I feel confident in my skills as a speech pathologist now that I’ve been at this for ten years. But every so often I encounter a student with a speech problem who does not want to talk during speech. I have to be creative to work with them, from working inside their classroom or taking a friend along to speech, there are ways to get students comfortable with the idea of speech therapy. But to get them actually talking? That can be so hard! I’m going to open up my bag of tricks right now and share with you the ways I get shy students to talk. **Note: If you are working with a student that you suspect has selective mutism, check out these resources at SMART.**
- “I wonder [what/why]…” This little phrase works like magic! I don’t understand exactly why. Anyway, it has even come in handy with my own children. They complete my phrase every time.
- Say Improbable Absurdities — Kids who don’t want to talk will often correct you if you say something wrong. For example, say “turtle” instead of “dice” as in “It’s your turn, here’s the turtle.” Students laugh and it totally breaks the ice.
- “I don’t know.” Whenever I shrug and raise my hands, saying “I don’t know,” many students feel compelled to answer and fill in the blank I left.
- Draw a Picture or play Pictionary — Having students use another non-verbal way to communicate can get them to talk. You can use a worksheet or just a blank piece of paper. Also, kids love it when adults draw so try playing a pictionary-like game.
- Use Music/Dance/Exercise — There’s nothing like getting kids moving to get them talking. Use GoNoodle (requires free registration) and pull up a fun song to dance to. Also, YouTube has many videos that are grabs from JustDance (you must pre-screen them prior to use). Students love dancing to those prior to starting speech therapy sessions and it warms them up to talking, listening, and having fun in speech.
Most importantly, it’s best to work slowly with shy students and not push them to talk. Even if you want to get going on their goals quickly, rapport must be established. Don’t worry if your first sessions aren’t very structured. You will get there!