Keys to Successful Group Speech-Language Therapy Sessions

Speech-language pathologists who work in the schools have the responsibility of delivering effective group speech language sessions. Each child has various IEP goals and needs while the SLP’s job is to use therapy approaches that will contribute to each student’s progress. That lead me to think about how many teachers use mini lessons and guided instruction to yield students’ academic gains.

Mini lessons are taught by classroom teachers typically at the beginning of a reading or writing workshop. During the 10-15 minute brief lesson, a classroom teacher explains a specific skill or strategy, demonstrates how to use the strategy, and gives students an opportunity to practice the skill. After the mini lesson, the teacher gives instructions for students to participate in literacy centers, independent reading,  or other independent assignments.  While students are participating in different activities, the teacher speaks with children individually (conferring) or leads a guided reading group for more targeted instruction. Then they have 5-10 minutes at the end of reading workshop to review the skill of the day and for children to share about their reading work and progress.

Many school districts throughout the United States use this teaching and learning method in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms to build literacy skills. Several years ago, I completed a Reading Endorsement certification through Georgia State University. During this reading assessment and intervention training, I learned how literacy scholars such as Lucy Calkins implemented reading workshop and mini lessons as a part of their instruction to improve children’s language and literacy skills. The research shows that students make progress using this explicit instruction and practice.

I think school based speech language pathologists can use aspects of this methodology when providing group speech-language therapy sessions. This may be just what SLPs need to have more successful sessions.




By teaching a mini lesson, you focus on the skill that you want to teach, purposefully explain the skill, and provide verbal/visual models. Then you allow your students to practice. It’s important that speech-language pathologists don’t just skip to students’ practice of their IEP goals. The SLP must teach while providing verbal and visual models. I have used mini-lessons with many groups of students with speech-language impairment only as well as those with co-occurring specific learning disability and autism. However, use your clinical judgment to determine the students that are most likely to respond best to structured speech-language intervention that is not play-based. For those non-verbal or minimally verbal students, read this post for those therapy tips.

Here are 5 example mini lessons that you can teach:

1.Using a K-W-L chart to think about non-fiction

2.How can I compare and contrast vocabulary?

3.What are word associations?

4.Using context clues to identify challenging vocabulary

5.What is the difference between main idea & supporting details?

6.Story Elements or Story Grammar- What’s that all about?

Here are the related follow up speech-language activities:

1. Use No Glamour Reading Comprehension book in small group. Have students select a topic of interest and then a passage. Read aloud the passage. Tell them to listen carefully to information and be ready to share 1 new fact that they learned. Model for students how to write their new learning in the L section of the chart. During the mini lesson, the SLP should have guided them through completing the K and W sections about what they already know and what they want to learn.

2. Use LinguiSystems Elementary Photo Cards in small group. Give each student a card that contains two photographs of common objects. They should each get a turn to practice explaining how the words are similar and different. Give them written sentence starters such as “They are similar because they both__________” and “They are different because they  _____________.”

3. You can use my Spring Word Associations packet to have students name related vocabulary words. This is a good activity to work on word retrieval and expressive vocabulary. This activity also allows the SLP to pre-teach spring theme vocabulary that can be used in future speech-language activities. I have other seasonal word associations packets in my online curriculum store.

4. Play a fun context clues game such as Context Clues Pirate Treasure by Learning Well Games. In this game, the SLP should read aloud the question card. Then, the students use the context clues strategy to make a prediction about the meaning of the underlined word. This game has multiple choice. If your students don’t need multiple choice, use the context clues cards from Vocabulary Chipper Chat. You may also use the context clues pages from my Non-fiction Bundle for guided practice. This gives them multiple choice. I usually have my students circle or highlight the vocabulary in the passage and I read the sentence while they think about the most logical meaning of the tricky word based on hints in the sentence.

5. Play Super Duper Publications’ What is the Main Idea? Fun Deck activity. Have your students listen for what the short paragraphs are mostly about. This activity provides them with multiple choice responses to help them think about the best answer. I also created main idea response sheets to keep track of the specific card numbers that they completed all year. This way they don’t repeat cards in sessions. Remind students that the details are the facts that are related to the topic or main idea.

6. Use the fiction story that you selected for Story Grammar Marker mini-lesson. Give your students the Story Grammar Marker manipulatives. Each student in the group can express parts of the story elements such as: character, setting, kick off, internal response, plan, actions, direct consequence, and resolution.

*If you think this vocabulary is tricky for your students to recall. You can teach them related vocabulary that the classroom teachers typically use (e.g. beginning/introduction, character, character trait, problem, middle, plot/events, solution, ending/conclusion). I also have a rubric with these story elements that you can use to measure students’ progress of oral story retelling skills.

Another option is to have them practice story elements vocabulary identification using my Guess What? Curriculum Vocabulary game. It’s available in my TPT store too.

