Familiar Games for Sneaky Speech Therapy

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The chances are good that the word games you're playing with your child are already ones that help strengthen speech and language skills. Here are five popular games with suggestions on how to tweak them for some impromptu speech therapy.

I Went To...

Recite a long list of items and then add one, alphabetically, for the next player to remember.

  • "I went to the zoo, and I saw an anteater, a bear, a crocodile, a deer, an elephant, and ... a ferret!"

Sneakily strengthens:

Five ways to tweak it:

  1. To focus on vocabulary, do the reciting yourself and have your child add a word each time.
  2. To focus on memory, have the child recite the long string of items while you provide the next selection.
  3. To focus on phonics, have the destination and all of the added items start with the same sound: "I went to Kansas, and I brought candy, Christmas cards, kittens, catalogs ..."
  4. To focus on articulation, pick a sound to target and then make the destination and every one of the added items all start with that sound: "I went to the supermarket, and I bought soda, celery, sandwiches, steak, strawberries ..."
  5. To focus on the alphabet, change the destination each round and come up with a place and three items that start with the same letter. The next player has to come up with the same for the next letter: "I went to Alaska and brought an ax, an atlas, and an anteater." "I went to Boston, and I brought books, bottles, and band-aids." "I went to Cancun, and I brought carrots, cupcakes, and cola."

I Spy

Spot something in plain sight and reveal one detail, making the other player guess what it is.

  • "I spy, with my little eye, something that begins with J."

Sneakily strengthens:

  • Receptive language
  • Expressive language
  • Deductive reasoning

Five ways to tweak it:

  1. To focus on receptive language (listening skills), have your child be the "spyer" more frequently than the guesser.
  2. To focus on expressive language (oral skills), have your child be the "guesser" more frequently than the "spyer."
  3. To focus on categories, choose items only by color ("I spy something blue"), shape ("I spy something square" ), or function ("I spy something you use to write").
  4. To focus on phonics, describe items by the sound they start with: "I spy something that starts with the 'f' sound."
  5. To focus on vocabulary, use items from your child's reading list in your "spied" things and guesses.

Twenty Questions

Pick a person, place, or thing and give the other player 20 yes-or-no tries at guessing what it is.

  • "I'm thinking of something." "Is it a person?" "No." "Is it a place?" "Yes."

Sneakily strengthens:

  • Receptive language
  • Expressive language
  • Deductive reasoning

Five ways to tweak it:

  1. To focus on observation, limit the person, place, or thing to something in plain sight.
  2. To focus on deduction, use a chalkboard or white board to jot down all the "clues" as they come, so your child can remember and use them to figure out the answer.
  3. To focus on conversational skills, have your child answer the "yes" or "no" questions in a complete sentence: "No, it isn't a book."
  4. To focus on expressive language, allow questions that are not "yes" or "no" and have your child answer in complete sentences: "What color is the thing?" "The thing I am thinking of is red."
  5. To focus attention, have all persons, places, and things chosen pertain to a subject your child is intensely interested in; for example, if your child loves cars, you could make them guess makes and models of cars, people who work with cars, places you take a car, or other car-related terms, and have them think of the same for you: "I'm thinking of something that has to do with cars."

Tongue Twisters

Say super strenuous sentences stuffed with silly speech sounds.

  • "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

Sneakily strengthens:

  • Articulation
  • Speech speed
  • Sense of humor

Five ways to tweak it:

  1. To target articulation, select tongue twisters featuring phonemes that are particularly difficult for your child; ask their speech therapist for suggestions, or check their IEP.
  2. To bolster confidence, select tongue twisters featuring phonemes your child is particularly good at ... or you're particularly bad at, so they can show you up.
  3. To make a game of it, print out a bunch of tongue twisters, cut them into individual strips, put the strips in a basket, have each player draw one, and award points based on how few repetitions are needed to master it.
  4. To work on speed, add a stopwatch to the game and make the player who can recite the twister correctly in the shortest time the winner of each round.
  5. To motivate your child, use tongue twisters as "Get Out of Time-Out Free" cards; if your child can recite one correctly, they're sprung.

Silly Songs

Sing the same lyrics over and over and over, with minor variations and changes in volume.

  • "B-I-N-G-O! B-I-N-G-O! B-I-N-G-O! And Bingo was its name-O!"

Sneakily strengthens:

  • Memory
  • Volume
  • Phonics

Five ways to tweak it:

  1. To focus on alphabet awareness, set other five-letter words to the tune of the "BINGO" song.
  2. To focus on speech volume, use songs like the camp classic "I'm a Little Striped Skunk" that gets louder with every verse, or lead your kids in singing their own silly favorite with loud and quiet verses.
  3. To focus on memorization, try songs like "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" with long strings of words and actions.
  4. To focus on categorization, sing songs like "Old MacDonald" or "The Wheels on the Bus" that focus on many things that happen in one place. Then adapt those melodies and word patterns to other places and groups of things.
  5. To focus on number concepts, subject yourself to "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" or "22 Bottles of Juice in the Fridge" or "10 Bottles of Paint on the Shelf," or whatever other silly combination your kids can think up and count to.

By Terri Mauro
Terri Mauro is the author of "50 Ways to Support Your Child's Special Education" and contributor to the Parenting Roundabout podcast.