How to Use Amazon Alexa in Your Autism Classroom

Our kids love technology like us teachers love the Target Dollar Spot, or a glass of wine on a Friday evening.  I love to say that the world of teaching students with autism changed with the invention of the iPad.  We can get some serious establishing operations out of technology with our guys.  Motivation is so key in teaching any type of behavior, whether that be academic or not.
I used to hate these types of new technology that would be released.  Initially, Alexa seemed so frivolous and like something that could be novel for a few minutes before I threw it into a kitchen drawer.   However, Amazon Alexa piqued my interested when I was told all that it can do.  Tell me the weather while I’m on my way out the door to work?  Check!  Let me pick out which album I feel like listening to, all while I do my Saturday morning cleaning and I’m up to my elbows in bathroom cleaner?  Check!  Add every random item I need onto my Amazon shopping list that I would probably forget all about otherwise?  Check!

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After purchasing my own Echo Dot, I began thinking about how it could be used in my classroom.  What if I could use that motivation to get my students to practice speaking and not even realize what I was trying to do?  If Alexa could get my students motivated like the other types of technology we use on a daily basis, it could open the doors to a new level of language.
I purchased the Echo Dot for my classroom.  Thankfully I was right!  Here are just some of the ways I have found Alexa useful.

Alexa is a tricky lady.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been at home and asked her to play Judas Priest and instead gotten something was was definitely not by the fathers of metal.  Aside from a Long Island accent that haunts me like a ghost, I think I speak somewhat clearly.  The fact that Alexa is super motivating really pushes my kids to speak clearly and slowly.  It was somewhat aggravating for some of my students with more advanced speech needs.  However, once they hit the jackpot, they will keep asking her question after question.

It might seem like speaking to Alexa would be the opposite of social (because you’re really talking to a machine), but there are actually several games that can be played with others.  A favorite of my students is rock paper scissors.  You play against Alexa by calling out your choice (rock, paper, or scissors).  My students are motivated enough to work together and take turns to beat Alexa.

If you google “questions to ask Alexa”, you will stumble upon pages of websites with just that.  These websites are great primers for getting students to ask Alexa questions.  Once they get into the swing of things, they can start asking their own questions.  The fact you can ask about almost anything and everything creates some awesome opportunities too.

Alexa is also particular about the way you phrase your questions.  So many times my students have tried asking about a favorite movie or TV show, only to be responded with “sorry, I can’t find the answer to your question”.  She’s kind of merciless, so it makes phrasing my students' questions correctly even more pressing for my kids.

There are two games I love for answering and answering questions: The Animal Game and The Guess the Animal Game.  They are essentially the same game, except that for the first you have Alexa guess that animals, and the last you are guessing the animal.  These games are also really great for practicing science vocabulary, as she is asking all sorts of questions about the types of diet, habitats, of the animals.

Alexa is an awesome tool for many executive functioning skills that can fall short with our guys.  You can set alarms, timers, and even add important items to your calendar.  It’s a great tool to get students practicing managing their time.

Sometimes we just need to leave our students to do independent work.  Alexa is really awesome for answering those simple questions.  Thanks to Alexa, they know a method of getting their questions answered if I am not available.  If they are not sure of an answer to an addition problem, ask Alexa.  If they’re editing their work and not sure if they spelled a word right, ask Alexa.

One way I have made sure my students are not getting too dependent on Alexa is by having them fill out this worksheet simultaneously while doing their work.  Depending on the student, I give them a goal the maximum amount of times they can ask Alexa a question.  This is actually a resource that is currently available as a freebie in The Resource Vault.  If you sign up for The Autism Vault mailing list, you'll get access to this freebie as well as others.

Do you have experience with Alexa in or out of the classroom?  What are some of your favorite ways to use it?

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