How to Build a Play-Based Lesson Plan

boy on the floor surrounded with toy cars

Let’s build a play-based lesson plan!

I can’t tell you how many SLPs people, tell me that little ones make them nervous. The two to four year old group is too unpredictable and they have those teeny, tiny attention spans. Some of our older students can be a bit like this too. Behind developmentally and skittish around activities that look like the classroom ones they struggle with, these students need an approach more similar to our toddler/preschool students.

We need to play! But play with a purpose.

Play-based doesn’t mean taking any toy off the shelf and letting the child direct all the action. We have specific goals we need to target after all, so a bit of advance planning needs to happen. (Although the more experience you get with this, the faster you’ll be able to adapt nearly any toy to fit your needs.)

To me, a play-based lesson plan means:

  • hands-on materials
  • consideration for the child’s interests
  • child-directed with adult guidance

When I’m working on articulation or phonological processing goals, I almost always start with a list of the target words I want to work on. For instance, if we are targeting multisyllabic words I might brainstorm or do a search of words that fit my criteria. Once I have that in hand, I start to group words that might go together.

Foods are one of those categories that lend themselves very easily to multisyllabic words. So much so, you can get even more specific—fruits for example. So let’s imagine we’ve come up with a list of three-syllable fruits: banana, clementine, papaya, apricot, cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, raspberry. Now I can come up with some activities that incorporate these fruits. We might:

  • make (pretend) smoothies
  • cook (pretend) pies to “sell” at a pie stand or serve at a tea party
  • make a (pretend) fruit salad to feed to a doll or stuffed animal
  • pretend our room is a farm/garden and collect the fruit (like a scavenger hunt)
  • use Play-doh to make each fruit
  • play farmers market/grocery store and shop for the fruits
  • have a bumblebee or butterfly (more 3 syllables!) come to nibble on each fruit
fruit salad made from toy fruit

Look how many options we have and we can use the same words and most of the same materials!

Language goals tend to be a little more flexible so if you need to start with the toy (based on availability) or what the child will participate with you often can.

Again, I think about what my target is—let’s pick prepositions this time—and what my little one will deign to play with—Hot Wheels and only Hot Wheels. So….maybe we could:

  • make a car wash and have cars line up behind each other to go through; the brushes can scrub under and on top of the cars
  • create an off-road race track where the cars go over big bumps, under bridges, through tunnels, and beside cliffs
  • have a high-speed chase where the police cars are after the bad guys. The bad guys can hide behind/under/next to buildings and the police can search through the city
  • line the cars up next to/beside one another or behind one another for a car show (or have them parking in a large parking lot)
  • pretend to be mechanics and look under the car or under the hood for areas that need repair
line of toy cars

Again, this would give you several sessions of playing with the same materials and targeting the same goals even if you varied the actual activity itself!

Does this get you more excited about pulling the toys off your shelf? I hope so! Let me know what you think and if you think you might try one of the ideas listed above.

Are you interested in learning more about Putting Play to Work? You can catch me in person at the Tennessee Speech and Hearing Association conference on November 7-8, 2019. Let me know if you’ll be there!

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The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.