It can feel relatively easy to come up with language-based activities using speech therapy themes. When it comes to theme planning with speech sound disorders, it can be tricky to brainstorm target words, get enough trials and keep your students engaged. There are lots of pros and cons when using a theme-based approach for articulation-based activities. You can listen to more about these pros and cons on this podcast episode

I do have some tricks up my sleeve for using themes with speech sound disorders! I’ve already shared my FREE-themed word lists for Back to School, All About Me, and Pumpkins to give some ideas but that’s just a starting point to making this therapy easier, more effective, and more fun. So today, I am sharing my best tips for using themes with speech sound disorders.

Tip #1: Picking the Right Themes for Speech Articulation Disorders

Get 5 tips for how to use themes with your speech sound disorder goals!

Pick themes that have a lot of vocabulary options so that you can adapt to various speech sounds. For example, food is an excellent theme because you can target a LOT of different sounds…recipe, ingredients, pot, mix, hot, cook, oven, stove, vegetables, fruits, chef, restaurant, kitchen, juice, wheat, healthy, knife, bake, taste, delicious, sugar, sour, measure and so many more. The Themed SLP Membership includes a food theme in June with lists of articulation and phonology words, lists of target words in food-related books, and more.


Another option when picking a theme for articulation and phonology is being more specific in your choice of a theme. You can choose a theme that has its sound in its name. For example, a Superhero or Spider theme would be great for kids working on /s/ or /r/. A Picnic theme would be great for kids working on /p/ or /k/.

Tip #2 Drill First, Play Later with Speech Sounds

Structure your sessions strategically when using speech therapy themes. 

Students can start their sessions by doing structured drills for a set amount of time, like 5-10 minutes. The second half of your session will involve a themed activity such as a sensory bin, pretend play, toy, or hands-on activity in which you can embed more natural practice with the student. 

When you do drills as your first activity, you can get a burst of high trials, so you aren’t as stressed about getting the repetitions during the second activity.

You can use themes with your speech articulation disorders and we give 5 tips for how to do it!

Tip #3 Find Sound Loaded Materials within your Theme

Get free theme speech therapy sound word lists for back to school, all about me, and pumpkins

Find YouTube videos, and non-fiction passages or create stories related to a theme with words that have their speech sound. For example, if doing a summer theme, find a reading passage on NewsELA about lemonade for /l/ sounds, or use a themed word list to have students create short stories. For a list of summer-themed YouTube videos to use in speech, you will find a bunch in this free download

Another activity I love is going on a sound hunt with my students using different themed materials. Go on a sound hunt in themed pictures scenes. You can also go on sound hunts in themed books. 

For example, students can go on a sound hunt while reading “At the Supermarket.” A student can look through pictures and listen to the story while searching for pictures or words with their /l/ sound. They’d find the words roll, like, lettuce, loaf, little, laundry, cold, vanilla, yellow, all, bottle, and full

If you’re looking for books with specific speech sounds, try using Ashley Rossi’s book search feature

Recently, an SLP shared in the FREE Themed Therapy SLP Facebook group that she will switch out some of the words in the text that has the child’s sound to maximize opportunities for auditory bombardment and practice. This is a great way to adapt materials so it’s more suited to your student’s needs!

Tip #4 Give Challenge Words Related to the Themed Activity

If you are doing a speech therapy theme activity that doesn’t feel aligned with your student’s speech sounds, make a short list of challenge words that they could use during the activity.

For example, if you’re playing a treasure hunt game or with a pirate sensory bin, and your student is working on r-blends, have them say “treasure” or “I found a treasure, I didn’t find a treasure.” when playing.

If you’re doing a beach theme and targeting “CH,” have a “beach bag” and play a mystery game to work on inference. Every round, the child could say “What’s in the beach bag?” or explaining if you can or can’t take the item to the beach.

Get tips for how to use themes with articulationspeech disorders

Tip #5 Use Themed Open-Ended Reinforcers with Your Speech Articulation Disorder Students

Learn how to use speech therapy themes for your articulation and phonology disorders

Like many (if not most) SLPs know, many of our groups are mixed with students with language goals, speech sound disorders, and phonological disorders. Planning for all these different goals can be challenging. While using speech therapy themes can be helpful, sometimes you might find that you’re using an approach that doesn’t have many targets aligned with your theme. Try using themed open-ended reinforcers that have themed vocabulary. You can easily adapt these with different speech words! This could be a beach-related board game or a pirate ship game.

Overall, speech therapy themes can be a game changer when it comes to planning sessions. It can feel challenging when planning for themed sessions when working with articulation or phonological disorders. Start by picking the right theme with the target sounds in mind, then choose how you want your students to practice their sounds. 

What are your tips for using themes with speech articulation disorders? Share with us on social media!