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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Anatomy of Sequencing Tasks: Steps to Telling Stories

In a couple of previous posts about sequencing, I offered some insights into why we work on sequencing skills, and even included a free activity appropriate for the time of year (here in the U.S. it is a cold, snowy winter).

Sequencing is important for daily living skills, conversational skills, storytelling and retelling skills, and even learning in History or Science classes. This seemingly simple skill is crucial in so many areas of a student’s life; so much so that we spend a lot of time on it. 

Sequencing involves ordering language and information into an accurate or efficient order.  Students with language disorders may have difficulty with not just steps of a task, but also words in a phrase or sentence.  Students might also have difficulty with working memory; causing them to “lose” some of the steps.

 From sequencing the meals in a day or the steps of a simple routine task to telling the steps of an activity or retelling War and Peace, sequencing plays a crucial role in helping students to organize themselves and their world.

Sequencing requires us to break down a task or an event into smaller steps that we then put in order.  We need to understand the sequence in order to perform the task.
Sequencing also requires us to break down an event or story into its component smaller events in order to tell about it or understand someone else’s telling.

In order to understand sequencing, the student needs to understand ordinal order; that there is a first, a next, and a last.  I usually begin with 3-step sequences; such as the order of meals we eat in a day.  Sometimes, you may even need to start with just two steps.  I begin by providing large illustrations of each step or event.  I gradually reduce the size of the visual cue; moving from a single picture per word or phrase to a small visual per sentence and then paragraph. 
Eventually, I want to get rid of the visual cues, if possible.

Expository and narrative tasks are different in how the mind processes them.  Stories about ourselves and events are easier to understand and tell about than how-to tasks, which are a later developmental step.

Important for both types of sequencing tasks is the understanding and use of temporal words; such as ‘first,’ ‘then,’ ‘last,’ ‘and after that,’ etc.  Use these words as often as possible in all appropriate contexts to help students understand them.  And don’t forget numerical order; such as first, second, third.
In my storybook companion resources on TPT I always include sequencing the story as one of the linguistic tasks, including a variety of visual cues for different sequence lengths.
Use the verbal and the visual together to help scaffold comprehension.
Additionally, I have a variety of life-skills sequencing resources; such as this one.

I was recently asked to talk about SPARK Cards, which are designed to “…encourage children to observe picture details and to improve their picture interpretation skills.”  Each picture set contains 6 related pictures, but they can be modified to only use 2-3 or 4.  The colorful cards depict common activities, but you should make sure your particular student has some background knowledge about each specific sequence that you use.
The cards can be used simply to put in order, or to tell a complete story.  Their use can also be extended to answering Wh questions, problem solving, and predicting.  Each topic card contains information about each picture in the sequence and Wh questions that can be asked; ranging from What and Where to Why and How.

The SPARK cards contain 8 sequences of 6 cards each, including:
going to the library
making a lemonade stand
preparing for a hurricane
planting flowers
going to the vet
a trip to the beach
setting the table
playing football

For some of these activities you may need to activate background knowledge or even create it. Using storybooks can help with that, as can role playing games.  You might also need to match more concrete visuals to your speaking.  Addition of color cues is also helpful.

Whether your student is learning to sequence two words (or symbols) together for communicating or sequencing multiple steps and events in a complete, complex story, you don’t want to skip this skill in your intervention.

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Until next time - keep on talking!

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