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[Topic 4 Discussion | Topic 4 Overview | Topic 4 Case Examples | Topic 4 Resources]


Topic 4: Making Writing Fit Into Your Busy Schedule

Case Examples

So, How Does Writing/Art Activities Fit into My Busy Class Schedule?

In this portion of the workshop we will walk you through a day in the life of Veronica. We will highlight writing/art activities that occur throughout her day and give you examples of other students in similar activities that are slightly older or younger than Veronica. Adaptations are described, as well as preparations made to permit successful participation in emergent literacy activities. A more comprehensive description of incorporating literacy into daily classroom activities can be found in Chapter 8 of the Emergent Literacy Success book. Descriptions of various case scenarios that include art/writing examples can be found in Chapter 5 of the Emergent Literacy Success book

Veronica is a beginning communicator. See Veronica's Communication/Literacy profile from the handouts provided for week 1. Veronica is a shy 6-year-old who is fully included in a morning kindergarten class, and attends a special education resource classroom in the afternoon. She enjoys the kindergarten class, loves music, and takes her doll Annie everywhere she goes! She lives at home with her parents and her maternal grandmother. Her teacher, Ms. Simons, had a student who used AAC in her class last year, so she feels fairly comfortable about having Veronica in the class. The paraprofessional, Miss Gonzales, really enjoyed working with the AAC user last year, and is looking forward to having Veronica in their class.

Veronica is an Active level of academic participation (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992, p. 208), with academic expectations slightly less than for her peers, although she is learning similar content. Veronica is an Active level of social participation (Beukelman & Mirenda, 1992, p. 210), as she chooses whether to be involved in social contexts with her regular peers and actively participates in social interactions. However, she typically does not directly influence the activities of the group. It appears that this is due to her natural shyness, but the limitation of her communication output may contribute as well.

Veronica has cerebral palsy with severe oral-motor involvement. She drools somewhat, but has learned to use a terrycloth/dress fabric bracelet to clear the drool frequently. Her Grandma also makes her attractive neck scarves to match her clothing. Veronica currently uses a Macaw (32 location) to communicate. She does well with this device, and uses it during many activities throughout the day. She rarely uses it to initiate conversation with her peers. Her team plans to reevaluate displays that are available to her, to determine if this lack of use is due to lack of appropriate vocabulary, due to her shyness, or to a combination of the two factors. Veronica can change overlays by herself, since her speech-language pathologist, Mary, has removed the grid (which she doesn't need) and affixed loop (soft) Velcro to the device. All of her overlays have hook (rough) Velcro to attach them to the Macaw. This year, Mary plans to add level change commands to many of her overlays, so that she can change levels independently.

Arrival Time

Arrival time is often not a highly productive time. Veronica typically uses this time for working at the computer. Most mornings, she is encouraged to choose from the wide range of learning software that is accessible through Kid Desk (Edmark). Veronica typically uses IntelliKeys to access software, using several overlays. She still needs help deciding what overlay to use and inserting the overlay.

Bailey's Book House (especially Letter Machine and Read-A-Rhyme) is one of Veronica's favorite software programs. This time provides Veronica with independent opportunities to explore letters, and listens to the rich rhyming . In the "Read a Rhyme" program, Veronica can build different rhymes in a construction format. This activity is a great introduction to beginning story construction for Veronica.

Another arrival activity is for students to participate in an independent journal writing time. Danny, who is included in the first grade, uses his Liberator and his Daily Journal Notebook (a Liberator feature) to participate in this activity. He writes about the day of the week, school activities, and special events at home or school. He uses a combination of stored words, invented spelling, and his Portable Word Wall (alphabetic list of frequently used words, described in Chapter 5 of Emergent Literacy) to support his writing.

Whole Class Activities

Veronica's class stays on a theme for three to four weeks, with a different story chosen each week. All of the books are appropriate for Veronica, but this pace is too fast for Veronica. Therefore, Ms. Simons and Veronica's therapist have consulted with her Mom and decided to choose one of the class books as a Book For Learning each month. The theme for this month is "Insects & Bugs." The teacher uses whole class groupings to discuss books they have read and to focus on skill development activities, as described in Chapter 4 of Emergent Literacy.

