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Adapting “Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday” for Students with Visual Impairments

Ideas to adapt "Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday" for students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities

As part of the graduate coursework for Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities in the Teacher Preparation Program in Visual Impairments at the University of Kentucky, students were asked to complete four projects: a Story Box with at least 10 objects that correspond to the story, picture communication symbols and tactile communication symbols designed to go along with the story, and a talking book to go along with the story or represent  concepts from the story.

We are sharing them on Paths to Literacy and hope that others will use them!  


I chose Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst and illustrated Ray Cruz because it is truly one of my favorites. It is such a fun and silly story about a boy spending all of his money on things he truly doesn’t need, but really wants. After creating a story box, tactile symbols, picture symbols, and a talking power point book, I believe the possibilities of using this book with students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities are endless. The book illustrations are all completed in black and white, so the book is great to use with students that have cortical visual impairments to work on salient feature skills.  The book also lends itself to being used to practice sequencing and cause and effect activities. It can be used in conjunction with learning to count money, learning about wants versus needs, and other important life skills.  

Story Box:

Throughout the story Alexander spends his money on a variety of things he wants but doesn’t really need. This allowed me to be creative in my selection of items for the story box and it allows me to provide students with the opportunity to be actively engaged in their learning. While all the items are directly related to the story, many of them can also be used to teach broader concepts to students.   

Story Box Tactile Objects: 

  • Piggy Bank: Represents the idea of saving money. The entire story of Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday is about a young boy that had money, but then he spent it all on silly things that he didn’t really need. It also acts as my creative storage container because it has a lid and all of the materials fit into the container. 
  • Money: The entire story centers around Alexander having money but then foolishly spending money. I also chose money because I feel like this book offers a lot of extensions into being able to teach students about money, identifying coins, counting money, or even the idea of saving money.
  • Bus Tokens: They are a big focus because they are the only thing Alexander still has left after spending all of his money. I used gold coins to help gain visual attention for students with CVI.
  • Toy Car:  Represents the idea of being rich and it creates a CVI friendly environment for my students that are attracted to bright colors. I used a miniature car so the student would need to have the concept and experience of a car to fully understand the miniature.
  • Plant:  Faux plant so that it can be used repeatedly. It is can be used for sequencing of events and as a simple recall comprehension question to ask the students what the grandparents bring the mom when they visit.
  • Walkie-Talkies: Alexander refers to them throughout the story and how he really wants to save his money for them but…They could also be used to practice communication skills.
  • Bubble Gum: Small pieces of individually wrapped gum. In the story, Alexander goes to the drug store and buys gum, also used for added sensory experience while reading.
  • Marble: Real marble, he attempts to hide a marble in his hand and have his mom guess which hand the marble is in and bets her some money that he ends up losing. 
  • Plastic Snake: He rents his friends pet snake for an hour; the plastic snake represents the snake and gives the idea of the length and curviness of a snake.
  • Play Noise-Making Toilet: Alexander drops some of his money down the toilet and flushes it. The student could act out dropping money down the toilet and flushing it; they can also work on fine motor skills. Provides added sensory experience. You could also use the real handle from a toilet.
  • Butter Knife & Scissors: Real butter knife and scissors to use for sequencing of events when Alexander drops money down the crack and tries to use the butter knife and scissors to retrieve it.
  • Mini-Chocolate Candy Bar:  Silver wrapped miniature candy bar to gain visual attention and o represent the candy bar Alexander eats by accident and then must pay for, as an extension activity students could count money to buy candy and eat it adding to their sensory experiences for the book.  
  • Half-Melted Candle, Deck of Cards & One-Eyed Teddy Bear:  Alexander goes to a yard sale and purchases a half-melted candle, a teddy bear with one eye, and a deck of cards without the seven of clubs or two of diamonds.  I included these items to work on many skills, including sequencing, as well as sensible buying skills.

 

Story Box Procedure/Ideas for Implementation:

  • Story Prediction: Before reading the story, go through each story box item and have the student predict what they think the story will be about based on all of the items. 
  • Vocabulary & Language: The story box items and pre-taught vocabulary words can be used to develop language skills and expressive descriptions of items.  For students with CVI the salient features of each object can be discussed.
  • Sequencing: Each item from the story box can be used to present the story sequentially for the students to follow along, presenting a few items at a time to allow time for exploration.  After reading the story, the items could then be used for the student to sequence the events of the story.  
  • Student Engagement: After the student was given time to explore each item and provided the needed background knowledge they could utilize the story box to become an active participant during the reading of the story.  When the item is mentioned in the story the student could present that item or be able to experience the story tactually. 
  • Cause and Effect: The items could be used to discuss cause and effect.  For example, Alexander must pay 11 cents to his brother because he eats his candy bar.   Alexander loses money because he makes a bet with his mom.  
  • Money/Economics: The book can be utilized to discuss saving money, spending money, sensible spending, and to identify coins, and count money.  
  • Retelling: The items from the story box can be utilized by the student to allow them to retell the story.  The ability to retell the story is an essential skill that indicates comprehension.  
  • Comprehension: Students will be asked basic recall comprehension questions, such as, “What did Alexander buy at the yard sale?”  They can use the items from the story box to help assist them with their answers and to help engage them in answering.  They may also be asked higher level comprehension questions such as, “Why did Alexander spend all of his money?”  The story box items may help them to understand why/how Alexander spent all of his money.

