The Game Is Speech-Language Therapy: Treating & Motivating in a Natural Context

Games vs. Therapy

Sometimes parents are confused and kids think they are getting over on their parents because all they did today in speech language therapy was play a game. They don’t understand that the Game is speech-language therapy. ¬†Speech therapist don’t give grades or set rules so how do they get kids to cooperate. Have you ever tried to get your child to do the same thing 100 times? ¬†As a speech pathologist that’s what we sometimes have to do, so we use games. Need to teach cooperation and turn-taking, try “Forbidden Island.” Need a child to say the /s/ sound numerous times have them engage in a competitive game of “Sorry.” Yep each time before their turn they have to make that sound 5x they are so busy planning their strategy that most of the time they forget how many times they have said ¬†the same sound, but by the end of the game the therapist has had more than 100+ repetitions of the targeted sound.

Motivating using a natural context

Sometimes parents don’t understand that the game is speech-language therapy. The goal is to build speech and language skills in a natural context. ¬†In life we are developing communication¬†skills all the time, but children with speech language disability or challenges need targeted intervention. ¬†Sitting at a desk isn’t the most effective way to acquire language. The most effective way to improve communication skills is to use it. Games¬†motivate clients to perform tasks that would normally be boring and repetitive, and provide a way to practice vocabulary, social language, sentence formulation, narrative and a range of other skills.

Special Speech and Language Games

There are a few special speech and language games enjoyed by many of my clients, one of my favorites, no longer available is “Grammar Scrabble. ” It helps kids learn to construct sentences. ¬†Each tile is a¬†word instead of a letter and you create sentences for points. ¬†When I say I love games I am not talking about just those special speech and language games, I am also talking about video games and board games. ¬†From spot the difference online games to cooking games like “Papa Louie’s Pizzeria” or “Cooking Mama.” If your child talks about everything they are doing while playing the game you are facilitating language, and if you talk about everything you are doing you then model language. ¬†You don’t need special games to improve speech and language skills just lots of practice.

Games to Play

Having difficulty with past tense, model past tense words, sentences and phrases while playing¬† “Papa’s Burgeria” game. ¬†First step, target the word, for example, words like ¬†ordered, ¬†grilled, served, etc. Then build sentences ¬†“The customer ordered a burger.” “The cook grilled or¬†cooked¬†¬†the burger.” ¬†Next expand on the sentence by adding where the action is taking place. “The customer ordered a burger… (where?) in the restaurant.” For children with difficulty acquiring a skill the goals always begins at the easiest¬†level and slowly increases in complexity. ¬†Also the activity should go from structured, you provide a model, to unstructured, they make new sentences using the target words independently. For younger children vocabulary development, naming the toppings on a pizza, can be the targeted skill. For older students following your directions to get the customers order completed on time can be the right challenge. ¬†Past tense, following directions, formulating sentences, and grammar can all be addressed when playing games, or for normal language enrichment talking about what you are doing while playing ¬†is a great way to improve overall language skills

Helping your child with Language

Need to help your child expand sentence length, find a spot the difference online game, like the “Music Box,” which can also be used for building narrative skills. ¬† You provide a model and they ¬†build longer sentences and use prepositional phrases. Want to work on developing questions, play “Guess Who” ¬†or slightly more difficult “Guess¬†Where” ¬† Need to work on social¬†skills ¬†try a cooperative game like “Forbidden Island. Working cooperatively means explaining your ideas, negotiating and cooperating with others. ¬†Through play speech/language pathologist motivate children to work¬†to improve communication skills.

Developing Realistic Speech-Language Goals

It’s also important to have realistic goals when playing games. Your child is not always going to use language correctly. None of use do. Using¬†Brown’s Stages of Syntactic Development¬†can help provide guidelines. ¬†However, if you have concerns ask his teacher, pediatrician or¬†request an assessment from your local public school.


Most of the games on my list I have played. I sometimes use these  games for therapy,  age range for most board games below are 8 years old and up, but as always age range is a guideline.

Cooperative games to improve social skills

  • Forbidden Island
  • Desert Island
  • Pandemic
  • Peaceable Kingdom Race to the Treasure * ages 5 and up

Vocabulary games

  • Scrabble
  • Balderdash
  • Blurt
  • Wordplay For Kids Board Game * 6 and up

Language games

  • Cranium¬†12 months and up ( great all around family game for young players
  • Tapple¬†
  • Scattagories ( this game can be difficult because of the time component) 13 and up
  • Apple to Apples Jr
  • Dixit¬† ¬†ages 8-12
  • Pictionary
  • Charades
  • Codenames

Critical thinking and deductive reasoning

  • Clue / Clue Jr ¬†( 5 and up)
  • Guess Who ¬†(5 and up)
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Carcassonne



Published by Kai Long

Kai currently lives in MA and is interested in collaborating with others to develop a deeper understanding of our speech and language needs.