While we are often called in to support students to improve their language skills to meet their grade level expectations and graduate with a diploma, there are many students where this is just not achievable. In my area, these are called non-diploma bound students, or life skills students. I strongly believe that life skills should be taught to all students, but the focus for the life skills students is much more functional, and sometimes compensatory, in nature. Here are some ideas for teaching our moderate-severely impaired students:
Teach describing. With some conditions or neurological disorders, speech may not be consistently clear, even the child is an oral communicator. Teaching children to describe an item by function, category, color, size, etc. as a backup for when they are not understood.
Practice ordering food. Parents have often told me that they would love to have their child be able to order food for him/herself in a fast food or sit-down restaurant. This can be very empowering for the child. Often we will practice with carrier phrases such as, “I would like…” and “Can I have…” and use local menus of favorite restaurants and food items. Good for articulation and fluency goals as well as sentence expansion goals.
Keep phone numbers, address, emergency contact on paper and practice often. I have the student verbally practice this, as well as keep it on hand just in case. Laminating it is definitely helpful and you can include any important health information or conditions, if needed.
Consider using materials relevant to your area in therapy. If on a public transportation route, use maps and information from that in your therapy. Wh questions can be asked and answered in mock sessions where the student asks for a bus ticket, fare card, etc. Local grocery ads are also a good way to look at prices and find healthy foods, etc.
Try simple recipes. My late elementary and early middle school students learned how to make their own sandwiches for lunchtime, and while this seems like a simple task, it is one less thing that a parent must do for them. I had parents in tears during this session, and some of my students even made an extra sandwich for their parents. Making a salad, fruit salad, and bowl of cereal are also pretty easy, and if the students are more capable, you can make more difficult recipes and work on following directions, adjectives, vocabulary, and other goals as well.
Device safety. This is becoming increasingly important and this is another parent favorite lesson that I have done. Discussing what pictures to share, who to communicate with, how to communicate online, password safety, etc., is not as intuitive to these students and addresses pragmatic goals. Boom cards often have free lessons related to this as well. https://wow.boomlearning.com/search?collection=Decks&keyword=life%20skills&sort=price&order=1
Reading and determining what to believe. For the higher-level life skills students, it is imperative to teach them not to believe everything they read and to find reliable sources for what they read, especially when social media is often their only source of “news.” Newsela has a great article on this as well to go over with students, and the reading level can be adjusted. https://newsela.com/read/elem-spotting-fake-news/id/28726/
Once you start working with life skills, you will find so many other areas to explore with your students. Think about what you do daily in your household, and that is a good place to start making lessons. Since the goal is to make these students as independent as possible, the student, and the parent, will thank you for your work in this area.
Author: Elizabeth Dua, MA, CCC-SLP