Closing Review of Speech-Language Skill/Target

Before students leave the speech language room, make sure that you ask them, “What did you practice today?”  or “What did you learn today?” If they can’t answer the question on their own, have them repeat a sentence that summarizes what they practiced. It is important that students understand what they are working on in speech-language therapy. The speech-language pathologist should review the teaching point to emphasize the focus of the session.

What is the evidence to support using mini lessons and guided instruction?

There is a ton of literature in the field of reading to support the use of reading workshop model that incorporates mini lessons and guided reading/explicit instruction.

Guided instruction is also an integral part of therapeutic intervention provided by speech-language pathologists. SLPs use evidence based strategies of verbal modeling, visual supports, prompting, cuing, expanding, recasting, and direct vocabulary instruction to guide students’ understanding and expression of specific speech-language targets. You can read more about these strategies here from my last blog post.

Here is the reference list for further information on this topic:

Atwell, Nancy (2010). The Pleasure Principle. Instructor Magazine. [electronic version]

Atwell, Nancy (2007). The Reading Zone: How to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers. New York: Scholastic Teaching Resources.

Atwell, Nancy (1998). In the middle. New understandings about writing, reading, and learning. New Hampshire: Boynton/Cook.

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2006). Teaching for comprehending and fluency: Thinking, talking, and writing about reading, K–8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.

I know there are days when you may want to skip the mini-lesson, but don’t. It’s critical to your speech-language students’ success. Speech language pathologists do not have the same tasks as teachers to deliver instruction across content areas and academic standards. However, there are principles from a workshop model that may be adapted to therapy sessions while still maintaining a therapeutic focus. Remember…




ASHA states in their policy about the Roles and Responsibilities of Speech-Language Pathologists in Schools that “current research supports the interrelationships across the language processes of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. SLPs contribute significantly to the literacy achievement of students with communication disorders, as well as other learners who are at risk for school failure, or those who struggle in school settings. (ASHA, 2010)

Additionally, the April 2017  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools journal has a collection of articles about reading comprehension and the role of the SLP. Read the articles on ASHAWire, where you can access online journals related to the field of speech-language pathology. Previous articles in this journal contain relevant information about the need for explicit and guided instruction to improve literacy skills.

Speech-language pathologists should provide quality therapeutic instruction to improve the language and literacy skills of children and adolescents. Implementing mini lessons and guided instruction may be keys to improving these skills of those with language impairment in group speech language therapy sessions. You may also implement it during individualized sessions with children if you are lucky enough to have a few of those sessions. Watch your students learn and grow!

Strategies to Increase Students’ Success in Therapy and Beyond

Speech-language pathologists have a significant role in children’s communication success, learning and development. We are skilled at evaluating students with learning challenges and identifying those with communication disorders. We have the responsibility to provide speech-language therapy services using research based strategies and techniques to improve the communication and language abilities of children and adolescents. It is critical that we remain knowledgeable of these strategies as we provide speech-language therapy services. The therapy approaches and strategies used by speech-language pathologists will vary to some degree based on the disorder that they are treating and the severity. Here are strategies that SLPs can use to increase students’ success in therapy and beyond. Children and adolescents will learn to use many of these strategies as well during guided and independent practice so they can be independent communicators and life long learners.


1. Auditory Bombardment (Wolfe, Presley, & Mesaris, 2003)

The speech-language pathologist exposes a child to the correct speech production of target phonemes during child centered activities. For example, the SLP may read aloud a story and emphasize words with the speech sound that the child needs to learn how to pronounce correctly. The SLP may read a list of words containing the target sounds. This will help kids enhance their phonological or sound awareness, rate of sound development, and generalization over time in their verbal communication. This is a component of speech sound perception training.

2. Auditory Discrimination Practice (Baker, 2010)

Children with articulation and phonological disorders need to be able to hear the distinct differences between phonemes. They can practice this skill during minimal pair drills that require them to identify and say words that vary by one sound.

3. Cycles Approach Practice  (Hodson, 2010)

Children with phonological disorders and highly unintelligible speech benefit from the Cycles Phonological Pattern Approach that targets patterns of speech sound errors. During each therapy session, the SLP targets one or more phonological pattern error to improve speech intelligibility.

4. Phonetic placement and shaping/Gestural Cueing (e.g., Preston, Brick, & Landi, 2013)

The SLP teaches kids where to place their speech articulators to pronounce certain sounds. They can use physical prompts to help show them how to move their lips, tongue, or jaw to pronounce specific sounds that they are having difficulty pronouncing. In gestural cueing, the SLP demonstrates a motion or gesture to help the child visualize and remember the place or manner of production. This is used frequently in programs such as Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program (LIPS). Tactile cues such as PROMPT© (Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets) is a  treatment method derived from touch pressure, kinesthetic, and proprioceptive cues (Hayden, Eigen, Walker, & Olsen, 2010).

