Low prep speech therapy activities are something that busy Speech Language Pathologists should never be without. Unless you’ve won the lottery when it comes to SLP jobs (perfect space, easily manageable caseload, unlimited ink and materials, etc.), there are times when you need to be able to quickly prepare and provide quality group therapy. More than likely you’ll have multiple therapy goals. In your mind right now you’re probably imagining the theme music from the movie, Mission Impossible. Stop, right there! Instead, imagine the music from Wonder Woman or Charlie’s Angel (if you’re male, imagine Superman or Batman!).
Before you start to think it’s impossible, think about your repertoire of resources, and consider gathering some low prep speech therapy materials for your groups that can be used regularly and do not require a lot of prep time.
One of my favorite, low prep speech therapy activities is “Canned Questions (or whatever you choose to name it should you use this idea). Soup cans and the small Pringles cans are great for this. You can buy the plain, natural craft sticks or you can buy the colored craft sticks. On one end of the craft sticks, write, draw or glue pictures and/or words that address the skills needed for each set. When using the sticks, keep the side with the skill hidden in the can so your students are unable to avoid certain questions. This activity allows you to easily diversify your therapy as needed because you can have a can for each student, or you can have students sharing a can. Canned Questions can be used with wordless and/or regular books, worksheets, videos, etc. Children typically love “choosing” their own questions. Suggested ideas for “Canned Questions”
Another favorite low prep speech therapy activity incorporates movement, and works great with my fidgety students. It incorporates the use of whatever materials you have on hand. I accidentally started using this with some of my groups because I was trying to address language goals of students while recognizing their need to move about before the session ended. If you’re drilling speech sounds, defining words, answering questions, or whatever other goals your students may have, establish a group goal for a number of correct responses. Once the goal is reached, let your students take a movement break using yoga poses. This is also a great way to address listening, following directions, sequencing, and retelling (if you have the students repeat the steps). There are resources on TpT, Pinterest and YouTube to help you get you going. You may be thinking that it’s time consuming; but, if you use it as a reward and strategically plan it so that you only do 2-3 poses per session, yoga can be a game changer with SOME of your groups.
Somewhere in your office is a treasure trove of low prep speech therapy worksheets that have been copied, organized by skill, and filed in a cardboard box, milk crate, or filing cabinet. Are you afraid to use the dreaded worksheets because you think your students will hate them? Don’t be. Don’t have any worksheets? Your previous SLP must not have been a hoarder; but, that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. You can find many free resources online. ReadWorks.org is one of my favorites for passage comprehension because it’s organized by reading level and skills. TeacherspayTeachers.com is another great place to get miscellaneous and specialized therapy materials. If you’ve inherited your own personal millions in worksheets, pull them out, put them in page protectors, and give your students dry erase markers to complete them. It’s amazing how something as inexpensive and easily accessible as dry erase markers make a huge difference. The same is true for highlighters, especially the erasable kind when you’re not using page protectors.
Do you have students who like to keep points? This is one of my favorite low prep speech therapy activities! Download the free Decide Now app and put numbers on the wheel. I use Decide Now sort of like “Wheel of Fortune” when they’re running out of time, and Pat Sajak spins the wheel. One spin works for every student for the entire round. Each student has the opportunity to produce speech sounds, answer questions, etc. for the number of points that round. As the rounds pass, the students add their points to keep a running total. This is great for working on math, and it keeps them focused and quiet when it’s not their turn. Expectation/rules violations result in automatic “bankrupt” so most students sit quietly and pay attention if they finish the math before their turn comes around again. The students’ score pages can be used as data for accuracy of responses, and on task behavior. You can pair this app with articulation cards, worksheets, language task cards, canned questions, etc. If you want to use it with books or stories, you can create a generic wheel with the typical “wh” questions, main idea and details as well as story grammar questions.
Books are your BFFs (Best Friends Forever)! It’s a great idea for every SLP to have wordless picture books, seasonal books, and books for any time on hand. Many books have book companions that address multiple skills. If you have the specific or generic book companions, all you have to do is print and/or copy the pages for the skills you need. If you don’t have book companions, you can use “wh” question dice, canned questions, Decide Now app, etc. With books that provide detailed settings or descriptions of the characters and/or their attire, consider having your students illustrate the details they remember from the story. It’s fun to compare and contrast the final products. Most students love it, and all you have to do is provide paper and crayons or markers.
By now, you’ve probably heard of and/or used low prep speech therapy play dough smash mats. There is a large variety of them available to target different skills or to go along with different stories. If you already have them, then you already know how much the younger (and some of the older) students enjoy using play dough and mats. If you don’t have smash mats, don’t stress it. Make a few copies of pages with shapes and stick them in a page protector or in an acrylic frame for certificates (found at your local Dollar Tree). At the beginning of the group therapy session, have each student roll a designated number of balls with the play dough, and then give them to you. After each turn, give the student a ball to “smash” on the mat. If you want to keep their little (or big) hands busy and keep them engaged while you’re with other students, use pages with more challenging shapes (ex. star, octagon, pentagon, etc.) If they don’t already know these vocabulary words, you’ll be providing them with repeated exposure to words they will eventually need to or should already know.
Play based therapy (with younger students) and role playing (with older students) are great ways to provide group therapy without having to complete copious amounts of prep. This type of therapy can be used to address speech, expressive and pragmatic language. All you need are a few props or picture scenes, and you’re on your way.
For my geeky and tech savvy SLPs, there are several online resources and apps that can be used to addresse multiple goals. Below is a small list of FREE resources that you may find useful in helping you plan for group therapy. This list is nowhere near exhaustive; however, it is enough to give you some resources. My disclaimer is that you always, always, always, review and try out online resources and apps before introducing them to your students.
Apps – Because I’m not authorized to endorse products I’m not listing any individual apps or vendors. I do, however, recommend that you sign up for email notifications about free apps on Smart Apps for Kids here.
Be advised that some weeks, the free apps are plentiful and awesome, and some weeks the list is a bust. Think of it as going to yard sales or thrift stores for supplies, only this doesn’t require you to get dressed and drive all over the city. Remember you can plan for your group therapy sessions quickly and easily because you’re:
Truvine Walker obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Speech-Language Pathology on the beautiful campus of Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA. After 3 years of working in the public schools in northern Virginia, Truvine decided to broaden her horizons and explore the world of travel therapy. As a traveling SLP, Truvine has worked in schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, and inpatient rehabilitation facilities in a total of 8 different states. Truvine is finishing up her 17th year as an SLP, and is just as excited about the profession as she was in the very first year. In addition to loving learning about all things speech and language, Truvine loves bowling, reading, sightseeing, spending time with family, and of course, traveling.