Play-Based Activities for Articulation/Phonology Skills

Toca Life World

This is how I spent so much money on Toca Life World: each addon you buy gives you new items in your house “store” (accessed by touching the blue chair button once you’re inside one of the houses in the neighborhood where you can build them). I prefer getting my articulation targets from there (rather than gathering them from the other locations) because they’re so much easier to replace if I need to. I use the doors from the Snuggle Cubs Furniture Pack (which costs $0.99) to keep items for each phoneme in because they don’t get “buggy” as often as the boxes and cabinets do. For each target phoneme I found 10 items with the phoneme in various positions. For blends I gathered 10 items for each phoneme (/l/-blends, /r/-blends, and /s/-blends) and I keep them in one of the suitcases to keep them organized.

Side note: Before I start using Toca Life World to target articulation/phonology with a patient I use minimal pair cards. For those I use Sound Contrasts in Phonology (SCIP) ($59.99). I started using SCIP in graduate school a decade ago when it was still on a CD and controlled by a very old-looking program. I like that the new app is modern and I’m so glad I finally found the “print cards” button in it so I can continue using it to make cards, but I haven’t found a way to make the idiosyncratic targets I sometimes hear and I’ve yet to find a way to make the pictures bigger so that kids can see them better.

Here’s what the cards look like in the new SCIP program.
Here’s how the cards that I’ve uploaded from the old SCIP CD look.

All that aside, here’s my tutorial on how I use Toca Life World for articulation.

When I start using Toca Life World for articulation I pull each item from the shelf and have the child repeat the word after me (often with phoneme prolongation or phoneme segmentation to start and then without either once they get more accurate). Once they’re able to do that with 80% accuracy I’ll start asking them what each item is so that they’re producing the words without a model to imitate. Once they achieve 80% accuracy at the word level without imitation I’ll start doing different things with the items like putting them in the hands of Toca Mrs. Amy or the Toca version of the patient and asking questions like, “What’s happening?” I find that’s the best way to get children to say sentences like, “You’re holding a rat” or “I ate rice.”

Note: Yes, I skip the phrase level. I’ve yet to find a patient who’s unable to produce a target sound at the sentence level after mastering it at the word level. For younger children I’ll use shorter sentences, but I haven’t had a patient who needed the phrase level instead.

This single room has curtains, a picture of flowers, a treasure chest, a trundle bed, and a frog to work on /r/!

Once my patients have reached more than 80% accuracy at the sentence level I move on to conversation. For this I’ll go into the various locations that I bought in Toca Life World and I try to make it relevant to the season. For example, I used the Haunted Mansion when I recorded my tutorial in October. Every location has parts to explore and I keep my ears open for each child’s target phonemes as we’re exploring. For example, while working on /r/ at the haunted mansion I found costumes for the children and then asked, “Is that all we do on Halloween?” to elicit sentences like, “No, then we go trick or treating.” Then once we’re at the haunted mansion’s door I asked, “Now we’ll just stand here, right?” to elicit, “We need to ring the doorbell.” Once we get our candy I then tell the kids we should explore the mansion. Under the sink we found recipes using the gross food in the house so I ask, “Do you think these are puzzles?” to elicit “No, they’re recipes.” Once we open the chest in the downstairs bedroom and find the radio I ask, “Is this a TV?” to elicit something like, “It’s a radio.” Once we open the sculpture’s head I ask, “What should we do with the button, just look at it?” to elicit “Press it.” Once the bookshelf opens I say, “Is that an owl up in the corner?” to elicit, “It’s a spider.” Then once we’re ready to go upstairs I’ll say something like, “I want to go upstairs but I can’t find any stairs.” to elicit, “Use the elevator.” Once we’re upstairs I try to elicit treasure chest, but often fail. To open the secret door I’ll say, “These things in frames are dogs right?” to elicit “They’re pictures.” If kids need more help I’ll say, “This is a dog, and this is a dog, and this is a dog” while moving each picture in turn. Then I’ll move one of the monsters and say something like, “This is a regular person, right?” to elicit “It’s a monster.”

I think you get the point – I make a lot of intentional mistakes to elicit the target words with the phoneme the child is working on at the conversation level.

Here are some more ideas for using Toca Life World in speech and language treatment.

Doggie Bags

I picked up this fun game ($24.99) as a great way to work on articulation.

How the game works: The children (or the child and I) each get one of the two bags filled with plastic food. No one can look into their bag. When the first card is flipped over we race to find the food on the card using only our hands (no peeking into the bags!).

How I modify it: I bought mini objects from Speech Tree Company (you have to get on a waiting list to order them) and made cards for my most frequent targets (/r/, /l/, and blends for each). Even though I only have one of each item I use the same rules as above then the child has to say the word or use the word in a sentence after finding it. For other phonemes I dump the items into the bag and then name an item off the list for the child to find. When I’m working with 2 children I give them each a different phoneme and tell them each which item to find when I say, “go!” For animal-assisted intervention I add a dog treat to each bag and when I flip over the “Freddie” picture the treat becomes the goal. Whoever finds the treat first gets to give it to my speech therapy dog, Zooey.

Here’s my storage for the articulation mini objects I bought from Speech Tree Co.

Li’l Woodzeez & Calico Critters with Articulation Minis

For patients who are working on articulation/phonology I use the Speech Tree Co. minis (see above) with Li’l Woodzees and Calico Critters. For word-level I’ll tell the child the critters are going to a store and then pretend to be a baby critter and ask about each item (“What’s this?”). For sentence level I’ll ask the child what happened after they get out of the store then ask things like, “Can you believe all the things that baby didn’t know?” or even “She didn’t know what a thermometer was!” to elicit more.

Here are some more ideas for using Li’l Woodzeez and Calico Critters in speech and language treatment.

FREE Artic Spinners

Drill is my least favorite technique and I think it’s the least favorite for my patients, too. But it can be so effective, especially when working on /r/! I’m constantly looking for new and fun ways to drill and I found this free spinner app. Some of my patients love the spinner!

Each spinner I’ve made has 10 words for each placement (initial, medial, final, and blends). After a child says their word/sentence I have them click on the “hide slice” button so it won’t pop up again. Bonus: it gives the kids a visual for how many more words/sentences they need to say!

Here’s the spinner for /r/

Here’s a spinner for “th”

Here’s a spinner for /l/

Here’s a spinner for /s/

I’ve also made spinners for Candy Land and Sorry so that I can use the easy-to-disinfect iPads instead of the cards that came with the board games.

“Brain Cells”

“Brain Cells” is a game that my aunt, Jeanne Jurgensen, developed and generously gifted to me. Kids bounce or throw koosh or ping-pong balls into the box, which is divided into “cells.” The word inside the box is the word we then work on by talking about its meaning, making a sentence with it, or pronouncing it. I modified the game by making a non-reader friendly version with emojis that have /r/ in word-initial, word-medial, and word-final positions.

This game was great for social distancing! I gave the child the balls and place the box on the floor near me. The kids loved bouncing their balls across the 3 feet of distance between us and trying to get them into the box.

I wish I had any tips for making the box yourself, but here’s a FREE copy of the grid I print to put inside it – complete with emojis for /r/ and 4th and 5th grade vocabulary words.

FREE I Spy Artic Slideshows

Some of my patients love these articulation I Spy slideshows! Having a patient guess my emoji is often the easiest way to get them to say lots of words. When I’m targeting sentences I find making terribly wrong guesses of child’s emoji works best.

Here’s my FREE I Spy Slideshow that you can download and use for yourself!

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