It’s not always apparent, but board games are a great opportunity to work on speech, language, and social skills! I love that I can use them with a wide age range and to target so many goals. Because they vary in complexity and type, you can easily modify board games to fit your needs with one-on-one sessions or mixed groups, articulation or language therapy, and more. Here are some ideas on how to use board games in speech therapy or your classroom!
Board games are a fun way to practice the social skill of taking turns. This can be a patience lesson or working on “my turn” “your turn”.
This means shared attention through eye contact, pointing, or other means of communication. Joint attention is the very beginning stages of communication and emerges around 9 months of age. Board games require one to share a focus with 2 or more people – whether they are interested in the game or not! Also, practice increasing how long a student will engage in a game.
There are plenty of opportunities to work on basic concepts! Many games focus on colors, shapes, and patterns. Teach positioning (up, down, next to) as you move pieces around the board.
Work on functional vocabulary, for example: colors, numbers, shapes, etc. Board games are an interactive way to teach core vocabulary. Requests fall into this category as well: “more,” “go,” “please,” “again,” “help,” “me,” “my turn”. I use a lot of fill in the blank, “ready, set…” “go!”
Begin by providing directions for your student to follow in the game: “roll,” “move the piece,” “draw a card,” etc. Games rely on following the rules (or directions given), for everyone to enjoy playing, so they work on following directions from a pragmatic point of view as well. Games vary in complexity, so you can make the directions more or less challenging for your students.
There are multiple aspects of sequencing you can target. Games typically require a series of steps to complete or turn or round. This is a great way to work on sequencing in a functional and engaging way! You can have the child following directions with sequencing terms (first/next/last). Have the student retell or have them explain to you in the correct order what they did on their turn.
Word-based board games (Apples to Apples) are a great activity to work on generalizing articulation sounds in sentences or conversation. You can also incorporate speech sound cards so your student can practice with a less structured activity, such as replacing the cards in Candyland with speech sounds and words.
Since playing a board game is motivating, it is a great way to coax a child to make requests. Withhold the things they need to take their turn (cards, player pieces, dice) so the child needs to request via non-verbal communication (signs, pointing) or verbal communication (single word, complete sentence) depending on their ability. I also like to place the items in a clear container so the child can see and request, without the ability to grab it.
Target identifying nouns, pronouns, verbs, prepositions, descriptors and so much more! “What color are you?” “Who is ahead on the board?” “Where is your piece?”
Inferences are educated guesses based upon the evidence available, plus our previous experience and knowledge. Games like “Clue” or “Guess Who” are great for working on inferencing skills! You can also encourage students to make inferences while playing any game: “why is that happening”, “who do you think is going to win”, “why do you think you keep getting green”.
Games with winning/losing offer a lot of opportunity for regulating emotions. Begin by allowing the child to win so you can demonstrate how to lose without getting upset. Then, when you win, you can ask them to be happy for you. It’s OK to lose!
Work on “who” “what” “when” “where” “why” and “how” questions. I have found it is much easier to think of these types of questions when playing with a board game versus other toys.
Allow the student to problem solve independently when taking their turn. This allows them to develop important problems solving skills and gives them confidence when they figure problems out on their own.
Try predicting outcomes with your older students. “What will happen if you land on that square?” “What number are you hoping to roll and why?”
Board games have you and the student face-to-face engaging with each other in the game. Taking turns, communication, and making eye contact are required to keep the game going. Since you take turns, there is a good opportunity to encourage imitation: tell them when you are finished with your turn, count out the squares as you move your piece, ask them for a card and thank them when they give it to you, etc.
Teach the student that much of their communication is done through body language. Encourage eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, and posture that shows they’re engaged in the game. With your older students, try playing a game without speaking, so they can see just how much they can communicate with their body and why their body language is just as important as their words.
Cognitive flexibility is the awareness that every situation has multiple solutions and responses. It teaches your student to adjust their plan when things don’t go as expected. Encourage flexibility by making up new rules for a game (i.e. going down the ladders and up the slides on Chutes and Ladders).
It is so easy to use board games as a reinforcer with any task…drill cards, articulation words, etc. For each trial, the child gets a turn!
Some of my favorite board games for speech therapy:
See my list for more of my favorites.
I hope some of these ideas are helpful!
Do you use board games in speech therapy? What other ways do you utilize them? What are your favorite games?
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