After children learn the phonetic placement of the sound, the SLP provides practice for them to work on improving their speech articulation skills in a hierarchy moving from isolation, syllables, words, sentences, to conversation.


5. Verbal modeling and guided practice

In order to learn new skills, it is critical that children are first taught the skill and then provided several opportunities to practice. For example, if you want the child to learn how to explain similarities and differences, a speech-language pathologist must teach what each word means and then demonstrate the skill. During guided and independent practice, the speech-language pathologist should provide feedback about how the child is doing.

6. Visual supports

Most children with language disorders learn best when provided with visual aids. This may be a graphic organizer to help them remember and retell story elements or other visuals to help them remember how to complete semantic and syntax practice exercises. Children can also create their own visuals to illustrate vocabulary or content that they are learning in speech-language therapy and the classroom.

7. Direct vocabulary instruction (Marzano, 2004)

Children need repeated exposures of vocabulary words to truly comprehend them and to accurately use the words in their spoken and written language. Direct vocabulary instruction will increase their background knowledge, comprehension, and overall academic success.

8. Verbal prompts and cues

Speech-language pathologists provide students with verbal prompts and cues to support them in correctly answering questions related to their area of language need. This type of language scaffolding provides a bridge for students to link what they already know to new skills and content that they are learning. By providing verbal prompts and cues during a mini-lesson, the SLP scaffolds or breaks down the instruction in a manner that enables the student to learn a new skill and information. Other language scaffolding involves simplifying verbal directions. Prompts, cues, and language scaffolding should be faded over time.

9. Expansions

The SLP may expand or lengthen  a child’s speech utterance to model additional vocabulary or a more complex syntax or sentence structure.

10. Recasts

The SLP modifies a child’s speech utterance by changing the type of sentence or voice. If a child says a statement, the SLP may recast or change it into an interrogative sentence. The SLP may also provide a verbal model by changing a sentence from active to passive voice to show variance of sentence styles.

11. Predictions/Inferences

The SLP may teach students how to make predictions or inferences based on illustrations in a book or the content of the fiction or non-fiction text. The SLP can help students connect what they already know (background knowledge) to deduce what will happen next or infer meanings of unknown words in language and literacy lessons.

12. Mental Imagery

Students practice visualizing what they hear or read to aid comprehension of information. SLPs can teach  students to make a movie in their head so a story or topic comes alive or becomes more relatable.

13.  Summarizing

The SLP can demonstrate how to summarize fiction or non-fiction information. Students can verbalize or write brief information highlighting the sequence of events or key points about what they hear or read.

14.  Questioning

Students learn how to ask questions to ensure they are understanding what they hear or learn. They can write questions on reading passages to extend learning or seek clarification of information.

15. Think Alouds/Problem Solving

The SLP should demonstrate for students how to think critically during language and literacy activities. While reading a book, he or she should pause and model asking questions and making comments about what is going on. The SLP should provide multiple opportunities for children in speech-language sessions to answer critical thinking and inferential questions during a variety of age appropriate tasks.


16.  Speech modification/Fluency Shaping (Guitar, 2013)

These are strategies include pausing, easy onset, rate control, light articulatory contact, continuous phonation, and prolonged syllables.

17.  Stuttering modification (Van Riper, 1973)

A child or adolescent will need to learn to recognize the moments of dysfluency by anticipating the non-fluent speech before it occurs, during a stutter, and after dysfluent speech. They will learn to use preparatory set, pull-out, or cancellation stuttering modification strategies to improve their speech fluency.

18 . Desensitization

This involves changing the student’s fear or apprehension about speaking in a variety of speaking situations. In speech therapy, the SLP can demonstrate pseudostuttering in a social scenario in which the client may stutter a lot such as talking on the phone or during a class presentation. The student should also practice this fake or voluntary stuttering as a part of his or her therapy regimen.

19. Cognitive Restructuring (Murphy 2007)

This involves the SLP teaching a student how to think about his or her feelings when they stutter. Any negative feelings must be addressed to reframe a child’s mindset about being a person who stutters. It is critical that the SLP address the emotional contributing factors to stuttering in order to effectively reduce stuttering episodes.

20. Generalization Activities

The SLP should provide opportunities for children and adolescents to practice fluency shaping and stuttering modification strategies outside of the therapy room.  She or he could provide fluency strategy cards to use in the general education classroom. The SLP can help monitor the client’s communication in different settings and activities at school such as when checking out books in the library, talking with classmates, or giving a presentation in class.

In addition to these strategies, there are systematic therapeutic programs that SLPs can use to improve the speech-language skills of children and adolescents. However, the programs and techniques implemented will vary based on the clinical decisions of the therapist.

There are more approaches and strategies for students’ success available via ASHA’s Practice Portal for speech-language pathologists. This is an extensive resource that will ensure that SLPs have access to evidence for remediating communication disorders and improving their therapeutic efficiency.

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