How and why to Teach Categories in Speech Therapy


Categories are a group or class of items with shared characteristics. We use categories in our daily lives without even realizing it! It’s how we organize our pantry, find a specific item in the store, and recall names of less used words in conversation. Categories are a foundation for how we learn, relate, store, and recall words. 

Categorization is important in language because it gives us a way to group our thoughts, process information, store and retrieve ideas, and describe items! “Arranging thoughts, concepts, and words into categories facilitate meaning, memory, and retrieval” (Roth & Troia, 2005) Categories give a connection between words based upon similarities and differences.

Working on categories is a great way to build and expand vocabulary. Learning new vocabulary by categories allows for better comprehension and retention, and helps “file it away” better for easier recall. Those with language disorders have a difficult time organizing and remembering words, and categorization is a great way to address these difficulties.


Preschool – animals, body parts, clothes, shoes, jewelry, colors, letters, shapes, numbers, family members, days of the week, desserts, food, names, rooms of the house, furniture, sounds, toys

Early Elementary – snacks, drinks, dairy foods, vegetables, pets, book parts, buildings, characters, coins, condiments, containers, dinosaurs, directions, emotions, flowers, fruits, holidays, ingredients, instruments, jobs, jungle animals, liquids, months, movies, patterns, planets, punctuation, reptiles, insects, rhyming words, seasons, senses, kitchen utensils, sizes, solids, sounds, sports, transportation, tools, vowels, writing utensils, school supplies

Late Elementary – mythical creatures, adjectives, verbs, parts of speech, school subjects, businesses, cities, states, consonants, countries, continents, currency, exercises, habitats, mammals, measure units, metals, nouns, oceans, odd/even numbers, presidents, punctuation, seasonings, symbols, textures, trees, weather

Middle/High School – adverbs, ancient civilizations, constellations, cuisine, elements, famous landmarks, government types, gasses, gems, internal organs, languages, minerals, mountain ranges, music types, religions, traditions


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When beginning to work on categories, target more concrete concepts then work towards more abstract concepts. Also, keep in mind it’s easier to receptively identify a category compared to expressively naming items in a category.

Convergent naming: Name the category (An apple, orange, and banana are…)

Divergent naming: Listing items in a category (Name 3 types of transportation.)

What goes together: Find 2 or more items that go together and discuss why. Matching is a great way to work on this skill!

What doesn’t belong: Find the item listed that doesn’t belong and discuss why 

Sorting tasks: There are lots of ways to sort. I like using tangible objects when beginning; you can also use pictures. Sort by feature, function, or sort items into 2-3 groups. 

Similarities and differences/comparing and contrasting: Comparing and contrasting allows us to classify words, helping with comprehension, storage, and retrieval. Talk about similarities and differences and use tables or Venn diagrams when appropriate. 


  • Categories Concepts – Perfect for introducing categories and classes in repetitive, consistent activities that keep kids engaged. No prep, print and go pages (or just open on your device)! Includes naming/expressive, what doesn’t belong, and comparing/contrasting activities.
  • Digital Boom Cards Categories – Digital, self-grading task cards! Includes convergent naming, divergent naming, what doesn’t belong, what goes together, and sorting activities. 
  • No Print Categories – A no print matching activity with 5 categories: sports, holidays, animal habitats, community helpers, and food. 
  • Home Themed Categories – Target home themed categories, associations, vocabulary, and negation with this NO PREP, print and go activity! Includes matching, what doesn’t belong, convergent, and divergent naming activities.
  • Comparing and Contrasting Mazes – Work on more complex similarities and differences with these mazes! Great for higher elementary and middle school. 
  • FREE Category Match Up – A way to work on matching for what belongs together and discussing why.
  • FREE What Doesn’t Belong – A way to work on finding what doesn’t belong and what goes together.
  • Categories with Splingo
  • Category Therapy by Tactus Therapy

How do you work on categories in speech therapy? Tell me in the comments!

Roth, F. P., & Troia, G. A. (2005). Vocabulary instruction for children and adolescents with oral language and literacy deficits. Paper presented at the 2005 Council for Exceptional Children Annual Convention, Baltimore, MD.


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Categories in Speech Therapy

3 Responses

  1. I liked how you mentioned that you should find 2 or more things that go together to help become a better speech therapist. My girlfriend is wanting to become a speech pathologist and she was wondering how she can engage with kids better. I’ll be sure to tell her that she should try grouping things when helping kids with speech pathology.

  2. Hi! I was wondering how you determined what was preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school?

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