talk about the terms phonological and alphabet knowledge, it kind of brings back nightmares from grad school. So, I'll just provide some brief definitions for both of those because if you're anything like me, it was definitely crossed over the two definitions.
So, phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate sounds and spoken language. And then alphabet knowledge includes the ability to distinguish letters, shapes, name them, write them, and identify the sounds they represent. So, now that we've talked about both of those, let's get into the activities that we can address for both.
So, interestingly, what I read in that book that I referenced in the beginning is that Treiman, Levine and Kessler in 2007 found that teaching a letter of the week or month is not the appropriate amount of time to learn each letter. And I thought that was so fascinating and super applicable to even like a core word of the week approach, that's a whole another topic. But they found that this is the case because if they're doing a letter of the week, it's going to take 26 weeks for that letter to be revisited again, unless it's being embedded in daily routines. But really to be specifically targeted, it's going to be another 26 weeks before it's reintroduced. It's almost the entire school year. And it just is not enough time for students to embed that letter, use it in functional ways.
So, instead what they recommend is that use a letter of the day approach so that letters are retaught every 26 days using the following routine. They want you to identify the letter, identify the sound of the letter, find the letter in text and write the letter. So, those four components are really important for teaching a letter. Any questions about that, because I know that was a lot of information.

Marisha: No, I think that that makes sense. I really appreciated the just defining what we're talking about with phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge and I think that's a really great tip of like focusing on using the letter of the day approach versus the week or the month. And yeah, I love the four strategies that you shared too. Because I feel like this is so incredibly actionable. Yeah. And I'm curious to hear if you have any other tips for this area.

Venita: Okay, perfect. So, we'll move on to our ideas for phonological awareness instruction. So, these are fun. And I'm sure that a lot of these you've heard of, you can go on Pinterest for some ideas on addressing phonological awareness, but things like clapping out syllables, listening to nursery rhymes, even raps for your older students, poetry and playing alliteration games. And like I said, Pinterest has so many different activities that you can do to address those areas.
And then in terms of alphabet instruction, same thing. You can use alphabet books, alphabet puzzles, games, student names, environmental print. There's so many different ways that you can address that just by looking at ideas on Pinterest. And if I didn't say this already, Erickson and Copenhager recommend doing this for about 20 to 30 minutes a day. So, the explicit alphabet and phonological awareness instruction.

Marisha: Perfect. I think that's a really great overview and starting point. And I feel like we could dive into each of these areas could potentially be a whole podcast. So, I think we'll leave it at this and maybe we can revisit if we have time at the end just to kind of like break it down a little bit more. But I think this is a really awesome place to start.

Venita: Okay, perfect.

Marisha: Yeah, so what's the next one?

Venita: So, the next two areas, they're much shorter. They're not as dense. So, we'll go through those pretty quick. The last two areas were independent writing and self-directed reading. So, some ideas for promoting independent writing, 20 to 30 minutes a day, is to provide access to a variety of writing materials such as crayons, pencils, dry erase markers, alphabet letters, computers, AAC device.
So, the idea here is to provide access to a ton of different writing materials, not just a pen and paper or pencil and paper. And then make sure to ask the student to read aloud what they have written and write it down for them. So, a training that I just attended, it was so fascinating because she had us go through different writing examples and we know that emergent writing is not letter based. It's forming circles, forming lines, kind of doing little drawings that communicate a message.
So, she had us look at these drawings and then she told her what the child explained the story behind the picture was and then she would ask us as a student and emergent writer or a conventional writer. And I just thought that was so fun. So, if your students are not writing conventionally like with letters, you can definitely have them tell you the story behind their drawing or their writing and summarize it for them on like another page by writing it down so they can see what that looks like.
And then one really special thing is like you know when your parents would put up your writing on your refrigerator or like a board, it's really special for kids to be motivated to keep writing more by publishing their writing that way. So, if you can put it up in your speech room or in the classroom, maybe you have like a writing corner or like a board, that would be really helpful as well.

Marisha: Those are such great ideas. And I'm curious too like I assume that a lot of the same strategies ... Because you could potentially use some of the like RAAP strategies that you talked about here too. Like with some of these students, if we ask them and they don't respond within a couple of seconds, we probably want to wait a little bit longer. Do you have any additional strategies when it comes to like talking to students or asking students about what they wrote?

Venita: That's a really, really good question and I would assume that they dive into that in the book that I presented in the beginning. So, I would recommend looking at that. On the top of my head, I don't have like a framework for writing like I do with the shared reading. But it's a really good thought because if it hasn't been developed then, that might be a nice thing for somebody to look into.

