If you’re a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) worried you’re relying too much on the “same old, same old” in your sessions, why not try using science experiments as speech therapy activities?
Simple and fun science experiments are a natural fit for speech and language therapy. Why?
- Because they involve students listening to, interpreting, and following instructions, they are ready-made ways to sharpen receptive language skills.
- Because the scientific method includes making observations, testing hypotheses, and examining evidence, experiments become natural occasions for asking and answering those all-important “wh” questions: What? When? Where? Why? Who?
- Because kids love seeing, hearing, and feeling experiments’ often dramatic and “cool” outcomes, science-themed activities can elicit some wonderful expressive language!
If you want to spark some new life—and new language—in your speech therapy sessions, the SLPs on the Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) team recommend the science activity ideas below.
They’re easy to do. They don’t require any specialized therapy materials. And, they can make meeting speech and language goals more interesting and fun for the students you serve.
Using “Oobleck” to Get Your Speech and Language Students Talking
Science experiments that can double as effective speech therapy activities abound on the internet.
We’ve found Pinterest to be a great resource for finding ideas and instructions. Our favorite activities use materials commonly found at school or at home (the latter’s an especially important consideration when you’re providing speech teletherapy).
When it comes to science-themed speech and language activities, oobleck has got to be the all-time champ! It’s a “Non-Newtonian fluid”—in other words, it acts as both a solid and a liquid—named for the sticky green stuff in Dr. Seuss’ classic book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1949).
Every March 2, schools across America celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday. It’s the perfect day to set progress monitoring aside for a session and have fun making oobleck.
Here’s how—with tips on using the experience to elicit some great language—to create an engaging oobleck activity:
- Measure 1 cup of cornstarch and pour it into a mixing bowl. Invite the kids to touch it and describe how it feels. They’ll probably use such adjectives as “creamy,” “soft,” or even “weird.”
- Discuss as a group what color you want your oobleck to be. It doesn’t have to be green like the oobleck in Dr. Seuss’s book! Once students decide, measure 1/2 cup water and add a few drops of the appropriate food color.
- Pour the colored water into the cornstarch. Give each child who wants to do so an opportunity to stir. You may need to finish mixing everything together.
- Now comes the most fun part: Everyone digs their hands into the bowl and starts playing with the oozy oobleck! Be sure you encourage students to describe how it feels.
Oobleck ends up causing all sorts of problems in Dr. Seuss’s book. But, it’s sure to cause all sorts of fun for your students, and to invite all sorts of wonderfully descriptive language from them!
Even More Science Activities to Use as Language Activities
Think oobleck is great? It is—but, it’s also just the beginning.
Here are three more easy-to-do experiments that double as effective speech therapy activities:
- Slime Time
In a small cup, stir together 1 tablespoon water, 1/4 teaspoon Borax (check your local grocery store’s laundry aisle), and a few drops of food coloring. In another small cup, stir together 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon school glue. Pour the Borax solution into the glue solution.The result? Gloriously goopy slime!How many adjectives will your students come up with to describe this mysterious, messy stuff?
- Elephant Toothpaste
This chemical reaction is a surefire kid-pleaser. It is more involved than slime or oobleck and requires a large space as well as safety goggles. But, the end result is well worth the effort, as will be the language it evokes from your students.Pour 2 inches of hydrogen peroxide (3%) into a 12-ounce plastic bottle. Squirt in some liquid dish soap, then add a yeast solution you’ve prepared beforehand. And, don’t forget food coloring. Then stand back and watch the foamy fun!
- Dancing Raisins
We’ve heard it through the grapevine: If you drop raisins into a glass of clear carbonated soda, they’ll boogie their way up to the top.Use this experiment to get older kids talking about such scientific concepts as density, volume displacement, and carbon dioxide. Use it to get younger kids talking about what they see and hear. Use it to give everybody a fun speech therapy activity!
How Science-Themed Activities Address Speech and Language Goals
Whenever you slide some science experiments into your session plans, you can target multiple speech and language therapy skills simultaneously, which include:
No, you can’t expect kids to pronounce “photosynthesis” correctly every time. However, talking about experiments as you perform them offers students the chance to practice and master new words, including specialized science vocabulary, and strengthening connected discourse ability.Making a hypothesis and recording one’s observations are key steps in the scientific method. Doing them properly requires so much vocabulary. You never have to worry about students having enough to say when you’re doing science with them.
- Following Directions
Following directions for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is one thing. Following them to stay safe while causing cool chemical reactions or building basic electronic circuits is something else!Kids often find step-by-step science instructions more interesting and exciting than mundane ones, and they’re still getting valuable practice in a critical everyday skill.
Instead of reading instructions to your students, have kids read them to you. Ask them to read aloud passages in age-appropriate science books explaining the experiments’ concepts. It’s good practice in improving word recognition, comprehension, and reading speed.Depending on your students’ abilities and interests, you might also refer them to age-appropriate biographies of famous scientists—or better still, lesser-known people who’ve made key contributions to science. Who knows? You might end up sparking one of your own students’ life-long love of science in the process.
Science experiments are ready-made opportunities to practice sequencing. Encourage students to tell you, step by step, what’s going to happen in an experiment (in the correct order) or review what happened after the fact.Another way to work on sequencing through science experiments is to have students recreate the process by drawing pictures of each step. Ask, “What did we do first? What did we do next?” Have them draw images in response. Mix up the images and have the students put them in the correct order.
Tired of always targeting expressive language by continuously having kids describe scenes from a picture book? Recording and relaying observations is integral to scientific work. Set up experiments in which students describe colors, sounds, smells, and more.You may even find, as many speech therapists who use science experiments have, that once your students start describing what they did and what they saw—to you, to their teachers, to their families—it’s tough to get them to stop.
- Predicting and Inferencing
Many kids with language delays find it challenging to make educated guesses about what will happen in a text passage and drawing conclusions about why. Making and testing scientific hypotheses can help students hone these essential reading comprehension skills. They’ll also get opportunities to practice problem-solving when they don’t get the results they expect.
Cartoons and movies frequently show “mad scientists” alone in the lab. But real science is inherently collaborative and social.Whether you want students to practice taking turns, following multi-step directions, or observing others’ personal space, gathering around the table for a group science project can help.
PTS Can Help You Succeed as a Speech Language Pathologist
At PTS, we’ve got nothing against the tried-and-true speech therapy activities—articulation cards, picture books, board games. In fact, we even designed a board game of our own that’s been a big hit with students and teachers alike.
But, science can bring a whole new dimension of energy, excitement, and even sometimes sheer wonder at the natural world to therapy sessions. Even if you don’t consider yourself “science-y,” you’ll love science experiments’ power to spark new enthusiasm for speech therapy in your students.
You’ll also love how it can accelerate their achievements.
Would you like to know more about how working as a PTS Speech Language Pathologist could accelerate your professional growth and success? Be sure to download your free copy of our eBook on practicing as an independent contractor today.