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  • Writer's pictureStacy Crouse

Themes to Use in Speech Therapy with Older Students

Raise your hand if you're a speech-language pathologist working with older students but you still kinda want to use themes? You see other SLPs doing cute and themed activities in their speech therapy sessions with younger students and it looks so fun and engaging. Sigh.


Working with older students needs a special kind of secret sauce to grab attention, get buy-in, and maintain motivation. But wait! Themed therapy can be that key to success for upper elementary and middle and high school students, too!


When brainstorming themes for older students, it might help to think of them as "topics" instead. Rather than pulling therapy activities and prompts out of thin air, you can focus them around one central idea. Why? Because it's research-based and (in my opinion) easier!


What are some good themes for older students in speech therapy?

Ok, so the farm animals and trains may be out... at least in the "traditional" way that we think about using these themes with preschoolers. But there are tons of topics that interest older students and lend themselves to targeting multiple speech therapy goals. Let's dive into some specific examples!


Food Topics for Older Students

It's a given that adolescents and teens love food. I mean, don't we all? I feel like food themes could cover an entire year, but here are a few fun ways to use food (at least the topic of it) in speech therapy.


Poll students about their preferences! Many of us feel passionate about certain food-related things, so it's a sure way to get students talking. This poll questions activity covers several food topics but also includes many other high-interest themes mentioned throughout this post.


Food themed activities for older students in speech therapy

Field trips are a great way to really dive into a particular topic. A real field trip to a grocery store or restaurant isn't always possible, but a virtual field trip can serve the same purposes. They are full of language learning opportunities. I often use virtual field trips that I find on YouTube.


Of course, cooking activities are always a hit. Opportunities to target various skills with recipes (especially recipes with added visual support) are endless. Some possible goal areas include vocabulary, following directions, making inferences and predictions, and sequencing.


food themed speech therapy activities for older students visual recipes

Holiday Topics for Older Students

Students enjoy talking about holidays (and their own personal experiences with them), so they can be incredibly functional topics to use in therapy. In addition to using students' personal experiences, you can introduce them to holidays, celebrations, and traditions outside of their own religion or culture.


Anytime you can facilitate a personal connection to the topic, that's speech therapy goals 🙌 Students can talk about their holiday festivities, which is a great way to work on narrative language and formulating sentences using various verb tenses. They can share their own personal photos or use the magic of Google Images to help facilitate language using visuals.


Another way to incorporate a holiday theme (without being too babyish) is to learn about something specific within that holiday. For example, near Valentine's Day, you can read or watch a video about the holiday's history. You could even plan an entire session about something as specific as candy hearts. Sounds pretty random? Turns out that 'random' tends to be what older students love!


Holiday themed activity for older students in speech therapy

Technology Topics for Older Students

Two words. VIDEO GAMES. This topic might come to mind first for a lot of SLPs and teachers working with older students. As they say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em... by using technology-related themes and activities in your speech therapy sessions!


video games themed activity for older students in speech therapy

Other technology topics include the internet, computers, social media, cyber security, robotics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. Many of these are not only fascinating for adolescents and teens but also practical for real-world readiness.


Sports Topics for Older Students

We all have those students whose world seems to revolve around playing and/or watching sports. Maybe it's one sport in particular, or maybe it's any and all forms of athletics. Go ahead and make their day with some sports-themed activities!


Sports-loving students might not realize how a particular sport came to be, is played across the world, or creates fandom among enthusiasts. Being able to add to their love of the game (such as soccer) while targeting goals is a big win for all!


sports themed activity for older students in speech therapy

If it's a year in which the summer or winter Olympic Games are occurring, that's an easy topic to incorporate into speech therapy. You can watch live or recorded broadcasts and read articles or stories about the sports themselves or obstacles that international athletes have overcome to compete.


Winter sports themed language activities for older students in speech therapy

Music, Movies, and Pop Culture Topics for Older Students

This (in addition to video games) is an area where my students school me. Incorporating the topics that students are hearing about in the hallway, on TV, and in print media is a great way to utilize what's relevant right now.


A few examples are reading song lyrics (that you've screened first) to practice a particular articulation sound or fluency strategy. Students could make inferences and predictions when watching commercials. You could play movie or television clips (maybe without volume) to discuss body language and other non-verbal communication. After an award show, you could use comparative and superlative adjectives to discuss the results (and what attendees were wearing).


Current Events Topics for Older Students

Speaking of using what's relevant, current events and news stories are a great way to ensure your themes are up-to-date. Of course, you have to use your discretion about what topics are appropriate for your students, but building their knowledge base of what's happening around them is a great way to help them participate in discussions at school and home.


If you're looking for an easy way to include news in your sessions, CNN offers free daily news videos. CNN 10 provides easy-to-understand recaps of current events and global issues for middle and high school students.

Natural Science Topics for Older Students

Dinosaurs and space aren't off the table just because students are older! When explored at a more mature level, scientific themes spark interest and conversation... and often relate to their academic curricula. You can find interesting subtopics within any branch of science, but here are a few examples.


Astronomy Themes in Speech Therapy Sometimes, students have heard of something (like the Northern Lights) but don't really know anything about it. This activity not only works for a variety of language goals but also gives students knowledge about the topic that they can share with friends or family.


science themed activities for older students in speech therapy

Weather and Ecology Themes in Speech Therapy

Other natural science ideas include earth science topics. The National Park System is such a great theme for older speech therapy students, especially since many live near a national (or state) park of their own. Weather (especially extreme weather events) is another subject that students have some understanding of, but that can always be expanded.


Weather themed speech therapy activities older students

Pssst! If you're an email subscriber, download a free sample of the extreme weather language activities from the freebie library!


Biology Themes in Speech Therapy

As I mentioned earlier, the more random the theme, the better. This language unit uncovers the science behind knuckle cracking. The topic strikes a chord because it's a light-hearted controversy among people, so it opens up new avenues for discussion.


science themes for older students in speech therapy

As you can see, themed therapy can be for any student, not just the young ones! When used with older students, themes should be interesting, mature, and functional. Luckily for SLPs, there are plenty of speech therapy themes that are relevant to middle and high school students, yet still versatile for working on a wide range of goals.


If you're looking for a bunch of ready-to-go, high-interest, and themed activities for older students, don't miss this giant bundle. It includes passages with real photos and corresponding language activities for each one. It'll take months to get through them all!


📌 Got a speech therapy board on Pinterest? SAVE the love ❤️



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