Marisha: Yeah. And if they don't have well-researched answers for us, I think we can definitely pull from some of the other strategies you've shared to make that happen.

Venita: Yeah.

Marisha: Yeah. I love that. I'm loving these tips so far. So, what about self-directed reading?

Venita: Yeah, self-directed reading. So, that was the last area of comprehensive emergent literacy instruction. And some ideas that are recommended to promote independent reading include building a library of reading materials. And it's important to note that this should be done about 10 to 15 minutes a day. So, depending on the time that you see this child or time that you see the group, that might not be feasible for your group if you're only seeing them for 30 minutes.
But again, working with the teacher to provide that additional time for self-directed reading but providing access to magazines, newspapers, song lyrics, reading apps, comic books, audible, all of those different ways that they can access reading. Because believe it or not, audible reading, like read alouds is reading and there's tons of research to support that. I just heard it recently and it kind of reaffirmed that because it's definitely questionable but it is still considered reading. So, it's important for people to keep that in mind and provide access to that for students.
And then you want to provide a variety of materials so that all the students have access to something they want to read, so not necessarily materials but maybe you genres. So, some students might like to read comic. Some students might like to read like fantasy, fiction, sports. So, it's important to provide a variety of reading materials to them.
And then at the end of the self-directed reading, this is really important, have the students share out what they read about.

Marisha: That is perfect. Yeah. And so, I'm really curious, how do you work towards like implementing, because you just shared a ton of different strategies, lots of different resources and things that we can use, but there's a lot, definitely way more than can fit in one session. So, how do you go about like planning your group lessons to incorporate these strategies and just tips for making this happen in general?

Venita: That's such a good question and I think it's so important because looking at the research is one thing, but putting it into practice is a totally different thing. So, you explain what my role is now and I'll just be very transparent here. I am an assisted technology specialist, so now I support teachers and SLPs in the middle school. But I did work in a charter school for children with autism when I first got started.
And so, I'll kind of explain what that looked like when I was doing a AAC and literacy in group lessons when I was doing collaborative lessons with the teacher. So, it's going to look a little bit different than what I described and I think you do what you can until you know better. And I'll explain what I did and then maybe some things I might change knowing what I know now.
So, one of the things that I did in terms of shared reading is that I would put pick a book or theme of the week, which I know you're really passionate about and that's great. So, I pick a book or theme of the week and if it could go along with the academic lesson, all the better. So, I would talk with the teachers about what they were working on and try to pick a book that went along with that. And then I would identify core and French vocabulary that can be modeled while reading, which is important when you're doing that RAAP strategy.
And then I provide access to AAC so students could use their personal AAC systems or BIGmacks. And on the BIGmack, I might put like a repetitive phrase that I want the student to say. So, if we're reading a book like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I might have that whole phrase or I might have, what do you see on the BIGmack and the students that don't have an AAC system, they can push the button, take turns pushing the buttons so they feel like they're helping me read. And then, I don't know Marisha, are you familiar with story grammar marker? I feel like you would be,

Marisha: Yes.

Venita: Okay. I love story grammar marker. And I would use the Braidy doll to discuss story element after the reading. So, we would talk about the character or the setting and the story sequence using the story grammar marker doll.
And then in order to address shared writing, I would pick a phrase that relates to the book such as, say we're reading Brown Bear again, maybe I see a, and then the students, we could do that predictable chart writing with them filling out what they see. So, each student would say, "I see a teacher. I see a chair," whatever they see at the moment that they want to say for their little phrase.
And then I like to reiterate this, depending on how often you go into the classroom, you can do each step of the predictable chart writing or some steps and help the teacher or even assign homework to the parent.
And then in order to address alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness, every day I would sing a letter song with my groups. So, you can find these on Pinterest or TPT. Mine were cards. And so, for each letter, it had like a sound that went with the letter and we would sing it out as a group. This was really for my like younger elementary school age kiddos.
And then in order to also address the phonological and alphabet knowledge, we would incorporate the academic words. So, the programs that the teachers that I worked with provided like words of the month, and these tended to be a lot of sight words. So, there's a lot of crossover between sight words and core words. So, we put it up on a word wall or they might already have it up on a word wall and we would try to read the words, clap them out, spell them out. And there's other research out there or other strategies that are pretty well known at least in the education field on how to target those words as a group and do phonological awareness instruction with those words.

