Language Therapy, Random Therapy Ideas

Super Semantics: Therapy/Assessment Activity

Proficient retrieval of stored information in our brains is key to effective, efficient language.  Deficits in an individual’s ability to access semantic features of a word/item or a lack of rich semantic connections can present as word finding difficulties, a limited lexicon, or general language impairment.  There’s a great overview of information about lexical storage and retrieval as well as additional resources (articles about research in this realm) in Marilyn Nippold’s book: Later Language Development: School-Age Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults Third Edition.  The concept “dog” might elicit neural connections to a huge variety of cortical association areas for a given person: phonological processing centers of the brain (D-O-G), visual centers of the brain (what does a dog look like), auditory centers (woof), somatosensory centers (what does a dog feel like?), olfactory centers (how does a dog smell?), semantic categorical centers of the brain (what does a dog remind you of?) etc.  Together, these connections constitute the semantic network for “dog.”

If you notice or suspect these semantic networking/lexical retrieval deficits in your client, here’s a great criterion-referenced task you can use that goes beyond the basic convergent vs. divergent subtests often found in norm-referenced standardized assessments (a group of my cohort-mates came up with this for a recent class presentation)!

What you will need: 

  • Laminated picture cards
  • Data-taking sheet to easily allow you to keep track of what kind of data you’re after

Ready, set, GO:

  • STEP 1: Present the client with 8 picture cards and say, “Sort these cards into 2 categories.” For example, you might present 5 cards that are all animals and 3 cards that are all types of vehicles.  Depending on the developmental level of your client, you can make the categories more or less obvious.  The goal is for the client to sort the various cards into these general, big categories.
  • STEP 2: Ask the client, “Tell me which 2 categories you chose.”  Here, you are looking for the client to tell you the 2 general/big categories they chose for the cards.
  • STEP 3: Ask the client to explain how each card fits into the category.  Your goal is to gather information about how they are linking concepts together: what are the semantic connections they’re using to understand and group language?  Depending on how formal you want to make this activity, you can interject your own thoughts about the shared (or unique) semantic features of each card.
  • STEP 4: Now introduce a new card that should easily fit into 1 of the 2 general/big categories (i.e. bring out a picture of a truck and ask which category it fits into).  Do this a couple of times.
  • STEP 5: This time, introduce a card that has some kind of semantic connection to one of the 2 general/big categories, but breaks the overt rule of the category (it’s NOT an animal or a vehicle).  For example, assuming that all of the animals were farm animals, you could introduce a picture of a barn.  This step will give you critical information about the client’s cognitive flexibility and the extent of their semantic networks!
  • Run through this a few times, each time with different sets of cards that need to be grouped into categories.  You can always increase task complexity by requiring more categories or making the pictured items less overtly connected. Another variation of the task is to simply hand the client a number of cards and tell them to sort them “any way they want.”  Rather than prompt the number of categories you are looking for, this task method will allow you to gather in-depth information about how the client chunks and groups lexical items.

Things to look for:

  • Does the client use overly simplistic sorting strategies, or can he/she employ more abstract techniques to sort the cards? For example, if all the cards you initially give the client are animals, do they have the rich semantic networks in place to allow them to recognize carnivores vs herbivores (assuming this is an appropriate academic skill)?
  • Can the client easily demonstrate semantic flexibility?  If you have been accepting sorting-responses based on animals versus vehicles, can the client switch gears and recognize that the animals could also fit into the “farm” category once the barn picture is introduced.

Hopefully you are able to integrate this criterion-referenced activity into your session the next time you are working with a client whose semantic networking abilities and lexical retrieval skills are in question!

