Are you an SLP trying to work on following complex directions in speech therapy with your older students? Teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders the importance of listening closely to spoken instructions has been an area I have consistently focused on in speech and language therapy. This is such an important classroom – and life- skill.
So, how do you make working on this skill area fun- and help your students see how important it really is to stop and listen closely? In this blog post, I’ll provide you with 3 actionable steps to make teaching following complex directions a breeze in speech therapy.
Step 1: Make Following Complex Directions a CHALLENGE
The key is to make it a challenge. My upper elementary students are so competitive, and I needed to use that to my advantage. The trick was making sure the directions included plenty of higher-level concepts and vocabulary, and that the activity itself wasn’t seen as “babyish”.
The answer: a following directions challenge.
These direction challenges could be used in individual therapy sessions, but they were also great in mixed groups. I passed out the bottom half of the papers to each student. My students had pencils ready in hand, waiting for me to tell them the direction.
I would say the direction, and the students would follow them. After completing the task, they’d look around the table- and notice that not everyone had completed the activity in the same way.
For example, I’d stated in the direction that they needed to write their name in the top left corner- but they immediately noticed when one had written their name in the top right corner instead.
I reminded my students: it wasn’t necessarily who could follow the direction the fastest. This complex multistep following directions challenge was more about who listened closely to all of the small, but important, pieces of information included in the task.
My students weren’t just learning to follow directions- they were also learning to focus.
Step 2: Include a variety of complex direction following concepts
There are several concepts and embedded vocabulary that you will want to target for your students that need support with following directions that are perfect for speech therapy. For example, I made sure to include temporal directions (i.e. such as before, after). Time vocabulary can be very tricky for my students. But temporal concepts aren’t the only important concepts you’ll want to address to make your following directions activity “complex”.
Temporal and Sequential Directions for Speech Therapy
Temporal concepts- or time concepts – can be so confusing for my students. These include terms such as before and after. Sequential concepts include understanding the correct order of events for information.
Temporal and sequential concepts are important for our students to understand.
An example of how I target temporal and sequential concepts in speech therapy using this complex following directions activity: “Before you circle the third A, underline the second A.”
A little while later, I’ll give a similar direction, but I’ve changed WHERE I use the word “before” in the sentence: “Point to the third A before you understand the second A.”
The meaning of the sentence can change completely, depending on where the temporal or sequential vocabulary term is used. This is such an important thing to remember when teaching temporal and sequential concepts, and understanding it requires lots of practice and exposure.
Spatial Directions for Speech Therapy
Following spatial directions requires the understanding of spatial concepts (aka location concepts). It is understanding the positioning of an object, and the relationship of that object to something else.
For younger students, we start by teaching spatial concepts like above, below, behind, and in front of. But by 4th grade, we need to make things a little more complex.
I always start by making sure my students understand the difference between right and left. Most of them don’t.
I then throw in some multiple modifiers to make things a little more complex.
Sure, my student knows how to write their name at the top of the page. But things are a little trickier when they have to write their name in the top left corner of the page. My students often fail to hear all of the components in a direction that contains multiple modifiers.
An example of how I incorporate spatial concepts into complex directions (containing other embedded concepts) would be: “First, write the month in the top right corner of the page. Next, circle the last letter.”
Conditional Directions for Speech Therapy
Conditional concepts can be tricky for our speech therapy students to comprehend. What are conditional concepts? They involve the understanding of “if”. Understanding how “if” can change the meaning of a sentence is very important. It allows the student to know what might happen- or what might not happen.
If we get five feet of snow tonight, we’ll get a snow day tomorrow.
It’s not a guarantee- and if you only get two inches of snow, you better make sure to grab your bookbag.
An example of how I incorporate complex conditional directions in speech therapy would be: “If today is Tuesday, circle the K. If not, underline the L.”
Working your way up to compex directions
Your student might not be at the level of complex yet- but they’re past the level of beginner.
You’ll need to provide leveled instruction.
Some of my students need a little more support initially, so I start by giving them written directions as well as spoken directions. I explain, “This direction is going to contain a time vocabulary word- ‘before’. You have to listen closely so that you know the order I want you to follow this direction in.”
We’d do a quick review of the time vocabulary being targeted:
“Clap your hands before you touch your nose.” My student would complete this task.
“Great. Now, Touch your nose BEFORE you clap your hands.”
We reviewed how the placement of the time vocabulary word in the sentence could change the meaning of the sentence.
Following this, we would highlight any target words that were difficult for them to recall and interpret in the direction.
Step 3: Make Your Direction Following Challenge Quick and Easy to Use During Speech Therapy
These complex following directions pages are super easy to store. I keep mine in a binder- but I also keep several extra copies on hand for “grab ‘n go” resources to use in therapy.
These directions activity worksheets are also super easy to modify.
Let’s say you don’t want to provide the written directions. No problem.
To work on following spoken directions only, I simply cut off the bottom of the page. I gave this to my students, then I kept the top part. Simple and easy, and great for data collection in a group. I just wrote their initials next to the direction, then had a quick “check” or “minus” data collection system.
Additional Uses for these Following Direction Challenge Activities
I have used these complex following directions challenges in several ways in speech therapy.
They make an excellent activity to use in individual therapy or small group therapy. It is easy to collect data using these sheets. You can use one as a warm-up, or combine several worksheets for an entire session targeting following complex directions.
These directions sheets also provide an easy way for me to gather data for the present levels section of an IEP when I’m planning to focus on complex directions objectives. I can get a percentage of accuracy, then re-assess several months later.
They also provide easy homework to send home for speech and language carryover practice.
No matter what, you’ll find these complex directions challenges becoming a “must-have” essential in your speech therapy room.
These worksheets offer a simple way to build complex listening skills and confidence with following directions tasks. They give upper elementary students the opportunity to practice following directions with a variety of embedded concepts.
They allow SLPs to have a grab ‘n go option to take students to that next level with following directions.
These following directions worksheets are challenging, fun and effective. My students have had a BLAST, and I’ve been amazed at the progress they have made in therapy.