It Can Be Fun and Games Try these play-based leisure activities to build language skills with middle school students. School Matters
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School Matters  |   September 01, 2017
It Can Be Fun and Games
Author Notes
  • Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, serves students in public and private school settings. She gives presentations on professional collaboration and on using evidence-based practices. abaspeech@yahoo.com
    Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, serves students in public and private school settings. She gives presentations on professional collaboration and on using evidence-based practices. abaspeech@yahoo.com×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / School Matters
School Matters   |   September 01, 2017
It Can Be Fun and Games
The ASHA Leader, September 2017, Vol. 22, 36-38. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.22092017.36
The ASHA Leader, September 2017, Vol. 22, 36-38. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.22092017.36
We all know free-time activities can be fun and help children make friends, learn sportsmanship and teamwork, and get exercise and fresh air. But we may be less aware that they can also improve children’s language andsocial skills.
As speech-language pathologists, we treat students with complex communication needs, as well as conversational and social skill issues. So why not use play and leisure skills to enhance language instruction—even with older students?
I often target leisure skills with my middle school students, but one in particular made me want to share why I think these skills are important. I taught this student how to play modified Connect Four. His goals for the game included taking turns and sustaining cooperative play, rather than getting four red or black pieces in a row.
I shared these modified rules and reasons why I used this activity with his family. A few months later, the parent wrote me a note saying the student got Connect Four as a gift and enjoyed playing—using standard rules—with his sister. Hooray, success on two levels!
Including play-based leisure activities in sessions at school can create generalization in unexpected ways—in addition to helping students achieve their language goals. Here are steps I use to teach language skills through games.

Including play-based leisure activities in sessions at school creates generalization in unexpected ways.

Assessment first
First comes the assessment piece. Where is the student with their play or leisure skills? I like to use the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment when assessing this area. This assessment tool gives a detailed and clear picture of a student’s play and social skills, evaluating areas such as the student’s level of sustained social play with peers, spontaneous requesting with peers during a play activity and cooperating with a peer to accomplish a task.
After completing an assessment, I create goals to help students strengthen their social-language and play skills. Answering these questions helps me determine how to best approach treatment:
  • Do I need to teach this skill individually to the student and generalize with peers?

  • If I am seeing students in a group, what shared goals do they have?

  • How can I make this group beneficial for all students involved?

  • How can I embed communication opportunities throughout the group?

  • How can I facilitate peer-to-peer interaction during the group?

  • What prompts can I give students to complete these play skills, and how can I eventually fade these prompts?

  • What other adult help do I need to run this group effectively?

Including play-based leisure activities in sessions at school creates generalization in unexpected ways.

Communication targets
I work in a middle school, so hosting a weekly leisure and social skills group is a must! In the first part of this group, we practice conversation skills. Most students work on using appropriate comments and asking follow-up questions during conversation. We watch a video on how to engage in these skills, then students practice with peers, and I prompt them as needed. After we directly review these skills, we focus on leisure skills.
When I work with a group, I embed numerous level-appropriate opportunities to practice communication skills. The skills I address depend on my students’ target goals, which may include sustaining social play for a set time, requesting with peers during a game, spontaneously joining other children in a play activity, answering questions from the group leader, labeling items during a group activity and asking/answering social questions during play—such as, “What did you have for lunch today?”
At the beginning of the school year, we discuss games my students want to learn. When targeting a new game, I write out directions for a modified version. I go over this version with other teaching staff and email parents so they can play, too.
Here are some modified games that students seem to really like:
Uno—Most kids love to play Uno, but can get confused by the special cards. Based on the student’s skill level, I modify the game in two ways. First, I take out all non-numbered cards—reverse, skip, draw two, wild—and we play as a matching game. Or I put one card from each color set face up in a row and ask each student to pick and place a card on the correct pile. For a student working on engaging in a cooperative activity with a peer for five minutes—without disruptive behavior—I start a timer when the game begins and prompt during this five-minute time frame as needed.
Scrabble—I let students create words anywhere on the game board. The words don’t have to intersect or even touch. I also ask students to use the word they spell in a grammatically correct sentence. If I have one student working on creating grammatically correct sentences using the word “and,” I remind him at the start of the game to create at least one sentence including that word.
Yahtzee—We modify this game by rolling in numerical sequence per round. During round one, everyone rolls for ones, and so on. We roll until we all complete the top section of our scorecards—one through six. One student’s goal involves setting up this game and inviting classmates to play, so he watches a video model on how to set up the game, sets up the game and then invites classmates to play.
The Grocery Store Game—This game lets students practice coming up with words. I write the alphabet on the board, and we take turns saying a grocery item matching the letter. For example, “I went to the store, and I bought apples. I went to the store, and I bought bread,” and so on. If a student struggles to think of a word, I give them a visual clue. If they land on “D,” for example, I show them a picture of a donut.
Working on language and leisure skills generates fun and engaging sessions for SLPs and students. Direct instruction on these skills helps students increase their leisure-skill repertoires. Engaging in these modified activities with peers and family members allows our students to feel successful and happy.
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September 2017
Volume 22, Issue 9