Have you had a student on your caseload with category goals? Do you feel limited with the resources you have for teaching categories? Do you know where to start with how to teach categories? Incorporating category activities in your language therapy will build your students’ depth of knowledge with vocabulary. Today, I will share why teaching categories are essential for building vocabulary and give you a list of speech therapy category activities for your caseload.

Why are teaching categories important?


Teaching categories in speech therapy is essential for vocabulary development. When we teach vocabulary words in “groups,” SLPs can create a schema for the students to understand those words. Grouping items by similar features provide a familiar setting for students to organize and understand related nouns.

Students who put words in “groups” learn to associate other words for that specific group. Someone with typically developing language may associate waves, sand, seagulls, beach towels, and sand castles with the group “beach.”

When students know the category group nouns belong in, they have one more way to describe that noun. For example, when teaching depth of knowledge for the word apple, you would explain, “An apple is a fruit.”

How to Teach Categories – Category Hierarchy Example

It is crucial to get a baseline of where your student is performing with their understanding of word relationships. If students can’t name categories independently, you can gather other information by assessing sorting skills and matching identical objects and pictures.

  • Match identical objects and pictures
  • Sort a group of objects or pictures into two similar sets
  • Sort a group of things by one feature
  • Choose an item to match a given category description or name
  • Sort into 2 and 3 categories
  • Name categories
  • What doesn’t belong and why
  • What goes together and why
  • Name multiple items of a given category
  • Express similarities and differences

Further down in the blog post, I share resources you can use that would go with some of these category hierarchy examples so you have materials to implement those skills!

Considerations When Deciding Where To Start With Teaching Categories

Some of our students may struggle with understanding category groups because they have yet to experience the vocabulary in real life. If your student has yet to go to the beach, then your student may not know to associate buckets, umbrellas, and boogie boards as items in the beach category.

When thinking about what categories to start teaching first, you will have to think about your students’ exposure to those words or add in additional time to increase their background knowledge of those category groups.

Taking a baseline assessment can help with narrowing down where to begin. Based on your probes, you can see what category groups your students understand and don’t understand. Also, consider introducing those early developing categories such as shapes, colors, and food for students struggling with categorizing.

If you need a resource that has progress monitoring tools to help you find a baseline for determining your student’s understanding of category groups, check out the Level Up Categories Activities Bundle. You will have activities to help you with teaching categories, but also determine your student’s current level of understanding with word relationships. 

How To Teach Categories – What Level To Start With Students

Let’s say your student can sort a group of objects or pictures into two identical sets with 80% accuracy without prompts. When you asked them to sort a group of things by one feature, they needed visual cues at 40% accuracy. Since mastery is below 80% accuracy, sorting items into groups by one feature probably is an excellent place to start in therapy. As your students increase their accuracy, you can move to more challenging category activities or change the group objects to new category groups.

Keep reading the blog post for materials you can use to teach categorization confidently!

Free Category Visual Printables

You need to make an I Spy sensory bin for a fun category game. Your students can go on the hunt to find mini trinkets for the list of category groups. Head to this blog post to grab the game printables.

category activities to build language

You need to download my free category visual printables to make category activities more interactive. You can Velcro them to bins, have kids sort mini trinkets on the mats, or put them around your room for kids to find and name items in the category group.

Materials To Help You Teach Categorization

With students exhibiting moderate-severe deficits with their receptive and expressive language skills in categories, breaking down word relationships is essential for your students to understand the skill.

You can use the Level Up Category Activities Bundle to have students sort by one category feature, choose an item to match a given category description or name, name a category group, and name multiple items in a category group. 

For working on matching pictures or sorting pictures into one category group, having a set of noun flashcards is excellent!

Here is a set with many pictures for basic categories (Amazon affiliate link included.) Check out this set for various nouns, verbs, and adjective flashcards

Whether you need digital category activities, printables, or crafts, I have some resources that could work for your caseload.

Category Boom Cards

Category Flipbook Printable Version

Category Wallet Craftivity

No Prep Category Worksheets


Category Activities With Apps

Categories From I Can Do apps-I love using this app to get baseline data for how students are currently doing with identifying what doesn’t belong and which items go together.

Smarty Ears Go Together APP– This app works on categorization through matching. You can also have the students explain why the items go together after matching them up!

Smarty Ears Categories Learning Center– This app is great because it has different levels to differentiate for your students. You can make things more difficult as your students progress in the categorization levels!

What resources do you have that you love for working on categorizing?

How do you teach categories to your students?

What resources or techniques have you found helpful in teaching your students categorization? If you have a strategy or material you love using that isn’t listed in this blog post, share it in the comments!