October 17, 2022
You know that “I wish I had invented that” feeling? The “wow, that’s so simple and makes so much sense” kind of deal? That’s how I felt the first time I heard about the Expanding Expression Tool. How logically wonderful!
According to the website, the Expanding Expression Tool (EET) is a simple multisensory approach that guarantees quick results. This tool can be used for general descriptions, writing from prior knowledge, autobiographies/biographies, summarizing, and more. The EET helps to build oral and written expression, vocabulary comprehension, defining/describing, making associations, object function, categorization, and identifying similarities and differences.
Included in the kit is the Expanding Expression Tool, Expanding Expression manual, object cards to describe, stickers for writing, a classroom poster, a dice game, instructional icons, and prompt cards for writing from prior knowledge, biographies/autobiographies, retelling, and lesson plans.
The tool itself is a strand of beads symbolizing the various parts necessary to describe a common object. It is composed of green (group - category), blue (do - function), a white bead with an eyeball (what does it look like?), a wooden bead (what is it made of?), a pink bead (parts), a white bead (where), and an orange bead with a question mark on it (what else do I know?). The beads move up and down the foot-long strand to give tactile feedback to students as they use each part. For short, this strand is called “Eetchy” and looks like a friendly caterpillar.
When paired with a catchy tune (check out this one - she carries a tone beautifully!), learners quickly internalize the importance of including relevant information about common nouns. You can also rap it, jump it, sing it like a robot, or any way your humans learn best! The tool is best taught in its entirety and not by each subsection. For example, it’s not advisable to first just teach green - group (categorization) and master this prior to moving to blue - do (object function.) When learned as a full tool, students start expanding their vocabulary right from the start.
Ok! You got it? Now let’s talk about how to use it OUTSIDE of our therapy rooms! Wait, what? Did I just skip a step? Yes. Intentionally. This tool is an awesome “in” if you’ve been wanting to dip your toe into push-in therapy or, even (::gasp::), full group lessons. You can (and should!) certainly use it within your own four walls, but it reaches a broad audience when you are willing to introduce it to the classroom.
Let’s break it down by how to use it for three grade levels.
In preschool, EET can be introduced as part of regular curriculum studies and supported by shared writing activities. The first year or two, I (as the SLP) taught the EET lessons by sharing the song, teaching the parts, and doing a lot of “I do, we do, you do” practice with common objects or pictures from the books they read in class. The teacher took over after that and referenced the EET all throughout the day! Bless and release, friends. Our workloads are well supported when we are able to teach the teacher how to use such great tools.
In kindergarten, I teach lessons one time a week for 5-6 weeks. These lessons are short, 10-15 minutes, where we sing the song (usually 2-3 times), practice using the tool, then sing the song again. The kindergarten classroom keeps an Eetchy (the tool) and uses it throughout the rest of the day. They can often be seen “eetchy-ing” literacy or science vocabulary. It is a supportive tool in their early writing (independent or shared) to support expansion. When they can verbalize how much they know about an object (more than they think!), it is more easily transferred to their writing.
In first grade, I follow a similar pattern as my kindergarten lessons, but I often shift the focus more to writing. This is where the stickers that come with the kit come in handy. These can be placed on the students’ desks to remind them of all of the important parts they can include when writing. The first year I pushed into the classroom to teach EET, a teacher shared a pre-writing activity about apples that her first graders had completed. As supported in research, almost all students stuck to just one aspect of language in their writing. Most commonly, this was “object function.” Apples. You eat them. If they got fancy, they also included one color. Apples are red. In reality, they know so much more about apples! After the EET lessons, their post writing samples included an average of 5 parts of language. This brought me the street cred to pedal myself right into other classrooms and spread the EET love!
Grades beyond first grade
When I teach grades above first, I tend to modify the lessons beyond what I’ve previously described. I may delve into the EET manual and look at biographies or character descriptions or other higher-level writing strategies. This often looks more like a consultant role for me – providing visuals or strategies instead of doing the direct teaching. Teachers are always grateful for this support, especially as vocabulary shifts and changes in the upper grades.
So why push in, though? Why when we are as busy as we are, are we spreading ourselves thinner? Because this pays off in droves. Teaching how to expand expression in preschool leads to greater language and vocabulary moving into kindergarten. Reinforcing and teaching/reteaching in kindergarten continues this growth, as it does in first grade and beyond. Front loading the meat and potatoes of great language expression with our youngest learners, including general education students, enhances language and writing for all. This may very well reduce your special education caseload when all learners are equipped with language expression strategies from the start.
This is also a great opportunity to pre-teach and re-teach the learners on your caseload coming for direct instruction and allow them to be the “expert” in their class. I am cognizant of calling on my students to share with the class something on which they are already confident because we’ve already practiced. So often “our” kids don’t get to shine in class and this gives them that awesome opportunity.
I’m not going to lie, when general education students see me in the hall and call me “Mrs. Eetchy”, I’m elated. They’ll hum the tune, and I know my work matters.
About the Author
Abbie Keibler is a Speech-Language Pathologist at Mississippi Bend AEA in Bettendorf, Iowa. She is a non-traditional SLP graduate with undergraduate degrees in German and Psychology and taught preschool prior to (and during!) the acquisition of her Masters of Arts in SLP at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Currently, Abbie is in her 14th year working in the schools where she serves the preschool and elementary population and is a member of the Assistive Technology Department. Abbie is an adjunct instructor at St Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, and has a special interest in comprehensive literacy for complex communicators. When not “speech-ing,” you’ll find Abbie taxi-ing her children from activity to activity or reading. She reads over 80 fiction books a year as a necessary escape.