Morning meeting! Some call it circle for young kids, some call it calendar or calendar time. I call it morning meeting with the exception of preschool just because I can use that term across all ages and it is appropriate for high schoolers and preschoolers. And that makes my life easier. When I first started working in this field, morning meeting was my least favorite activity to do in a classroom. When we would set up and run a classroom, I would do anything as long as I didn’t have to run morning meeting. It wasn’t in my comfort zone at all. However, I was lucky and worked with some excellent skills teachers who showed me what morning meeting could be to expand communication, expand interaction, teach turn taking, and work on group participation–all skills our students need to be independent and to move to the next, less restrictive, environment. As I began to see what was being done, it became one of my favorite times of day and creating activities that were functional, age-appropriate, and meaningful became a goal. In fact, the first books I wrote were for children to generalize vocabulary knowledge from discrete trials to group settings in morning meeting.
Whether you love it or fear it, morning meeting is an essential part of the day that teaches skills that many of our students struggle with including sitting in a group, waiting their turn, interacting with peers, and maintaining their behavior when it isn’t their turn. However, they only learn these things if we set the activities up to teach it. In addition, that last skill of maintaining their behavior when it’s not their turn is hard for many of our students. So, finding ways for them to be engaged throughout the time of morning meeting is an important skill and I want to share some ideas on ways to increase communication and engagement throughout the process.
1. Have a schedule
Having a schedule of the routine of morning meeting can help students to know what comes next, which relieves anxiety. It also helps them know when something is going to be over. Let’s face it, we all have times that we look at the end of a book to see how many pages we have left, that we look at our watch to see when this professional development or meeting is going to end. Knowing when something will be over just makes it easier to get through it sometimes.
2. Offer choices
Offering choices of activities like songs or books to read are a great opportunity for communication. Having a song board or a book/story board is a great way to have the students participate and be motivated for the activity. If he chose what song to sing or knows he will get a choice, he might be more motivated to participate. It’s also a good way to cue speech to make a choice or use augmentative communication like picture exchange or electronics to state a preference. These are often goals for many of our students that can be practiced in morning meeting.
For some students learning to make a choice is a goal because otherwise they get overwhelmed by being asked to state an opinion and freeze up. You can give choices to students about which book to read, which song to sing, which verse in a song to sing (e.g., wheels on the bus). Providing visual supports helps them be successful in those choices in the larger group setting.
3. Use manipulatives / visuals
This is one of the best lessons I have learned over time to keep students of any age engaged. Give them something to hold on to and something they can see that cues them to attend so they know when do their part. One easy way to do this is by using interactive books that have pieces you have the students take and hold until you get to their page.
In this picture, the students each have a picture from the book and have to identify when the book gets to their page, raise their hands, and name the item they have.
4. Make skills functional
Morning meeting is a great time to practice skills like calendar skills, days of the week, etc. If your students don’t have these skills, all ages will benefit from them. For younger children we often have a calendar song and we tend to do a traditional morning meeting like a circle time in preschool. However, as students get older in elementary and then move to middle and high school, the days of the week song is too young for them and we need to focus on how they might use a calendar. For some students calendar may be just understanding if I am at home or at school, while for others (often in the same class) it might be number sense, prediction of the next date/day of the week, and predicting when activities will take place. Similarly, knowing how I came to school each day (walked, car, bus) is an important skill for all of our students to tell people about their day.
5. Incorporate augmentative communication
This might be pictures to cue speech or full-on iPad apps for communication depending on your students. Your students might have their own communication devices and/or you might use strategies to support the communication of the whole group. I like simple AAC devices or pictures for this type of activity. We don’t lose a lot of time getting it set up, students who are nonverbal can have a voice with a peer, and if you have students with a mix of skills you can accommodate all of them (some with pictures for cueing, some with verbal without cues and some with voice output).
You can have them read the menu for lunch that day, have someone set up a lunch tray like the one below and have students make a choice between entrees and side dishes using AAC.
Set up songs and stories with repetitive phrases (e.g., ) with the repetitive phrase recorded on a switch so that a student who is nonverbal can activate it to read or sing the song. Put greetings on a simple switch to say “Good Morning” so that students who need a cue or who are nonverbal can greet peers.Give me a shout in the comments if you would like more ideas about how to do this and I’ll write about it in a separate post.
If you are looking for morning meeting activities like most of those listed above, check out my Morning Meeting Starter Kit for Preschool and Elementary where you can find song and story boards, calendar materials, and other supports for increasing engagement. I am working on a secondary set that will have age-appropriate materials for the same types of skills, so stay tuned.
I’ll be back with future posts about morning meeting and group activities in general in the coming weeks with more ways to keep students engage, samples of activities you can do and a discussion of creating age-appropriate activities for older students in morning meeting. If you have something you would like me to address, give me a shout in the comments or shoot me an email and I will be happy to try to include it.
Next up from the #WeTeachSped crew is Traci Bender from The Bender Bunch who will be talking about tips for dyslexia.
Until next time,