I’ve stepped into developmental preschools to provide direct individual and group therapy, as well as worked in preschool settings for phonological processes, hard of hearing children, and language preschools. In all of these programs, I have used group circle time for language - sometimes connecting it to the preschool teacher’s group circle, and sometimes creating my own. Either way, there are a few critical components to decide before tackling a group circle.
1. What are each student’s goals? No matter what you decide to use for materials, group circle needs to address goals for each student. In very low functioning classrooms, picture exchange systems and AAC may have to be incorporated into each activity.
2. How will I target pragmatics? Group circle is a great way to work on naming classmates, turn taking, and requesting. Depending on students’ ability levels, this can look different for each student. I have students interact during different activities in the order they are sitting, that way we can focus on turn taking. For example: little Johnny picks a vocabulary item from the box. “After Johnny, who’s turn is it?” Point at the next student if need be.
3. Time for collaboration! When entering a classroom that is not your own, you do not want to supplant the teacher. Involving the preschool teacher in your planning helps not only the students, but the entire team be more effective in how the skills targeted in group circle are carried over into the classroom. The most basic collaboration should include any themes the preschool is doing to hopefully tie together the language skills with vocabulary being taught in the classroom. This also serves to open communication between the teacher (and any support staff) with what kind of help you will require during group circle to target goals, for example, being able to say “I need him to say ‘my turn’ or sign ‘me’ before he can come forward.”
4. What will my routine be? Routines are important for children who need structure as well as those who have difficulty with transitions. Transitioning into group circle, or switching from the classroom teacher to the SLP can be difficult for some students when they do not know what to expect. Transitioning with a specific song or a visual system can aid with this. Also, ending group circle with the same expectation, such as saying “all done” helps build closure for the activity.
5. How will I target carry over? There are three parts to carry over with group circle: 1) Being in the classroom for speech instead of heading to the speech room helps build the expectation of using the skill in the classroom, as well as gives the preschool staff a heads up to your expectations of each student. 2) Collaboration with the teacher also leads to carry over of skills into the classroom. 3) Put simply: homework. Creating basic activities that can be sent home as homework or completed in group circle and then sent home for students to share with their parents can be great ways to expand therapy outside of group circle.