Another 50 Language Activities To Promote Language Learning

Many times I get asked by families for carryover ideas or suggestions on what to do with their child between therapy appointments. Here is a quick reference list of things to think about while you are with your child and things to encourage more communication. My website also has a more extensive list of ideas entitled “50 Activities to Promote Language Learning” under the resources tab.

  1. First and foremost, always encourage a form of communication with your child, with each reward. Even if they aren’t talking, encourage signing or model sounds for them to “say” something to earn a reward. Example: Using hand-over-hand, sign “more” or model it for them to repeat to get ‘more’ of what they want. Sign Please, by using manners. If they can talk, encourage saying “I want ____” to get the item in question. *If they choose not to do what is necessary, walk away. If it’s important enough for them to want it, they will try again. You may be using different rules by following this strategy, so anticipate a tantrum, because ‘now’ you are requiring more from your child, and that is different for them.
  2. Keep in mind, anything you do different will most likely take more time. You need to accept that it will take more patience and that you cannot simply do it for them because it’s the easier or faster way to get it done. If you want your child to learn and to be independent, you have to take the moments throughout the day and allow THEM to do things for themselves with your help and guidance.
  3. Encourage eye contact when communicating. It will help with articulator placement so they know ‘how’ to say the sounds they are having difficulty with. Also use a mirror to help with practice and reinforcement.
  4. While playing a game, you do not need to follow the exact directions of the game. Change it up to work for your child. Allow your child to grow into the game.
  5. Have game night once a week. UNO encourages matching and following rules. Connect 4 encourages strategy. GO FISH encourages questions and vocabulary development. You can also play Pictionary or Charades. Each requires the participant to think and explain whether through drawing or acting.
  6. Take opportunities such as someone coming to the door as an opportunity to have your child say “hi” or “bye”. Model what they need to say and have them repeat it.
  7. When playing a game, have them ask for “more” pieces or to label (expressive language) or point to the pictures (receptive language) for understanding. Ask questions related to the puzzle or game pieces. Expressive examples: Who rides in a firetruck? What does the fireman drive? What do they need to put out the fire? Receptive examples: Show me the fireman. Point to what the fireman drives. Say: a truck? That’s right! You say “Truck” or ‘tuh….r…..uh….ck’.
  8. Be sure to praise your child along the way. Many kids feel that they need to get things right the first time, and that despite trying it’s not good enough. Reward the attempts – let them know its ok to make a mistake and that achieving difficult things takes time.
  9. When reading books or watching movies, stop and ask questions along the way. Ask them questions about the movie or the characters in order to give your child the opportunity to explain it to you. This also works with music. They don’t need to sing every word, but it helps to stop and allow them to catch up with you by pausing and repeating words together.
  10. Sing the alphabet…this will allow you to hear your child saying each letter. If a letter sound is in error, pay attention and address that sound through imitation and labeling of pictures.
  11. Talk about functions of objects, and adding colors or adjectives to nouns, to help with putting words together. Examples: BIG car, BLUE car, TALL giraffe, LOUD music, SOFT pillow, RED truck, etc.
  12. Actions are great to help kids work on understanding what people do. It also helps to address pronouns, which can be difficult to learn. HE is….SHE is….THEY are….etc. You can provide a leading phrase to help your child fill in the blank. Eventually, they will be able to name the picture/action etc. on their own without your cue.
  13. When your child is talking and saying words that you clearly know are in error, but you know what they are saying, recognize that and connect it with your child knowing what they said, but encourage proper sound production. Example: Great job asking for the spoon, but I didn’t hear that /s/ sound at the beginning? Can you try it again? Watch me…./sssssss….puh…ooooo….n/. With a visual model and stretching out the sounds within the word, sometimes that helps increase the accuracy of the word.
  14. Prior to going to the grocery store, have your child take your list and organize it into groups…produce, cereal, frozen foods, meats etc. to help with going up and down the aisles. Or, better yet, have them write the list themselves, sounding out the words on their own.
  15. While in the grocery store, have your child read the aisle signs, give directions on how to get to the different areas, or ask them questions about foods. Play a game “I’m thinking of a cereal that has red on the cover and the name starts with /k/ what is it?” This helps with letter recognition, reading, following directions, listening, and gives them something to do while you are in the store. You could even create a scavenger hunt while you are in the store. This requires planning, but it makes the process fun!
  16. If you are cooking in the kitchen and can use some extra hands to help you, allow your child to help with measuring, following directions, reading the recipe and sequencing the steps. Have them draw a picture when they’re done or recite the steps they took to make the dish you just completed.