Group Story Construction

One activity during this time is to build a spin-off story from the original story the class has read. In this case the class has read "I can Jump" by Joy Cowley. The students are participating in a Group Story construction activity. First, the teacher prompts the children by listing various insects not found in the story (e.g. ant, bee, worm, cricket). Veronica uses a theme-based supplemental communication display that supports the current unit, as discussed in chapter 5 of Emergent Literacy, to participate in this activity. Veronica selects from her insect page the "bee." Ms. Simons writes the name of each insect on a large card necklace. Next, she prompts the students to brainstorm actions that each of these insects do that other insects do not do. Veronica again uses her theme-based supplemental display labeled "insect actions" to participate. The teacher writes the actions on the board (e.g. sting, sing, crawl, etc.). Ms. Simons passes out the necklaces with insects name's to random students. The student wearing the insect name uses the story line "I can____." The class chants "said the ____." The student wearing the necklace then says the next line, "I can't____." The class chants, "said the ____." Veronica uses her story-specific display for the story "I Can Jump" plus supplemental displays to participate in this activity. In another classroom, Jesse's preschool participates in a morning group activity. At this time, students gather in a circle to talk about who is at school, the weather, and activities for the day. The teacher has made a chart with two columns: "Who's at School?" and "Who's at Home?" The student who is Name Tag Leader holds up a photo plus name tag for each student. Each student comes up to get his or her name tag/photo and places it on the chart on the correct side, while the class sings the song, "If your name is Jamie, put your picture on the school." As she takes attendance, the interventionist models use of the chart for students, labelling who is at school or at home, and counting students in each category. A chant or song is often used to support counting, such as, "One little, two little, three little children . . . six little children at school today." This approach also supports filling out the attendance form and creating a message for students to take to the office. By the end of the year, students can often fade to use of the name tag without a photo. See Burkhart (1993, pp. 6-7) for other ideas on this topic. Jesse uses eye gaze with a lexan choice board to select photos. He does not yet recognize his name. Numerous other print rich activities occur during morning group. Some examples are:


The teacher uses the Write-On board to indicate who is absent. She makes sure that all children can see her writing. She quickly records the message, "Janie Adams and Carlos Garcia are absent today." on Jesse's Cheap Talk 4 (other portable digitized devices that could be used are: Say it, Switch Module - Toys for special Children; Switch Mate - TASH; Adapted Hallmark Greeting Card - Creative Communicating; Voice Recording Photo Frame - Radio Shack; SpeakEasy - Ablenet). Today Jesse is the class messenger, so the paraprofessional takes him to the office to tell the secretary who is absent. Jesse pushes the Write-On board toward the secretary and uses his single switch device (Cheap Talk 4 - Enabling Devices) to communicate the message verbally.


The class sings "Down on Grandpa's Farm," a song related to the story theme about farm animals. The teacher has made several adaptations to her materials to make sure that all students can successfully participate. The song is presented by using a choice board as a "song strip." to visually present the symbols as the group sings (see section labeled "Singing To Read" in Chapter 6 of Emergent Literacy). This activity prepares students for "fill in the blank" construction activities that they may do later in the year or in kindergarten. The back of the song strip is used to present choices to her students. The teacher highlights each symbol with a squeeze light as verbal hints are provided, "We could sing about the COW, the PIG, or the DUCK...<pause>." After Jesse chooses the duck, the teacher helps him place it in the correct location - "the blank" on the front of the song strip, so the children can see a clear left-to-right depiction of the song. Jesse uses a single switch attached to his Cheap Talk 4 device described previously. He inserts the repeated line, "E I E I O" as the students sing "Old MacDonald's Farm." Two of Jesse's classmates also use augmentative communication devices to sing along with the teacher.


Speech-language pathologists are well aware of the richness of snack and mealtime as natural opportunities to promote speech and language development. These times can also be highly supportive of emergent literacy goals. Today Jimmy and Rya are the class helpers. They use the "Who's At School?" chart from morning circle to count out how many cups and placements are needed for snack. Initially, Ms. Newman models the use of this chart, then gradually reduces her models. By the end of the year, she hopes that Jimmy and Rya will independently go to the wall chart to count out the number of students present.

