Using Themes in Speech Therapy with Older Students
When you hear about SLPs using themes in speech therapy, you may envision crafts, picture books, and preschoolers.... not middle and high school students. I totally get it. The truth is, the majority of theme-specific speech therapy activities include cartoon graphics and building early language.
But that's not the only way to do themed therapy. Ironically, as my interest in using themes grew, so did my caseload of older students. Around the time that I started doing teletherapy full time, I changed companies and the majority of my caseload was middle and high schoolers.
Instead of abandoning my newfound love of using themes in speech therapy, I shifted how I used those themes. Many of my favorite tools were no longer age-appropriate for my students. But that didn't stop me from planning versatile activities around a theme by thinking outside the box.
After a lot of searching and plenty of trial and error, I found many new sources for themed activities that are appropriate for my older students. Not only was I able to streamline planning for a variety of ages, but I was actually getting more buy-in from my often harder-to-engage students.
I have discovered that in order to successfully use themes with older students, I need to put a different spin on them. Rather than highlighting basic concepts and themed vocabulary within simple activities, we focus on a more specific and complex topic within the larger theme.
By doing this, SLPs can still incorporate some basic ideas within the theme for students that don't have a strong foundation of knowledge for the topic or just need some review. But it also gives the freedom to go beyond that into something more age-appropriate and interesting for older students.
Sometimes, a specific "subtheme" emerges while thinking of and searching for activities. While sensory bins and coloring sheets typically no longer fit the bill for students in upper grades, there are still tons of other options that give the benefits of themed intervention, without offending your students.
For example, younger students might love to create a colorful amusement park scene while practicing their speech, but the activity isn't going to appeal to most older ones. Instead, this National Geographic Kids webpage has real photos (and a video) about rollercoasters and other rides. You could easily use the site to target articulation and higher-level language goals, such as making inferences.
Similarly, a pizza theme for younger students might include talking about how pizza is made and following directions to make pizza. But for older students, using functional activities and resources is key to making speech therapy relevant. For example, students could use a pizza restaurant menu to answer questions or engage in a pizza ordering role play.
Interesting articles on a topic are another option to target articulation carryover and language. As an example, this Tween Tribune article discusses the possibility of driverless pizza delivery in the future. It provides opportunities to discuss vocabulary in context and answer comprehension questions.
In addition to articles and passages, there are many other activities that can incorporate nearly any theme. One of my favorites is this interactive PDF, which includes over 100 poll questions on a variety of topics. It promotes students to discuss their thoughts and listen to the opinions of others. In sticking with the pizza theme used above, students could discuss their preferences on toppings and crust types.
Baamboozle is another great site full of games for all ages, including older students. It's free to join, and you can search your theme to find a game that fits your students' needs. And of course, videos are always a way to engage students. I love finding Simon's Cat videos that fit the theme I'm using. Search YouTube for any theme and you're bound to find endless options... just be sure to preview the videos before the session!
Using relatable themes is one way you can make therapy more functional and interesting for older students. Plus, using themes saves you the trouble of planning a million different activities for your speech therapy caseload. If you need some themed activity ideas for older students, these free spreadsheets not only give tons of links but also help keep those ideas organized!