  17. When your child has difficulty with transitioning, use a visual step process that reflects “First ___ Then ___” in order to help them understand what they need to do to get what they want. Example: if your child is getting upset with a given activity, YOU as the adult determine when you are done, the child does not. Example: You want to get down? (yes). Ok, let’s do 3 more pages, then you can get down. First talking, then all done. This clearly states what they have to do to get what they want. They can’t just shut down and immediately get what they want. That is teaching them that they get what they want by fussing or having a tantrum. If they are crying and want something, you do not give it to them. First they need to stop crying, then they can consider earning what they are yearning for.
  18. When a child has a hard time saying words, sometimes tapping on their hand/arm/shoulder or leg helps them understand the ‘parts’ of a word. Example: If working on saying a word like “potato” which has 3 syllables, tap on their arm as you say “puh…tay….toe” to help them hear the 3 parts. Usually, they will tap back, showing they understand they need to say 3 syllables. Using your fingers as visuals works as well.
  19. If you have vocabulary cards, have your child group the pictures together by similarities. Then you can also discuss ways they are different. Example: if you are talking about animals, find all the 4 legged ones. Then identify how they are different. Some may be big/heavy while others are short and don’t have a tail. You can keep breaking the piles down into smaller and smaller groups until you get to two VERY similar animals.
  20. While reading books, have your child think about what might happen NEXT? You can discuss the sequence of the book to talk about what happened FIRST and LAST. You can ask questions about WHO the story was about, and WHERE they went. They can draw pictures about 3-4 parts of the story and put it in order. There are sequencing games and iPad apps that help kids work on putting details in order.
  21.  You can play I SPY while you are in the store, the house, or even the car on a road trip. I spy something in the car that starts with the letter /s/ and its round (steering wheel). I spy something in the car that goes up and down and is a square (window). Have participants ask yes/no questions. This works on asking questions as well as answering for all involved.
  22. Name an object and have your child describe it. See how many things they can come up with.
  23. Play a game where you think of a place (garage, grocery store, ballpark, movie theater) and then think of 5 letters….give each letter a point value and see how many words you can come up with related to that targeted topic.
  24. Sing songs that help with body parts – Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Stop the music to help with giving your child enough time to catch up and say the words.
  25. While setting up for breakfast or dinner, ask your child what you will need and where you will find it. Have them use words, and no gesturing, to explain it to another person. Example: To make cereal you are going to need a spoon from the utensil draw, a bowl from the cabinet, cereal from the pantry, and milk from the refrigerator. You will find the spoon in the drawer to the left of the stove, the cereal on the top/bottom shelf in the pantry and a bowl from the cabinet above the toaster. Don’t forget the milk on the door of the refrigerator.
  26. Don’t allow your child to say “right there” or “this one” when more specific details would be more appropriate. Sometimes you need to play dumb in order to get more details from your child. Example: What do you mean get it right there? Where is right there?
  27. Say what you mean. Kids need structure. If you say you have one more chance or 3 more chances before ‘xyz’ will happen, then you need to follow through. Teach your children that you mean what you say and that they do not have endless opportunities. If they go in timeout they have to earn their way out. Example: If they went in timeout for crying and not talking, they should be given a chance to talk to you to end the time out.
  28. If you are in the doctor’s office or waiting for someone, pull out your phone and talk about the pictures you have. Ask questions, have your child talk about the experience. Encourage them to share. Example: Remember when we went to the lake with ___? Tell me what you remember. Tell me what fun you had that day!
  29. Encourage outdoor play and following directions. Create an obstacle course where they have to go up and over, around and through different things. This encourages following directions, listening, comprehension and memory recall.
  30. Tell your child something silly and have them correct it. They have to determine what is wrong with what you said and know the right way to say it. Example: Put your hat on your elbow. That’s not right – you put your hat on your head!
  31. Think of yourself as a walking narrator. Always talk with your child and help them understand what you are doing, why you are doing it and where you are going. Even if they cannot talk, the fact that you are talking to them is encouraging receptive language and vocabulary for them to ‘understand’ which is the key to being able to use that vocabulary expressively.
  32. If you have something that needs to be counted, have your child do it for you.
  33. If you need to put a DVD in the DVD player, or turn on the TV, give your child the directions to do it so they have to listen in order to complete the task.