Center Based Activities

At these small group centers, children participate in activities such as shared reading/storytime, dramatic play, computer play, art, science, and story construction activities. Some of these activities vary from day to day.

Cooking Center

About once a week, the children participate in a small group cooking activity. Ms. Simons has prepared an enlarged recipe card for making "Ants on a Log." Ms. Gonzales cuts apart the five pictures and the students help to sequence them on a choice board as they create their "Ants on a Log". As usual during cooking time, Veronica has a generic cooking page on her Macaw (Food Preparation, from Display Book II, Goossens, Crain, & Elder, 1994). Ms. Gonzales pulled symbols from the supplemental cooking folder stored in the cooking center, and attached them to the right-hand border of Veronica's Macaw, where there is a strip of Velcro. Pictures representing raisins and celery are added to her display.

Creative Writing Center

Veronica's class is encouraged to rewrite the story they have been reading in class, "I Can Jump" by Joy Cowley. Ms. Simons reminds the students of the group construction activity they have done earlier. They can use the words she printed on the blackboard for the story construction activity. Veronica and her partners rewrite the story using the cloze format, "I can _____, said the _____." "I can't _____, said the ______." Veronica uses her Macaw with the story-specific display, plus the supplemental displays decribed earlier of insects and insect actions to dictate her recreation. Her story is entitled, "I Can Sting." Ms. Gonzales records her creation on the paper. Veronica illustrates the activity using an adapted stamp base (Creative Communicating) plus homemade stamps of insects. She is able to use the stamps without assistance, and has four colors of stamp pads to choose from.


Anita is included in a first-grade classroom. After reading and talking about spiders, the students are instructed to make a drawing of different things that might be found in spider webs. Anita uses one of the Emergent Literacy Setups '95 (Creative Communicating) to complete the same activity. She uses the template created for KidPix showing a spider web with several different items around the web. A ClickIt setup is included with this activity. When Anita presses her switch, it scans each items auditorally (e.g., frog, fly). She selects an item and it automatically moves to the web and scans different spots on the web to place the item.

Play/Dramatics Center

In another area of the classroom, Jesse, the preschooler, and two of his classmates participate in a structured play activity with the speech-language pathologist. For the past month the children have read the story "I Like" by Jillian Cutting. a food related story. The teacher has set up the housekeeping area like a restaurant. In this area she has placed a variety of "literacy artifacts" (e.g. menus, stamps, pencils and writing tablets, enlarged recipe cards, etc.) Eric plays the waiter and Jesse and his friend are the customers. Jesse uses a single switch to make comments during play, "Yucky" or, "Yummy!" with Jesse eye-gazing to the symbol he wants, and a partner placing the switch in the correct switch jack to speak the message. The speech-language pathologist uses Jesse's eye gaze symbol display to point to the symbols as she models communication (Goossens', Crain, & Elder, 1992). She also uses a choice board for presenting a small number of choices to Jesse during this activity. In addition, Jesse wears a hand mitt on his hand and a dowel stick is attached to it so he can pick up food items with velcro on them (see "Play: For Fun, For Friends, For Learning" in Chapter 6 of Emergent Literacy). Later the children switch roles and Jesse is the waiter. He uses his single switch to ask the children" What would you like?" His speech-language pathologist helps Jesse stamp the order onto the pad using the adapted stamp base (Creative Communicating) and homemade food stamps. She writes the labels of the items on the pad making sure that Jess sees her writing.

Making it happen in the busy classroom or home requires a combination of factors. These include: team support, light tech, high tech, organization, determination, and a clear vision of the ultimate goal - the highest level of literacy possible for each student. They all deserve our best.


From: Musselwhite & King-DeBaun (1997) Emergent Literacy Success: Merging Technology and Whole Language. Creative Communicating. Chap 8 pp-277-302

Beukelman, D., & Mirenda, P. (1992) Augmentative and alternative communication: Management of severe communication disorders in children and adults. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks.

Burkhart, L. (1993). Total augmentative communication in the early childhood classroom. Eldersburg, MD: Linda J. Burkhart.

Goossens, C., Crain, S., & Elder, P. (1994). Communication Display Books For Engineered Environments. Southeast Augmentative Communication Publications, 2430 11th Avenue, North, Birmingham, AL 35234.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998.

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