Using Toca Life World in Speech & Language Treatment

I started using Toca Life World when all my appointments were still on telehealth (until I got my first round of COVID shots). A year later I have patients who still request it during in-person appointments. This open-ended video game is packed with things to explore and it’s really useful for speech and langauge treatment.

I first learned about this app years ago when I read a blog about using it with contextual techniques. At the time I had a couple patients who had memorized the social scenes cards I was using and I thought Toca Life World would be a perfect way to create novel social scenes without too much time and effort! Since I got the app I’ve found lots of other uses for it. Here are some ideas complete with tutorial videos!

Here are some more ideas for addressing articulation in play-based activities.

Here are some more ideas for working on narratives.

Irregular Past-Tense Verbs

My room for targeting irregular past-tense verbs in Toca Life World.

My patients’ most common grammatical errors are on irregular plurals (see below) and irregular past-tense verbs. So I made a room with items that have irregular past-tense verbs in them. I always start this target with flash cards and use a least-to-most cueing hierarchy (unless the child needs a consistent level of support in which case I’ll start there and then gradually give them less). So I’ll show them the card with the present tense and say “He’s eating.” then switch to the past-tense card and say, “Yesterday he…” If they need help I’ll ask, “Is it eated?” If they need more help then I’ll ask, “Is it eated or ate?” and switch the position of the target so that I either say it first or second.

Once kids have mastered the flashcards I switch to using Toca Life World. I only have to prepare the room once (unless the game crashes) and it takes about 10 minutes to prepare. For each child I’ll load the room and then put the dog on the bed and say, “He’s sleeping and sleeping and sleeping,” before I take the dog off the bed and ask what he did. Just like with the flash cards and move through the cueing hierarchy (again, unless a child demonstrates a consistent need for the same level of support).

Here’s my tutorial for creating a room to target irregular past-tense verbs in Toca Life world for FREE. This is also the first tutorial I made and it covers the basics for using Toca Life World.

And here are more of my favorite activities for addressing irregular past-tense verbs.

Social Skills

As children with social skills deficits try to navigate our highly-social world they must first learn the basics (eye contact, following eye-gaze, attending to others, etc.) and then learn to use those skills to identify others’ emotions, inference the cause of the emotions, and problem-solve the situations causing these emotions.

In Toca Life World I like to use the community locations. I’ll choose a new location each week and come up with new ideas for each of the 4 Zones of Regulation, plus one extra. I then move the characters around and narrate a little while using the emotions button (which is on the bottom-left of the screen). For example, I’ll say the girl is going to get in line, but then have the boy in the black vest cut in front of her and use the emotions to make the girl angry. Then I’ll ask the patient, “How does she feel?” If the patient has trouble I’ll make the same face as the girl and ask what emotion that is. If he/she needs more help I ask, “Does she look angry or happy?”

Once we have that answer I’ll ask, “What made her so angry?” I try to stay away from the question, “Why is she angry,” because children often answer with the reason they think she’s angry (“She’s frowning”). Again, if the child can’t answer I’ll try giving him/her a wrong answer like, “Do you think she’s angry because the sun is out?” and then I’ll give the child a binary choice if that’s still too hard.

Once we get that answer I’ll ask, “What can she do to help this problem?” I stay away from questions like, “What can she do to feel better?” because sometimes hitting someone does make kids feel better about being mistreated. Again, if kids have trouble answering the question I’ll make an intentional mistake like, “Do you think it would help if she went home?” And then I’ll give the child a binary choice if they need more help. I refer to the Zones of Regulation a lot for this step and follow Dr. Jonice Webb’s rules for the messages of our feelings. A distilled version of this is that the green zone tells us to appreciate, the red zone tells us to advocate for fairness, the blue zone tells us to prioritize what’s important to us, and the yellow zone tells us to make sure we’re safe.

Here’s my tutorial for using Toca Life World to target these social skills using the FREE version.

And here are some more ideas for working on social skills.

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