  34. Ask for a longer answer. If your child answers you with a simple yes/no answer, you can say “That is right, but let’s put MORE words with that. Yes, I want to go to the pool today.”
  35. Talk about before/after. What did we do before breakfast? What did we do after we went to the pool? What do you need to do before you go to bed? This helps with the concept of time and sequencing of events.
  36. Encourage your child to say, “I need help” when they don’t know the answer. It encourages talking and being expressive, even when they don’t know the answer!
  37. With that said, when your child doesn’t know the answer to something, rather than give the answer to them upfront, give clues, ask questions, and work on guiding them to the answer.
  38. Give your child choices so that they can choose the one they want while using words. Don’t accept “that one” or “this one” – work to label the pictures and elaborate on what they say. Example: If they label an object say, “yes, that’s the umbrella….it keeps us dry in the rain”
  39. When your child answers a question with a different type of WH response, you should recognize what they said and redirect to what you were asking. Example: I know this animal SAYS “moo” but I asked what it is called. I need to know the name of the animal. We call it a…. (leading phrases help too). Provide phonemic cueing as necessary to guide them even further.
  40. Don’t let a child give up and look for help every step of the way. Push them to sound out words and to figure it out themselves. Taking that extra time to make THEM do the work and having them figure out the answer, makes the reward so much sweeter. Building their confidence that they can do it, is ideal.
  41. Dedicate time each and every day to work on your goals. Set aside structured time while also working on goals and weaknesses throughout the day while out and about (in the car, at bath time, at grocery store, driving to/from school etc.)
  42. Use your child’s currency to your benefit. If they aren’t doing what they need to be doing, take things away from them…their iPad, favorite toy, or take away dessert or TV time. They need to be motivated to do what they need to do. Without motivation they won’t work as hard. Technology and toys are not given automatically, they are earned.
  43. Build a reward system where they earn X number of minutes on their iPad (or other) for each minute they put into practicing speech. They can earn treats at the dollar store, picking out movies, special dessert, mommy and me time, etc. Whatever the value, they have to earn that many tickets/points to get that reward. Some rewards should be quick and easy, and some should require more time.
  44. Have a penny jar that you put pennies in when you see them doing something good, saying their sounds right, or making good choices to do speech HW, or whatever it might be, and then after X number of pennies are earned, they can cash it in. This acts as a visual for them. They should also LOSE pennies if they do not fulfill their requirements. (The rewards should be age appropriate).
  45. I’ve been told by clients that SIRI, on the iPhone, is good for practicing articulation since you have to speak clearly in order to be understood. It helps with seeing if she understands you and working on enunciation.
  46. When your child doesn’t know “what” to say and you need to give them the word to express themselves, giving them the words isn’t cheating. Cue them with “I want…” and see if they finish or complete the sentence. Encourage them to start with “I want” and not pick up and talk after that part. Sometimes you may need to give one word at a time to say “I” (I) “want” (want) “a drink” (a drink) “please” (please).
  47. At the end of the day, review what you done and have your child give you a summary of the day’s events, talking through it sequentially. Ask questions and then discuss what you will do the next day to talk about future plans as well.
  48. If you know your child wants something but isn’t using their words to get it, pretend to do it. Example: Pouring a cup of juice and not taking top off of the container, yet pretending to fill the glass. Hand it to your child and act normal. The hope is that they will look at the (empty) cup and say/think, “Wait a minute – this isn’t right! Where’s my juice?” This encourages communication. They have to TALK to get what they want.
  49. Be consistent. Make sure EVERYONE is on board with what you want to do to reach goals. This includes the babysitter, the neighbors, Grandparents, friends, siblings etc. If the goal is no pacifier, and talking to get something, then NO ONE should be giving them the pacifier and handing over things without encouraging verbal communication. Consistency is key! BOTH parents have to equally require the same standards in order for success to be achieved. One parent cannot “require” communication while the other parent is passive. That is counter-productive.
  50. *Last but not least, never accept “I can’t” as an answer. Reinforce that learning is hard but you recognize their hard work. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, adults included. But, you have to try to succeed. You have to fall down to get back up. As long as they are TRYING and not giving up….that’s great!!!! The more they try the better they will get.


Advantage Speech Therapy Services & Children’s Therapy Group are both hiring speech therapists! Must be a licensed provider. Please call the number below for more information.

1. Robyn Drothler – Advantage Speech Therapy Services:         404-784-1252 [email protected]

2. Brook Todd -Children’s Therapy Group: 678-858-4777 [email protected]

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