Apps, Language Therapy, Worth Every Penny

Flashcards for Your iPad

Flashcards are great therapy resources.  They are tried and true, and serve as a great go-to set of stimuli during many of the activities SLPs do on a daily bases.  There are a lot of benefits to having a physical set of cards in front of you.  BAM: basic flashcards can become a memory or matching game.  BAM: stack flashcards around the room to make a car obstacle course (  BAM, hide flashcards to create a scavenger hunt for therapy targets!  Despite all these great uses for stimulus cards, there are just those moments where you want the content from the card without the ability for your client to pick it up and toss it across the room (or flip it over, or rip it, or spill on it).  Unless you’re a laminating maniac and an organization genius, cards often get lost or ruined after a finite amount of time. They can become cumbersome to lug around for SLPs on the go, and keeping them organized can be a nightmare.  Solution? Flashcard apps.  Super Duper is a GREAT resource for a big selection of flashcard decks that have been converted for the iPad!  The concept is by no means revolutionary, but for short money (apps run $5.99 each) you get all the benefits of the cards’ content without the downsides of dealing with individual cards.  Here are 2 Super Duper apps that I’ve been exploring and would love to share:


The deck includes a wide variety of picture scenes where one character has a “?” thought bubble coming from his/her/its mouth, encouraging the question, “what are they asking?” Before you begin an activity with this app, you have the option to choose your client(s) and customize the card options for them by selecting the specific cards you want (or you can always select all cards).  Here are some great ways to use this app:

  • Its intended function: asking your client to think about what the character is likely asking.  This requires your kiddo to look for contextual clues in the scene to support their theory.  If you are hoping to generate further language beyond a simple answer to what the character is thinking, ask your client to explain the contextual clues they used to come up with their answer.
  • pronoun practice: what is heshe, it thinking?
  • Inference practice: ask your client questions like: “What do you think happened right before this?” “How does the other character(s) feel about what’s happening?” “How could you solve this problem?”
  • Engage your client in WH-question practice by tailoring your questions about each card” “WHO is having this thought?” “WHEN did X character do X action?” “WHERE has the girl traveled (hint: look at her suitcase)?”

You are given the option to mark each card as correct or incorrect if you come up with a personalized data system, but you can certainly leave the activity open as a means of generating great language in addition to thinking about what different characters might be saying in each scene!


Since inferences are a broad area of language, this app has lots of possible functions!  Again, you have the power to choose specific cards to include for each client, or to use the whole deck.  You can mark each card as correct or incorrect if you want to tap into the data function of the app!  Here are some ways to get rolling with Understanding Inferences:

  • If your client is just starting to work with inferences, one-word responses might be a great target with this deck!  For these kiddos, elaboration might be too tough, but the ability to provide a relevant answer to the posed question will demonstrate that they’re getting the idea of an inference!
  • Use the cards (and their questions) as a story generator.  Ask your client to not only provide an appropriate response, but to also create a story about what happens next.
  • Use the cards to model a descriptive guessing activity and then have the client try it on his/her own!  Practice with a card like the one below (giving clues to help describe a target object based on its appearance, function, etc), and then see if your client can give you enough clues to guess what he/she is thinking of 🙂
  • Be silly; instead of thinking of things that DO belong (for cards like the one below), try to think of things that DON’T belong.  Understanding how objects DON’T fit into certain semantic categories can be just as important as determining how and why they do! 

There you have it!  A few fun ways to get your started using a couple of Super Duper’s flashcard apps!  The magic is in how you make these apps work for you, especially since there are so many possibilities beyond their basic, intended functions 🙂

Apps, Language Therapy, Random Therapy Ideas, Worth Every Penny

Word Stack App Baby!

Another day, another app.  I found out about this app from being that person on the bus into campus this morning.  When I say that person, I mean the one who happens to sit next to you and then not-so-secretly watches you play on your iPad for 15 straight minutes.  As we were approaching my stop, I mumbled the following incoherent, awkward question: “Heywhatgameareyouplayingthere?”  This poor fellow bus rider looked at me like I was insane, but played nice and told me that it’s called Word Stack.