Marisha: Yeah. I love the practical examples here and just like what this could look like in practice. And then I have just a quick experience share too. I worked in an autism preschool and this was my first job that I had. So, I didn't know all of this research yet. And I totally resonate with what you said about you do what you can until you know better. Because there's definitely no way to know it all when we first start out. But I feel like I was able to use a lot of these strategies when I went into the classroom.
For me, circle time was a really good time to make that happen because the teacher was already using like we did songs so we could work on like we had an alphabet song and we would show the letters and we would work on clapping. We had a lot of that alphabet, phonological awareness kind of aspects built into that routine. And then I would always bring in a book and do some different activities around that. And at this level a lot of us or a lot of the students were just using like a single switch, a button like the BIGmack or whatnot. And we included some of those different activities.
We identified like the core vocabulary that we wanted to target during that. But I wish I had known, like if I were going back, I think I would have done like the RAAP strategy. I don't know, did they say in the book which ages you would start this with? Would you do the sentence activity with preschool too?

Venita: That's a really good question. They did say that you can start pretty young. I haven't gotten to a point where they said there's like a specific age limit. They give ideas for targeting these areas with different age groups, but they didn't say that like a child is too young, but I haven't completely finished it so I don't want to say that they do or they don't.

Marisha: Yeah, that's amazing. And I feel like in terms of like as I was in a typical preschool to where they definitely did activities. In the autism preschool, they also did activities with their names and letters and all of that. But I know in the general preschool, they cut up sentences and things like that. So, I've seen it in practice and I've seen little kiddos do it. So, yeah, I am definitely going to check out this book because it sounds like an amazing resource for this population. I'm so grateful you shared that.
But yeah, I think it's just really helpful because I think a lot of us are like we might be able to as we're listening to this, like we're able to identify strategies that we've used in our practice and this is just a way to celebrate what we're doing and reinforce those activities that we are using and then maybe think some things to add to our own session or to work with the teachers on like, "Hey, I heard that this was really great."
Oh, the reason that I wanted to share my preschool experience was because I would go in on Monday with the book and I would model all of that and then the teacher and the paraeducators would be in the classroom with me too. And it's the best thing when you walk into a classroom and they're using those strategies that you modeled the day or earlier in the week. So, I definitely led it a couple of times, but it was just really cool to see them reinforcing that throughout the day too. So, we definitely get to use a team approach to make this happen. So, it's not all us.

Venita: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, and like you, I've done both sides. Recently I had to help cover for SLP services and I got to work with the gen ed population in the schools and I could see why that collaborative teaching wouldn't work because their goals are very different. Maybe we're working on sound specific goals, but even in your group settings, you can definitely address those areas of literacy at the same time that you're targeting those other goals.

Marisha: Yeah. So amazing. And then we've got one more question. What are your go-to resources when you're implementing these strategies and just incorporating AAC and literacy in your sessions?

Venita: This is probably my favorite question because there's so many great resources out there and I don't know that everybody knows that they're available and you kind of wonder like where are these resources? But they're so disseminated. So, I like to summarize them all here.
In terms of AAC and literacy or just literacy in general, Tar Heel Reader is like an amazing resource. It was developed by the University of North Carolina's Center for Literacy and Disability Studies. And what you can do on Tar Heel reader is you can create your own books or you can look for books and you can look for books based on keywords. So, if let's say are doing like a core word of the week or the month or the day, then you can look up books that have that core word in it. So, that's a really great resource that you can use online. You can pull up on a projector or a smartboard and implement it within a group setting.
And then Epic books, which I'm sure you probably mentioned. I know that's a hot one in our field, but Epic books is great and you can access it for free if you have an educator's email or a school email. And then Overdrive is also great. You can access thousands, tens of thousands of books that are available at your local library for free. Just have to put in your library card information.
And then this one's not as well known, but I've spoken about it in other trainings that I've done. It's called the Novel Effect app. And the reason I like that one is because it provides sound effects for like popular books and they're building their library all the time. So, if you're reading Brown Bear Brown Bear, it's crazy. It knows when you are on to the next page without you even clicking anything on the app just based on like your reading of the book. So, if you say like "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" And then you pause, it'll play music just for that page and sound effects just for that page. So, I think that's a really great way to get, especially younger kids engaged in the reading.
And then PRC or the Prentke-Romich Company, the creators of LAMP Words For Life and Unity and other AAC language systems and devices has a resource called Literacy Through Unity on the AAC Language Lab, which is a phenomenal program that's online that you can go to and they have free resources on the AAC Language Lab and they also have a paid subscription, but it's very little for the year. I want to say it's like 20 bucks for the year, maybe even less. But they have a literacy through Unity program that actually Karen Erickson helped develop. So, if you have a student who uses Unity or LAMP, then I would check that out.
And then Saltillo, if you have a student who uses like a NovaChat or the TouchChat app, they have these calendar supports. So, like for the month of January, they give you a book and then the words that you can target with that book and some other like literacy-based suggestions for that month. So, I love that resource and it's free.
And then the Tell Me curriculum, I just want to mention it here. I, full disclosure, don't have a lot of experience with that book just because I think it's primarily geared towards the preschool population and that's not a population that I work with, that I support at this time. I would love to learn more about it, but in my department, we kind of provide resources and trainings to the areas that you work in. So, at some point, I'm looking forward to diving into that curriculum a little bit more, but I just don't know a lot about it. But if you work with that population or like the elementary population, then I would really encourage you to look into that curriculum.
And then any of the resources from UNC Center for Literacy and Disability Studies is phenomenal. They have like trainings on there and modules. So, check that out. And then now we have this resource and I'll just say the name one more time because I think it's worth noting. A lot of the information I spoke about today is from this book and it's just a really helpful book. I will forewarn you though that it is like a textbook, which I wasn't really expecting because it has this like beautiful cover. It's very dense and it is bringing me back to grad school days. But you know what, it is just so amazing and every page is like a mic drop, so I really encourage you to check it out. It's called again, Comprehensive Literacy for All Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write by Karen Erickson and David Copenhager.

