How to Make Tier 1 Speech Therapy Interventions Child’s Play

Show Teachers How to Use Articulation Games and Lighten Your Caseload

Female teacher supervises five young school children who gather around a table to play a speech therapy board game.

If a first-grade teacher hears a student talking about wearing “wed shoes,” watching a “buhd” fly, or seeing the “thun” in the sky, the teacher may want to refer that student to a speech language pathologist (SLP) like you.

Working to improve articulation is one of the most frequent goals of speech therapy for kids. In one survey, articulation was the second most common reason teachers made speech therapy referrals, just after stuttering (23% and 25%, respectively).

It’s great when teachers recognize kids need help learning to produce sounds properly.

But too often, they assume only formal therapy, written into an IEP, can solve students’ language problems. That assumption leads to too many referrals—and too many kids on your caseload for you to serve effectively.

It’s not the teachers’ fault.

As Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) co-founders Pam Hackett and Diana Fongheiser explain in their book, Take a Bite Out of School-Based Therapy Costs, teachers’ educations don’t give them sufficient tools for addressing students’ special needs, “leading to a default reaction of requesting support from related services.”

So our clinicians equip teachers with knowledge and tools for distinguishing which articulation disorders, among other speech and language issues, justify referring kids to speech therapy, and which ones they can help kids overcome right in the classroom.

What Are Tier 1 Interventions and Why Do They Matter?

Empowering teachers to work on students’ basic articulation problems without referrals is one advantage of the Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) framework PTS advocates.

Imagine the MTSS approach as a pyramid. Tier 1 interventions and services, which target all students, form the pyramid’s base. Students only qualify to receive interventions higher up the pyramid—at Tier 2 (the midsection) and Tier 3 (the tip)—when services at lower levels don’t produce desired outcomes.

Smiling female teacher talks with young boy in kindergarten classroom as girl next to him paints a picture on paper.

What might MTSS look like in the context of kids’ speech therapy?

The process will commonly start with an observation by the therapist. The therapist will offer suggestions and strategies to the teacher to be delivered as part of the whole classroom instruction. Consider that first-grade teacher we talked about earlier. Referring the student to therapy would be appropriate, provided attempts to help the child during ordinary instruction hadn’t produced sufficient progress. 

If strategies like modeling correct sounds or allowing for increased response time don’t work, the child may need small-group sessions or daily speech homework to practice with family (Tier 2 services). And if those interventions don’t lead to improvement, the student may need intensive, individualized attention (Tier 3).

Most SLPs spend a great deal of time—19 hours a week, on average—providing direct intervention via pull-out, Tier 3 services. Since students with only mild articulation needs can stay on caseloads a disproportionately long time—an average of three years on average, for anywhere between 50 and 100 hours of treatment, as researcher Jennifer Taps documented—taking MTSS’ proactive approach to addressing those needs with Tier 1 interventions is imperative.

Speech Therapy Games for Children as Tier 1 Interventions

PTS clinicians give teachers practical, proven ways to help students overcome mild articulation problems in the classroom, without the need for one-on-one therapy.

We’ve found games make especially great Tier 1 interventions. They naturally appeal to kids. They’re not intimidating, and they don’t carry any of the stigma sometimes unfortunately associated with special education. And because they usually call for many players, they’re a perfect fit for whole classrooms. 

Artic Blast is a great example. It’s one of PTS’ most in-demand school-based therapy resources.

Created by our practitioners, the board game resembles Candy Land. Players race to climb snowy mountains, stalked by a (frankly adorable) Yeti. To move forward, kids must correctly pronounce target sounds and words. It’s a fun, fast-paced way to sharpen students’ articulation skills without pulling them out of the classroom.

Articulation bingo is another wonderful choice. It’s such a simple game, but is always such a hit!

Instead of calling out number and letter combinations, the teacher calls out words featuring target sounds printed on players’ cards—“chimp” for the initial /ch/, “pig” for the final /g/. When players recognize the word or sound and repeat it back correctly, they’re one covered square closer to winning. 

One more easy but effective game to use as a Tier 1 speech therapy intervention for kids is the list-making game, “I’m Going on a Picnic.” The first player names aloud aloud an item she or he would take on a picnic trip. The second player repeats the first player’s answer, then adds his or her own; and so on.

Responses can be sensible or silly (sometimes, the sillier, the better!), so long as they include whatever target sound the teacher wants kids to practice. So, if a class is working on the initial /f/, you might hear a child say, “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing a flashlight, a flag, a frog, a flip-flop…” before dissolving in giggles!

Make a Bigger Difference for More Students with PTS

Speech therapy for kids who need to improve articulation doesn’t have to be one dry drill after another, and it shouldn’t be speech therapists’ job alone.

By steering classroom teachers toward games like these and other fun activities that target all students, SLPs can gain allies in implementing the MTSS model—while gaining more time to work with and help the kids on their caseload who need help the most. These interventions can be put into place immediately and in some cases can remediate the issues before a child would even begin receiving services through the lengthy special education process. 

Interested in working with a company that’s leading the way in the transformation of related services throughout the Delaware Valley?

Then get in touch with PTS today to explore our open positions and find out how we can help you build a therapy career that really makes a difference!

Call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online.

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