 

Tactile Communication Symbols:

These are the Tactile Communication symbols that I will utilize to improve language and comprehension skills for my students before, during, and after reading the story Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday. Each symbol has been placed on a tactile communication card taken from the Tactile Connections Kit available from www.aph.org. These cards will be utilized for students that are beginning to use visual and tactual skills and for students that are beginning to work on language skills. The cards can be used as a low-tech augmentative communication device. Most of these cards have been created using fringe vocabulary words, which are words that are more specific to a topic, environment, and individual. I have also added in some core vocabulary words, which are words that can be used across a variety of settings and activities, such as yes, no, cancel, happy, sad, today, yesterday, get, look, love, and do.  

Tactile symbols

Creative Display

The tactile cards are displayed on a Velcro folding board with Velcro attached to each of them. The folding board was purchased from Amazon. Using an Invisiboard available through APH is also an option if you have one available to you.    

The felt folding board is also very CVI friendly with a black felt background. It folds easily, can be adjusted to many angles to help with glare and providing the correct position to meet student’s needs, and is easy transport. The Velcro does not stick incredibly well to the board, however, strips of Velcro across the board help to alleviate that problem.  

Creative Storage

When the communication symbols are not in use, they will be stored in a super stacker container, which is very useful because it has a divider in the top to allow placement of symbols that stick out more on bottom and thinner symbols on top. 

Characters:

These cards were all placed on the yellow tactile symbols card, yellow cards are used to represent a person. Each card contains a small dollhouse figure dressed in different attire with different facial expressions and hairstyles, as well as a card that says “who.” The who cards was created to encourage the student to communicate questions. The who card can also be utilized as a core vocabulary term through other activities. The other included cards are Alexander, brother, mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa.  Unfortunately, the book does not contain a lot of background knowledge or items that stick out for each character. Therefore, I decided to use the dollhouse figures that each contain some distinguishing features, a tie for the father, a hat for the brother, gray hair for the grandfather, an apron for the grandmother, a sweater for mom, and a bright green shirt and blonde hair for Alexander. If I were creating these items to pertain to a student’s family, I would create cards that had more distinguishing characteristics of each family member. For example, maybe the grandmother has glasses, I would create the grandmother card with similar glasses or features. 

Questions about the characters:

  • Who is the main character of the story?
  • Who comes to visit?
  • Who calls Alexander names?
  • Who tells Alexander to save his money for walkie-talkies?
  • Who takes Alexander’s money when he makes a bet with them? 
  • Who tells fines Alexander for being mean to his brothers?
  • Who tells Alexander to save his money for college?
  • Who is your favorite character in the story?

Objects:

The tactile objects have been placed on the white cards from the Tactile Connections kit. The white cards are utilized to represent objects. 

Feelings Symbols:

The feelings tactile cards were created on the gray expansion card from the Tactile Connections kit, using knuckle eyeballs from the Target birthday party favor section and red reflective pipe cleaners with a happy and sad face. The reflective pipe cleaners in the shade of red are very beneficial for students with cortical visual impairments that require movement to help them sustain visual attention, the reflection creates this movement. These cards can be utilized as core vocabulary terms for a variety of activities and settings. 

Questions about feelings: 

  • How does Alexander feel when his brothers are unkind to him?  
  • When Alexander is buying stuff things how does he feel?  
  • How does Alexander feel after he has spent all of his money?  
  • If Alexander’s grandparents came to visit again and brought him money, how would he feel?
  • Does this story make you happy or sad?  

Action Symbols:

All the  action symbols could be used as core vocabulary for a variety of stories and activities. They were all placed on the green, Action card, from the Tactile Connections Kit.

Place Symbols: 

The places tactile cards were created using the red Places Tactile Connections card. The where, restroom, and bus card could be utilized as core vocabulary for a student across activities and settings, although when making the restroom card being more specific to the student would yield greater benefits, for example, maybe a tile shape from their bathroom floor, toilet bowl handle, or a piece of fabric from their hand towel in their bathroom?