Marisha: Oh, I love books like that where there's just so many mic drops and knowledge bombs. I feel like it can be hard to find those types of answers. So, when you find a resource that really breaks it down and you just kind of hone in on that.

Venita: Definitely.

Marisha: And those were so many amazing resources. If you're listening and you had a hard time keeping up with all the amazing ideas, I'll list and link to everything that I can at, so you can kind of start checking those out. And then is it okay if I add one more that came up for me too.

Venita: Sure.

Marisha: So, I just discovered this maybe a few months ago. It's called Vooks, so V-O-O-K-S. But it they make animated videos for a lot of popular books. So, I think it could be a great activity for that independent or self-directed reading time because it really draws students in and I think they even animate the words in some or all of them. So, it's just a great way to draw attention to the literacy piece but it supports the students in reading that too and just keeping them engaged. Like the students I've used it with have loved it. So, I really like that one too.

Venita: I love that. I've heard about that resource. I haven't actually had the opportunity to look at it, but I think it is a great idea for that self-directed reading. So, thank you for sharing that.

Marisha: Yeah. And then I also just want to emphasize because I feel like one of the biggest barriers is getting access to books because you feel like in some SLPs aren't able to go to the library or they don't want to use library books in therapy because things happen. And so, I just think like the resources that you mentioned to get books for free, like Epic and Overdrive are so incredibly helpful because you don't even have to go anywhere. You have instant access to these digital books for free. So, I don't think that budget or time to drive and get physical books should be a barrier here.
And if those options don't work, YouTube has books as well. They have lovely like grandmothers who record themselves reading books. And definitely check out the video first. But there's lots of ways to make this happen. And I feel like after listening to this episode, you are equipped with so many strategies to use literacy in therapy. And so, I feel like that's just the last step to start practicing and working on implementing this.

Venita: Yeah, absolutely.

Marisha: And then Venita, is there anything that you would add or that you just really wanted to emphasize?

Venita: No. I think that you as an SLP already have a lot of these tools and knowledge in place and now you have a framework for implementing them for students who use AAC, so you're doing an amazing job and I hope that this information will help. It certainly has helped me as I'm reading through that book because it was just really nice to see like, okay, we're doing the right thing, but this is how we can do it even better. So, I encourage you to just keep doing what you're doing and you are going to do amazing things to help support your students who use AAC to learn to read and write.

Marisha: I love ending on that note. Thank you so much for sharing your time and wisdom with us. And if people want to find out more about you, where are the best places for them to connect?

Venita: Good question. I tend to hang out on Instagram @speechysideup. And then my website is also And if you want to come join us on that Facebook group called the Core Calendar Club, we would love to have you. We do ask two questions in the beginning and one includes taking a quiz. The reason that we have you take the quiz is because we're gathering data that we are hopefully going to present at a conference in the near future. And we also want to see if the group is helping you from the start to finish. So, you'll take the quiz at the beginning and you'll take a quiz at the end. But it's a fun quiz. It has like maybe 5 to 10 questions and then you find out if you're like more like Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga or Beyoncé. So, we make it fun for you.

Marisha: Oh, I love that. Definitely something fun to check out. Okay, so I think that's a wrap. Thank you so much, Venita. You are amazing and such an inspiration and I definitely appreciated all of the information that you shared and thank you to the listeners for tuning in.

Venita: Thank you so much for having me, Marisha. When you asked, it was like such an honor and I think you are so inspiring too. And again, I love that we were able to combine both of our passions into this episode today.

Marisha: Yeah, this was definitely a highlight, so thank you.

Venita: Thank you.




Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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