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!

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