One way you can improve vocabulary in your preschool and early elementary students is building depth of knowledge with new words. And, one of the ways you can build depth of knowledge is by teaching semantic features such as the category group, function, parts, size, location, etc. In today’s blog post, I am going to share hands-on transportation sorting activities that will help you teach classification to your students in a way that sticks! Plus, you’ll learn some takeaways from research on how you can coach teachers with these transportation activities in the classroom to build vocabulary. 


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Evidence-Based Practices for Teaching Vocabulary


For our students to have a solid understanding of a word, they must understand it beyond just labeling it. We call this depth of knowledge. A child with a strong vocabulary has formed many connections with a word to connect it to a certain context. And when we learn new words with depth, it’s way easier to fit that new word into our semantic system. So, here are some ways  you can work on vocabulary knowledge:


  • Provide multiple exposures to words in different activities
  • Teach the words explicitly with kid-friendly definitions
  • Identify the function or feature that would fit the word into a category group
  • Break down the word by semantic features (i.e. categories, function, location, parts, size, texture, etc.) or by how they relate to a particular theme

A vocabulary intervention research study by Hadley et al., 2018 found that when students learned the words sharing semantic features, they could better talk about the vocabulary words in more detail.

The structure of their study used books and guided play to work on vocabulary, and this blog post will provide lesson plan ideas for transportation using this setup! To read more about the article, head here.

You can also hear more about teaching depth of knowledge in episode 46 of the Real Talk SLP Podcast


Transportation Books About Air, Land, and Sea 


To help your students work on classifying transportation by air, land, and sea, there are some great books you can use in your speech therapy sessions. You can use these transportation books as the teaching portion, where you provide many exposures and give kid-friendly definitions. Also, you can show your students why they go together because of a similar function or feature.

Transportation!: How People Get Around by Gail Gibbons

National Geographic Kids Look and Learn: Things that Go by National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Things That Go by Karen de Seve


If you have GetEpic, these books are available on that website. Is there a particular transportation book you love to use with your students? Share in the comments of this blog post. 

Toys for Sorting Transportation Activities

To work on sorting transportation items by water, air, and land, having some figurines that you can use in a variety of play-based learning activities will serve you well.

Here are some transportation figurines I have:

In the Sky Toob set

In the Water Toob set

On the Road Toob set


Another option for transportation manipulatives is these magnetic portable playboards or transportation rubber fridge magnets.


How to Use the Transportation Figurines with Speech and Language Activities 


With these figurines, you can make fun sensory bin activities such as this one from Teaching Special Thinkers.

You can sort the transport items into air, land, and sea using printables from the transportation unit in the Themed Therapy SLP membership. Transportation is the themed unit for May when you are a monthly subscriber. Upgrading to the annual subscription, you can access this theme anytime during the school year. 

Another fun way to incorporate spatial concepts while working on vocabulary and categories is to make a hands-on activity from the transportation push-in language lesson plan guide like this one


While you are playing, you can add sound effects that match the definition of the words. For example, for the word fly or air, you can make a humming noise; for the word car or jeep, make a honking noise; for the word train, you can say choo-choo. This research article found that kids improved receptive and expressive language when the target words were paired with sound effects. 

Tips for Using Transportation Sorting Activities in Mixed Groups

When planning for mixed groups, we must find ways to hit LOTS of goals with one activity.

The beauty of these air, land, and sea sorting activities is easy to adapt. First off, you can target categories and sub-categories for transportation.

When considering different language goals, here are some skills you can target:

  • Describing the transportation items by attributes
  • Have more than one item to work on singular and plural noun markers
  • Build sentences with verb tense to explain by type of transportation item it is, such as “The car is driven on land.” or “The ship is an air transportation.”
  • Teach pronouns by having pictures or figurines and sharing “who” is driving or using the transportation item.
  • Target wh-questions
  • Give problems for using the vehicles and discuss solutions.

When you have articulation and phonology goals in a mixed group, think of sound-loaded words that would fit your student’s speech goals. For example, if you are working on /g/, have the student say “go” every time they sort a transportation item. Or, if working on s-blends, you can have students say, “It goes in the sky. Or it doesn’t go in the sky.” Consider vehicles that have your students sound to use while sorting transportation items.



What Transportation Sorting Activities Do You Use in Speech Therapy?


Do you have a particular book or sorting activity that you use with your transportation-themed unit? I would love to know of any props or activities you plan to engage your students with while teaching classification with transportation items. Share in the comments!