Motivation Through Fan Mail Having trouble engaging preteens in language exercises? See if this SLP’s idea of having students write fan letters might work for you. Have You Tried This?
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Have You Tried This?  |   March 01, 2016
Motivation Through Fan Mail
Author Notes
  • Frida Matute, MA, CCC-SLP, is based in New York City and owns a private traveling practice, Indy Speech Service. She also provides services through Children’s Advocates of New York and at Bellevue Hospital Center. info@indytalkshop.com
    Frida Matute, MA, CCC-SLP, is based in New York City and owns a private traveling practice, Indy Speech Service. She also provides services through Children’s Advocates of New York and at Bellevue Hospital Center. info@indytalkshop.com×
Article Information
Development / Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / School-Based Settings / Normal Language Processing / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / Have You Tried This?
Have You Tried This?   |   March 01, 2016
Motivation Through Fan Mail
The ASHA Leader, March 2016, Vol. 21, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.21032016.36
The ASHA Leader, March 2016, Vol. 21, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.21032016.36
“But, Mrs. Frida, I just wrote a word. It’s your turn to write one now!” Luca squealed.
Meet Luca, age 11. The student who bargains, negotiates and even attempts to manipulate treatment tasks in efforts to procrastinate. Sound familiar? If you work with school-aged kids, I’m sure it does.
If I’m lucky, I get 45 minutes to target goals I set for each session. However, if I spend the first few minutes redirecting similarly time-wasting exchanges, then I’m left with little time for any real treatment. The problem grows much worse if we get only 30 minutes per session.
I realize these behaviors come across as typical for students or clients. But, after trying redirection, positive reinforcement or simply ignoring unwanted behaviors, how do you overcome them? How do you swiftly move past the constant back-and-forth older kids engage in when faced with learning a new skill? And once you manage to gain their attention, how do you excite and motivate them to read, write and communicate?
At 11, Luca was highly delayed in literacy skills. He hadn’t received speech-language services for years and really needed to catch up to his peers before the start of sixth grade. He needed repetition and intensity to succeed, but I couldn’t find a way to drill fundamental skills in a meaningful or fun way. Then, I learned about Luca’s WWE fascination.

Luca got so excited about this writing assignment that he quickly replaced his formerly negative, inattentive behavior with eagerness, excitement and joy for both reading and writing.

Yep, those three letters stand for World Wrestling Entertainment. Some of us cringe at mention of this “sport,” especially if brought up in treatment. This intense fighting—real or not—can cause traumatic brain injuries, not to mention the general aggressiveness of the whole ordeal. After multiple attempts to get Luca excited about assignments on sharks, outer space and superheroes all fell flat, I thought, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
I spoke to Luca’s mom about how much WWE she felt comfortable letting me use to teach and motivate him in sessions through video, news articles and online research. Together, we set guidelines and established boundaries on the material I could use.
Once we agreed on those parameters, I came to a session prepared with a big surprise for Luca—his next task was to write a fan letter and get a signed autograph from his favorite WWE wrestler, Dean Ambrose. The actual words out of his mouth were: “Oh, my God. I think I’m going to pass out.”
Luca got so excited about this writing assignment that he quickly replaced his formerly negative, inattentive behavior with eagerness, excitement and joy for both reading and writing. We read about 10 articles on Ambrose, his opponents and his wrestling moves in the span of two weeks. Luca’s reading fluency improved dramatically just because of his eagerness to practice by learning more about his favorite topic.

With a simple yet motivating task, I effectively targeted all Luca’s literacy goals by focusing on a topic interesting to him.

We used this incentive to successfully learn proper letter-writing skills by discussing good structure using the traditional five-paragraph essay format. We actually came up with Luca’s own WWE personality to share with Ambrose in his letter, allowing us ample opportunity to learn and apply new words like “stealth,” “enigmatic” and “mysterious” to describe his character and his accompanying superstar wrestling moves. He even began to independently recall spelling of complex words and correct grammatical errors from initial through final drafts.
In the end, I effectively targeted all of Luca’s literacy goals by focusing on a topic interesting to him. While it may take us months to receive a letter and signed autograph from Ambrose, I hope it arrives just in time for Luca’s 12th birthday, motivating him even more throughout the school year.
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March 2016
Volume 21, Issue 3