Using Scavenger Hunts in Speech Therapy
When it comes to speech therapy activities, scavenger hunts have my heart. I cannot think of a more engaging and versatile activity to use with a wide range of students and goal areas. Before I get into all the ways you can use scavenger hunts in speech therapy sessions too, here's a quick story about how scavenger hunts came into my life:
I became a regular user of scavenger hunts as a brand-new SLP working in a pediatric clinic. When the office was decked out in holiday decor (any holiday), I'd walk around taking pictures of 10 or so items, then add the pictures to a document and print several copies.
I'd use the page with nearly every client I had for the week. We'd walk around with the list of pictures in search of each item. I found that this activity facilitated SO much speech and language (keep reading for all the ways). Plus, the kids loved it. Heck, so did the SLP co-workers that I shared my little creation with.
When I switched to a teletherapy setting, I mourned the loss of scavenger hunts. Meanwhile, I was realizing that my students really loved to just show me things in their houses. They'd take their laptops with them to show me their fish aquarium, backyard, or Christmas tree. I eventually realized I needed to capitalize on this desire that students have to show me items in their world on the other side of the screen.
To give this incidental show-and-tell activity some more structure, I created digital lists of objects for students to look for. And now, scavenger hunt sessions are my favorite teletherapy sessions. So let's get into some details to find out if scavenger hunts might be your next best speech therapy activity, too!
What speech therapy goals can I target with a scavenger hunt?
Since I feel like it might be my life's mission to help other SLPs experience the beauty of scavenger hunts in therapy, I'm going to share many of the ways I use them to target different goal areas, but there are probably many more!
The most obvious use for a scavenger might be the ability to target vocabulary. I love doing scavenger hunts within a theme so that the vocabulary is relevant, meaningful, and connected.
It's easy to find ways to expand on the single-word labels to model and elicit longer utterances about each item. Sentences can be used to practice past tense verbs, such as "I found the spoon in the kitchen," or "We saw the envelope on the desk."
Language Concepts & Description
Scavenger hunts give you a natural context to target a variety of basic concepts. You can talk about positional or location concepts in sentences related to where an item was located or even where you looked for an item, such as "I walked around the playground to find the slide. It was next to the swings."
Qualitative and quantitative concepts can also be used to describe each object– before or after you find it! In fact, these scavenger hunts ask students to find objects based on descriptors. This puts a new spin on the scavenger hunt for older students or those working on higher language goals. It helps them think flexibly since there are many different items that could be used to fulfill each one.
Compare and Contrast
Students can compare (and contrast) objects with one another. You can do this when looking at two different items (or pictures) in the scavenger hunt. In my teletherapy versions, each student brings their own item (such as a hot chocolate mug) and we talk about how the group's items are alike and different.
Talk about the clues in the background of the pictures that could help figure out where each item could be. This is a great way for students to make inferences and use logic.
Social skills might be my favorite area to target in a scavenger hunt. With the whole group working to achieve the same goal (finding all of the listed items), it naturally fosters opportunities to work as a team, listen to others, ask others' opinions and get feedback, make follow-up comments and questions, and so much more.
Target articulation in connected speech throughout a scavenger hunt. You can prompt students to use phrases with the target sound such as "I see ___" or "I found ___". You can also make a scavenger hunt with objects that contain a specific sound. These ideas give you just enough structure to challenge your speech students to use their sounds outside of the immediate therapy space.
Scavenger hunts can also provide a semi-structured activity for students to practice intelligibility or fluency strategies. When used alongside a visual, the activity can help them carry over the learned strategies to a more real-world situation.
Building Rapport &
While it might not technically be a speech therapy goal, scavenger hunts make a great ice-breaker. I often use a back-to-school scavenger hunt with small groups to help them ease back into therapy and get to know each other.
Similarly, I use a Christmas scavenger hunt (with the students who celebrate of course) as a last-day activity before winter break. This gives them a chance to talk all about their current favorite topic while simultaneously working on their speech and language goals. Win-win!
How can I make a scavenger hunt to use in speech therapy?
The answer to this question has gotten way easier over time. You can make a scavenger hunt in many different ways. I started out just inserting pictures I had taken (on a digital camera, remember those? 🤯) into a Word document and printing it. This method requires a few extra steps and some thinking ahead, but it works! (Pro tip: Be sure to save the file to use next year!)
But now, like many things these days, there's an app for that! If you want to take the digital route (and save yourself a lot of time), check out this free app called PhotoCheckList! Essentially, it allows you to make checklists using pictures that you have on your phone or take right from the app! There's an iPad version too, which I would have been allllll about back in my in-person therapy days!
If you want to skip the prep altogether, check out this set of language-rich scavenger hunts to use throughout year! It includes both printable and digital versions of each one, plus the option to find items using picture or description prompts. The real photos make it useful for a wide range of ages.
For older kids, Education World has tons of printable internet scavenger hunts for each month! The themes range from holidays to science to history and more!
How can I use a scavenger hunt in face-to-face therapy and teletherapy?
Scavenger hunts are so versatile for any setting and any caseload or group size. For in-person speech therapy settings, you can print a copy of the scavenger hunt for each person, or use one copy for a small group. Cheap clipboards help make the activity portable for moving around a room or building!
As I touched on above, you can still use a digital scavenger hunt for face-to-face therapy.... in fact, that's often the easiest way! A smartphone, tablet, computer, or smartboard can be used to display a list of words or photos.
When working in person, students can look around a specified area for the items, or you can look for them in other ways. You might use books, video clips, or just Google Images to find the items pictured. You could also ask each student to bring in a couple of the items to use in the scavenger hunt.
When working with students online, you can screen share any PDF or internet website to find the items. As many of us have discovered, students signing in from home love to show us things in their home environment. Most of the time, I've found it works best to give parents the list ahead of time, so they have some or all items ready to share during the session.
A scavenger hunt is a simple concept, but it generates a lot of functional practice for articulation, language, and pragmatics goals no matter where or how your speech therapy session is taking place. You can modify the activity in a million different ways to work for you and your students!
The best part of using a scavenger hunt in therapy? You can prep the activity once (or just download a set of them) and use it for most or all of your caseload for the week! Oh, and the other best part? Kids love the challenge of a scavenger hunt!