Why You Should Be Using Barrier Games in Speech Therapy

Barrier games are a great tool for speech and language intervention! Students love them, and they are a great way to incorporate many expressive skills (giving directions), receptive skills (following directions), and social skills in an engaging way. I’m a big fan of therapy materials that serve multiple functions—anything to save time, money, and space!

Download a free barrier game at the end the post.

What are barrier games?

Barrier games are a language game in which two players sit across from each other with a barrier between them. Each player is given the same scene and pieces to go with that scene. The barrier is placed between the players to hide one’s scene from the other player but still be able to make eye contact – similar to the board game Battleship.

Barrier games are most commonly played on a magnetic surface. You can play on cookie sheets and place pieces on a thin, sticky magnet. Another option is to put tack on each piece so it will stick to the scene. You can also lay the scene on the table and place the pieces on top without securing them.

Give each person/group playing a matching scene and set of pieces. Set up a barrier between the players (e.g. file folder). One person arranges all of their pieces on the scene and then gives directions to another player on where to place the items. The purpose of the game is to have matching scenes at the end.

You can play one-on-one with your student, two students with each other, or a group of students with another group.

Nontraditional ways to play barrier games:

Target a specific goal – I will control the game by giving the student a scene and verbally give them a list of directions to follow (without trying to match another board). There are premade directions for each game for vocab, adjectives, prepositions, multi-step directions, and sequential directions. The pieces included purposefully have varying attributes (i.e. a big and little ball, different colored backpacks, etc.)

Social skills – Have your student give YOU directions! This requires a whole new level of skills to plan out and use expressive language to accurately describe the pieces and where they are in the scene. This provides opportunities such as making eye contact and clarifying directions.

Articulation – Use a barrier game with an articulation twist! I have one with sound-loaded scenes and pieces for /s/, /r/, /l/, “sh”, “ch”, and “th”. A barrier game makes it easy to target these sounds at the word, phrase, sentence, and conversation levels.

Digital – Having no print activities comes in handy when you are traveling to different locations or are doing teletherapy. I use digital barrier games for students who are more motivated by them. The ones I created have an open play scene that is flexible and then directions on each slide. The student drags and drops the piece into the correct location and then checks their answer.


  • Vocabulary
  • Adjectives: e.g. colors, size
  • Spatial concepts: e.g. on, in, under, below, next to, between
  • Following multi-step directions
  • Following sequential directions
  • Giving directions
  • Formulating sentences and questions
  • Social skills: e.g. Making eye contact to give/receive instructions, asking questions to clarify instructions.

Making your own barrier games is quite simple. You can find scenes/images on open domain clipart sites. I suggest selecting pictures that allow for the placement of pieces in various areas (keep prepositions and vocabulary in mind). And it’s good to select some individual images that are the same item but differ in an attribute (sizes/colors).

Toys to use as barrier games activities:

You can apply the same concept of traditional barrier games to toys you make have in your speech room. You will just need to have two identical sets to make it work. Some ideas:

  • Potato Head
  • legos/building blocks
  • sticker scenes
  • train track
  • coloring on a coloring page
  • drawing a picture

Pre-made printable and digital barrier games

We have some for purchase if you’re not interested in making your own.

barrier games speech therapy

Are you a teletherapist, or do you prefer using digital resources in therapy?
We have Boom Card barrier games!

Download a FREE BARRIER GAME activity!

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