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How to Use Barrier Games in Speech and Language Therapy

Updated: Feb 21

Barrier games appeal to a wide age range and can easily help target a variety of language goals

Today, I’m giving a shout out to barrier games. I use them with kiddos of all ages and they are such an effective tool for kids with comprehension and/or expressive language development goals.

When I play barrier games with my students, I often see them being motivated to generate detailed, multi-clause sentences when it’s their turn to give a direction, and they also get immediate feedback for comprehension when it's their turn to follow the direction! Some of the best complex sentences I get from my students have happened during barrier game activities!

I have two favorite tools for barrier games: coloring pages, and these reusable sticker pads from Melissa & Doug. I’ll describe how I use each below.

A child playing a barrier game in speech therapy

When using coloring pages, I try to find a coloring page of my students’ favorite characters, superheroes, shows, interests, what they’re learning in class, etc. When choosing a coloring page, I am mindful of the level of detail in the picture, and how much background knowledge, and therefore knowledge of specific vocabulary in the picture, I expect my students to have.

Consider these examples:

Example A:

This is a terrible coloring page for a barrier game (but a great one for relaxing!) It’s not interesting from a vocabulary perspective because all the parts of this mandala don’t really have names.

Exhibit B:

This is a great coloring page for a barrier game. There are so many language possibilities with this picture – spatial concepts like top, middle, bottom, verbs to talk about what the different mice are doing, and lots of specific vocabulary for items in and around the house.

The reusable sticker pads from Melissa and Doug allow you to choose pictures by category and are great for both comprehension and expression of spatial concepts. I get two of each sticker book so that I have two sets of the pictures and the stickers.

This is how I play barrier games with my students during either 1:1 sessions or groups:

  1. I call barrier games the “Same Game” and I tell my students that the object of the game is to keep our pictures the same.

  2. Everyone gets the same materials – same pictures and same crayon colors if you’re using crayons. Same scene and stickers if you're using the sticker pads.

  3. Use game boxes, books, or whatever else you have around you to create a “barrier” so no one can see anyone else’s picture. Cheating accusations ("No peeking!") are often met with mischievous giggles!

  4. Take turns giving and following directions – that way, both comprehension and expressive language can be targeted. Each student can get turns at being “the direction giver” and “the listener”.

  5. After each direction, wait for everyone to follow it. When everyone is finished following the direction the way they think they should, hold up your pictures (“One, two, three… SHOW!”) and examine how similar everyone’s pictures still are. Fix any errors that have happened by examining what went wrong. Was the direction confusing? Did the listener not understand a word or concept? The immediate feedback kids get in barrier games is concrete and meaningful.

Do you have any fun materials you use for barrier games? Share them in the comments!

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