I had watched her play for a mere quarter of an hour and already knew this was a game that had me hooked.  She was having trouble getting through her current level, and I had already figured out the word relationships in my head and was literally (Chris Traeger style:  dying to impart this information.  BUT, I waited patiently while she explained the rules of the game and then finnnnnaly asked if I could figure out the current level.  By the time I reached my stop, I’d made a friend (per say) and discovered a great new app to share with all of YOU!

So, what exactly is Word Stack?  It’s a game of word relationships (language!!!).  You are given a starter word in green on the right side of the screen, and 8 additional words in blue on the left.  Your job is to stack the words one by one in the column on the right.  Each word that gets added must have some kind of appropriate semantic relationship with the top word in the stack in the column on the right to make it stick and turn green (synonyms, antonyms, compound word pairs).  

This game is fantastic for older kids working on language, especially for semantic relationships and word relationships.  Although you can’t control how each word will relate to its corresponding word in the list (synonym vs antonym vs compound word), this is a fun way to practice those skills as your clients acquire them!  I also see this app being used very well with adult clients with acquired language impairments.  You can play independently or in a group (either pass the iPad after each word is stacked or have everyone work together to solve the relationship).  Sometimes, multiple words could possibly fit in some kind of relationship with the one already in the stack, but you will be stuck later if you choose the wrong one early on!  LOTS of problem-solving skills involved here!

Price: $0.99 Less than a buck for LOTS of levels, LOTS of language therapy opportunities, and LOTS of fun!  There’s also a free version, but I went straight for the paid one!

Apps, Random Therapy Ideas, Worth Every Penny

Scribble Press

Now that finals are over and I’m well on my way out of rainy dodge to a week of sunshine in AZ, it’s time for another app review.  This time I’m talking story creation with Scribble Press.  This app is fantastic for letting kids create their own books (which can even be ordered and mailed to you if you’re feeling sentimental).  What I love about Scribble Press is the ability to start with the “skeleton” of a book and fill in the details so kids can make it their own.

When you click on the “New Book” link, it brings you to a shelf full of book categories.  Does your client love aliens?  CHECK!  Is it Christmas/Hanukkah time and you want to do a holiday themed book?  CHECK!  Check out the various book categories below!

Within each category is a list of actual book “skeletons” to choose from.  The image below shows the book options available in the “About Me” category.

Once you’ve decided on a book, a madlibs-esque screen will pop up with a story skeleton and blank spaces for you to fill in with your client.  This is a great opportunity for them to practice spelling/typing skills if appropriate.  For those kiddos who hate to generate their own sentences or stories, this is great because it gives them a place to start from which to come up with ideas.  You can always go back later and edit the skeleton to be more relevant to your client (or just create a book from scratch with no skeleton).

Once everything is filled in, it’s time to illustrate the book!  The app has a decent selection of images to choose from, but the real gem is the ability to choose from a PLETHORA of colors and a PLETHORA of “marker types” to draw your own pictures.  I love the creativity this encourages in kids. You can always alter your books to target particular artic sounds, semantic categories, or language elements.


You’re enticed, aren’t you?  So…the big question: how much is this app?  $free.99!!  That’s right folks, Scribble Press is absolutely free.  Depending on the level of support you want to offer, this app is great for kids of all ages (or maybe even some of the adult clients out there) and opens the therapy floodgates for a multitude of great intervention targets and ideas!


Worth Every Penny

Unrolling a Good Time

Do you want to shake your session up a bit…literally?  Then invest in your very own Rory’s Story Cubes Game.  This glorious little box contains 9 dice that will get your kiddo’s imagination AND language production rolling.  Here’s the premise:

  1. Roll any/all of the 9 dice
  2. make up a sentence/story with the images that appear on those dice

Yup, it’s that simple!  But wait, there’s so much more you can do with this game.  If story generation and spontaneous language aren’t your primary goals, here are some other ideas to use with your Rory’s Story Cubes Dice:

  • For the WH-questions kiddo: take turns rolling 1 die (I know, it’s a weird singular form of dice…I double-checked with google).  The non-roller must use WH-questions to guess what image the other person rolled.
  • For the articulation kiddo: Be creative in how you “name” the images for their word/sentence/story.  The “bee” can be an “insect” if you’re targeting word-medial /s/ (like me).  Or the “light bulb” can actually be “dark” for those postvocalic /r/ sounds.
  • For the kiddo working on opposites: simple…roll a die and try to name the opposite (or something that’s different vs same) from the image that lands up.
  • For the semantic deficits kiddo: roll a couple dice and try to find a way to semantically link the images together (do they all fit into some kind of basic category?  How are they related or unrelated?).  OR, roll one die and try to name other things that might belong in the same category as that image.
  • For the sequencing kiddo: connect your images into a story with clear, concrete temporal connector words.
  • For the kiddo with disordered (or just plain messy) narration: this can be a great game for focusing on strategies to work lots of novel elements into a cohesive story.  Ask you kiddo to create an introduction of character(s), setting, etc., then to generate a clear story with a climax, and finally to conclude their story.  Use the images on the dice to guide the story!
  • for the pragmatics kiddo: work on turn-taking by creating a story together where you each get to add one die image at a time and must build off of what the last person said.; Create a fun sentence with some of the dice images and ask the kiddo to determine whether you’re producing it in a declarative vs interrogative vs exclamatory way based solely on your intonation (suprasegmentals baby!).  Then have them say the sentence with a target intonation.
  • For the prosody kiddo: make up a crazy sentence with some of the dice images, and then ask your kiddo to identify what kind of emotional tone you’re using to produce that sentence: happy, angry, confused, surprised, sad.  Then ask them to produce the same sentence with a target emotional tone.

As you can see, there are a plethora of ways you can apply this great game to your variety of kiddos!  So take the plunge on and get your own set of Rory’s Story Cube dice.  There’s also a set with action images, so the possibilities are even more endless than before!


Scribblenauts is Naut to be Missed Out On!

Want an app that will get your clients super jazzed about therapy (and get you through long plan rides, boring lectures, and awkward family dinners)?  Then download Scribblenauts ($0.99) through the Apple App Store.  I mean it, go grab your iPad and download it right now.  Did you do it?  Good.

Maxwell is the main character in this app, and at each level he is trying to complete a mission.  Whether he’s carrying out a heist or trying to help a knight across a shark-infested moat, your job is to conjure up objects that will help Maxwell (and his allies) get through the level.  The beauty of this app?…you can literally type in just about any noun (with the occasional adjective) and have it appear.  You want a dragon?  DONE.  How about a dragon slayer to kill it before it attacks Maxwell? DONE.  You want a zombie cat?  Or a bridge?  Or a helicopter that Maxwell can fly? DONE, DONE and DONE. Granted, you’re trying to conjure objects that will help Maxwell and his allies complete their mission, but half the fun is coming up with crazy objects to add into the scene to see how they interact with the characters-or to see if you can think of a wacky, out-of-the-ordinary object to complete the mission.  Instead of crossing the moat in a boat, how about doing it in an inner tube?  Or even on a surf board!  See, the possibilities are (almost) endless.

For therapy, this app can be used in all kinds of ways:

  • For articulation clients, tell them they can only choose objects with the target sound in them.  This will get their creative juices flowing AND get you lots of repetitions of the sound ( if you drill them on each object)!
  • Each level is great for problem-solving.  In level 2 of world 1, your client has to come up with objects that 2 of the characters would logically use (choosing from a chef, a fire fighter, a police man, and a doctor).
  • Semantic Network Strengthening can be done at every level of this app.  The client has to generate ideas that are all related to the problem/task at hand!
  • If you child is old enough, have him work on his spelling/literacy skills as he types in each object (if not, you can type their ideas in)

All in all, I highly recommend this app.  Feel free to comment about how YOU are using this app in therapy!  Ideas are meant to be shared 🙂