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What’s in a therapy material? How Speech Language Pathologists can think creatively to maximize the function of your therapy materials

There are thousands of toys that are useful for language development that a speech-language pathologist (SLP) may keep in their tool box. However, excellent speech and language therapy is not about the toys or materials that you use, rather the implementation of learning and elicitation strategies. In other words, it’s not the toy you use but HOW you use it. Many pediatric SLP’s treat children of various ages with various disorders in the same day. The variety of client’s that I see daily is what I love most about my job! However, creating or preparing multiple toys and materials for each client is not a feasible. But that does not mean that the therapy itself is not individualized to each client. I believe a single toy can be used across each speech and language domain. To really test this theory, let’s explore how something as simple as a pack of balloons can be used for a day of therapy. To do this, we will need to of course be….creative!

  • To address receptive language skills, or understanding of language, you can target spatial concepts in many different ways.
    • You can blow up the balloon, hold it in any direction and let it go together, which is always an exciting event. Then when the balloon finally lands near or far from where it started, you can ask your client to identify where the balloon landed using various spatial concepts. Is the balloon UNDER the table or NEXT to the table? Another idea would be to follow directions to put the balloon in a spot around the room- put the balloon ON the chair- and then let another balloon go around the room to see how close you can get it to the first balloon.
  • To address expressive langue skills, you can use the balloon at various levels.
    • To expand expressive vocabulary consisting of actions (go, push, blow, wait, POP), attributes (small, big, colors), locations (on, in, up, down), agents (I, me, you).
    • To build word combinations and simple sentences: Object+action (e.g., balloon go/stop), object+location (e.g., balloon up/down, pink/green/purple balloon, big/small balloon) possessor+possession (e.g.,my/your balloon), and simple subject+verb+object or subject+verb+object+modifier(e.g., I blow up balloon, I let balloon go).
  • To address speech sound production, you can use the balloon to give a visual model for fricative sounds and be a reinforcer for drill practice.
    • For fricative sounds, you can fill the balloon up and slowly let the air out with a consistent flow to model the airflow needed for the sounds you are targeting.
    • If targeting a different sound, you can use a drill practice model with fun and enticing breaks with the balloons. Perhaps you can play a game of target practice with papers on the wall and see who can get a balloon to let it’s air out and reach the wall on the target first. Or if you’re even more adventurous, maybe you try to make balloon animals with a step done after each set of stimuli.
  • To address play you can use the balloon to target pretend play skills.
    • This may be the most simple application of use a balloon for therapy but that is the beauty of play… can be as simple or complex as you make it. With a balloon, you can target pretend play skills. Make a game to see how many pretend uses you each can come up with using a balloon. This is similar to a common improv game where you have to use a prop as something it is not intended to do. Perhaps initially the balloon is something easily transferable like a ball or a hot air balloon but then with a spark of imagination and growing pretend play skills, it becomes a rocket ship and then a trampoline and then a funny hat and so on until your therapy session is over.
  • To address pragmatics, you can use the balloons to target turn taking or conversational skills.
    • You can take turns blowing up the balloon to the size you’d like and letting it go while layering in your turn/my turn language to target simple turn taking skills.
    • To target conversational skills, you can use the balloon as a visual to indicate turn taking back and forth in conversation. Review that when you have the balloon you have to make a comment/respond/ask a question and then also send it back to the other person so they can respond to and work through the reciprocity of conversation.


That was a fun and productive day of therapy! While you may never actually find yourself restricted to the use of one simple toy or material for a whole day of therapy, it is a great exercise to challenge the adaptability of your therapy.



Rose, S.  (2022, May).  What’s in a therapy material? How Speech Language Pathologists can think creatively to maximize the function of your therapy materials.  Zebra Speech.
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Speech-language pathologist (SLP)

more speech therapy articles posts (blogs) by Stephanie Rose