Time Symbols:

The time symbols were created on the blue Tactile Connections cards that are used to represent Time. The Tactile Connections teacher’s guide suggested using rope to represent today and then moving the rope to different areas to represent different days of the week and different concepts of time. I decided to use green pipe cleaner because that is what I had available to me and would be more readily accessible for future cards. The important process to is to make sure the materials used for each card are similar and allow the student to make connections with each card to develop concepts of time. These cards could be utilized as core vocabulary for a variety of activities across a variety of stories and settings. 

Expression Symbols:

The expression symbols were created using the Tactile Connections Teacher’s guide recommendations, they were placed on black Expression tiles. These tiles would be considered core vocabulary for the student, as they can be used across multiple settings and activities. All of these cards would be used to allow the student to express their responses to simple yes and no questions. The cancel card allows the student the opportunity to opt-out if they feel the answer is incorrect or they want to change what they would like to say. 

Tactile communication symbols are a great low-tech form of augmentative communication with direct, consistent, and repetitive practice students can achieve great success. It is also important to make sure not to introduce all of these symbols at one time but gradually introducing a few at a time to allow the student to gain better understanding. 

Picture Communication Symbols:

Pictured here are the Boardmaker Picture Communication symbols that I utilized to improve language and comprehension skills for my students before, during, and after reading the story Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday.  Each Boardmaker symbol was created on a black background, with a red 8mm boarder, and yellow background for the words.  These modifications allow students with visual impairments, particularly cortical visual impairments to have a more engaging experience.

Picture symbols

Creative Display

Each symbol was printed on cardstock, laminated, and creatively displayed using an All-In-One Board which is available through American Printing House, www.aph.org, and is eligible for purchase with federal quota funds.  

The All-In-One Board is also very CVI friendly with a black Velcro background, and a white board on the other side.  It folds easily, can be adjusted to many angles to help with glare and providing the correct position to meet  a student’s needs, and can be carried by the red handle to and from schools, especially handy for itinerant teachers. 

Creative Storage

When the communication symbols are not in use, they will be stored in a 4 x 6 picture storage container that allows for 16 sets of symbols to be stored.  They could be organized by book title or by parts of speech.

Characters:

The characters in the story include, Alexander, grandma, grandpa, Alexander’s brothers, and his mom and dad.  I included these communication symbols because I feel they are vital in helping students to demonstrate understanding of the main character and supporting characters.  They allow the student to communicate and use language to sequence events of the story.

Comprehension questions for characters:

  1. Who is the main character of the story?  How do you know?  (Alexander because the entire story is about him and how he wants to save money, but he struggles to do so and spends his time buying things he doesn’t really need.)
  2. Who brings Alexander money when they come to visit? (Grandma and Grandpa)
  3. Who tells Alexander to save his money for college?  (Dad)
  4. Who tells Alexander to save his money for walkie-talkies?  (Mom)
  5. Who is mean to Alexander and sometimes he gets in trouble for being mean and calling names with them?  (Brother)
  6. Who tells Alexander to plant his dollar in the garden and a money tree will grow?  (Brother)
  7. Identify the characters in the story.  (Alexander, Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, Brothers)

Objects:

I included the objects to work on main idea, sequencing, cause and effect.  The objects can be used to answer both explicit and implicit questions.  

Feelings Symbols:

The feelings symbols were included in the story to allow the students to answer questions about how Alexander was feeling.  At the beginning of the story, Alexander talks about how he used to be rich.  The feeling of being rich is hard to emulate or express. Because the story focuses on being monetarily rich, I created a symbol using money and demonstrating having an abundance of it.  Alexander gets mad at his brothers when they call him names and tell him to do silly things with his money.  So, the mad symbol was created represent that.  Alexander is mean to his brothers and gets fined money by his dad for calling them names and kicking them.

5 Who’s and H Symbols:

I included the 5 W’s and H symbols to allow the student to participate in asking comprehension questions to the teacher or a peer. The student could use these symbols to ask another student a question. For example, “Who was mean to Alexander?”   These symbols are also very versatile and could be used with many other stories.  I have placed these in a separate storage area in the storage case to use with a variety of stories in my teaching. The teacher could also use these symbols to ask questions, “Who gave Alexander money?”

Talking Book

This is a talking book I created for the story Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday. I chose the book to work on salient features with my students with cortical visual impairments.  The story pictures are all in black and white. So, by creating the talking book it will provide the students with CVI a friendlier learning environment, while also allowing us to work on identification of salient features.  I used a black background, red large print font, and simple pictures to create the CVI friendly learning tool.  Other story sounds are embedded in the power point to encourage active listening.  Students can be actively engaged in the story by turning the pages with the click of the mouse or a switch device. The story can be used to teach the concepts of sequencing, cause and effect, retelling, as well money identification and counting money.

Title slide for talking book

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