The other day I was reflecting on the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas; and how in my personal life those weeks seem to fly by, but at work, the days can feel so long. It is such a fun time of year, and there are so many exciting things to focus on or choose to target during therapy, but in all honesty… my students can be so challenging during these few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear about their holiday excitement and see their faces light up as they talk about Christmas. But it is also a time of year that I reign in my expectations, and sometimes work more towards maintenance than progress. We have to meet our kiddos where they are at, right?! But! That doesn’t mean I don’t try my best to plan out some great thematic therapy activities that keep my students engaged and hopefully working towards their goal areas in a fun, exciting way. Here are some of my favorite Christmas themed therapy activities.
My Christmas Thematic Unit is great for all grade levels because it contains so many open-ended activities. I wanted to provide you guys with vocabulary, sensory bin pictures, story scenes, sequencing tasks, and vocabulary mats or coloring sheets. I love that these are open-ended because it’s minimal prep with a big pay-off. For those that are still in person, I recommend printing, laminating and cutting the sensory bin pieces ahead of time, as well as the Christmas themed articulation cards. I have found that so many of my students have increased energy and decreased attention during this season, so I look for any chance I can to get them up and moving in therapy. Here are some great warm-up/quick activities I like to use with this Christmas Thematic Unit:
Scavenger Hunt: With so many amazing vocabulary opportunities during the holidays, I like to plan scavenger hunts with my students. Sometimes I can feel easily overwhelmed by the prospect of this, but I’ve found that by using it as a warm-up, and incorporating the sensory bin pieces or articulation cards, I can give students a few items to look for that meet their individual goals, without a ton of prep. For those therapists that are still in person, students can typically find their items using the door, hallway or classroom décor this time of year. Sometimes I like to even extend our walk back to my therapy space from their classroom by handing them their “list” once we leave their room. Other times, I’ll save this for an activity at the end of the session since a lot of my students love the idea of getting to leave the therapy space for a special activity. Scavenger hunts are also great for remote learners this time of year! A lot of families will have examples of the Christmas vocabulary or articulation cards in their house so it gives kids a chance to get up and moving during tele-therapy. It’s also fun for the students to get to show off some of their favorite decorations or items that are special to them and their families.
Charades: Use the Vocabulary Mats (targeting verbs or Christmas nouns) and have your students act out one of the pictures. You can take turns guessing, or if you have a group, it’s a great way to increase play and conversation between peers. And I love that this can be done in person or with remote learners! I use the annotate feature to mark off completed items, or if we are keeping score I can color code the pictures based on my students.
Open-Ended Prepositions: My open-ended Story Scenes are a great way to target following directions and prepositions. By cutting out pictures from either the sensory bin pages or the articulation cards, I like to give my students single or multi-step directions targeting prepositions by telling them where to place the pictures within the scene. For groups, you can give students the same mat or different ones depending on their goals. I have also allowed my students to put the pictures where they want, and then describe their scene to myself or to the group, making sure they label prepositions correctly in their retell.
Guess What/Who: I’ve done this activity with my sensory bin pieces, the coloring sheets and my articulation cards in the past, simply choose the targets that meet your student's goals. Guess Who/What is a great way to target so many different language concepts: describing objects, giving clues and not labeling the item itself, answering/asking yes/no questions, etc. When I’ve done this activity in-person, I like to give each student their own sheet of visuals and instruct students to choose an object to describe by giving three clues. We will talk about how to describe items based on their appearance, their use, their category, etc.
I have also played a similar version of this game by using my Christmas Inference Headbands Game! Having a tough day? Put your little ones in a Christmas Tree Headband or Elf Hat and let the adorableness wash over you. (100% of speech therapists recommend*)
*Study conducted by polling 1 speech therapist. Full disclosure it was me... I polled myself.
I love this game because it helps me target asking questions, which can be a skill that takes a long time for students to develop. This Christmas themed game ties nicely in with vocabulary items from my thematic unit, and uses large, bright pictures. This resource comes with sentence strips specifically matched to language targets used throughout the game. I love to use them for my younger students, or for those that need more specific visual support. It also comes with a more generalized visual to give prompt ideas for Yes/No questions broken down into different sections of “Categories,” “Looks Like,” “Parts,” and “Does…” There are also specific clue cards matched to each picture with four clues per picture. My students love that one of their favorite games, Hedbanz, is now a themed game to use in therapy!
Let’s talk BOOKS!
My Quick Prep Seasonal Book Companions make an easy, go-to option for therapy sessions when I’m in a hurry, or a book isn’t the majority of my lesson plan. With over 10 Christmas stories to choose from, these quick prep companions are a great way to enhance visual supports during literacy activities. So many students need information presented to them in multiple ways (verbally, visually, etc.) to increase comprehension and deepen understanding of the text. Several of the books come with additional activities to target story retell, sequencing, vocabulary, and more! There are sensory bin pictures for There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Bell, and Little Blue Truck’s Christmas. I love to have my students find pictures in a sensory bin (beans or rice work well because the pictures stand up and make it easier for the students to see them) and either feed them to the Old Lady, or put them into the bed of the blue truck. This resource also recently got a digital update and is now available for Google Slides too!
(Check out this video for a tutorial on how I like to use these in tele-therapy.)
Here is a list of Christmas books included in my Quick Prep Book Bundle:
There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell by Lucille Colandro
Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff
Turkey Claus by Wendi J Silvano
The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg
Don’t Push the Button: Christmas by Bill Cotter
The Littlest Elf by Brandi Dougherty
Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner
Who Will Guide My Sleigh Tonight by Jerry Pallotta
Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett (Keep reading to learn more about my Gingerbread Baby Full Book Companion!)
Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett is one of my favorite Christmas stories, which is why I decided to make this into a full, no-print, no-prep book companion! Like all of my book companions, I’ve included my favorite read-aloud YouTube link in the cover image on the first page of the PDF, and the next page breaks down the Common Core ELA standards you can target with this resource. This book companion targets seven different areas of language which makes it great for group sessions with mixed goals! I also love it because it means I can use this in therapy for multiple days without repeating activities or concepts. Whenever I use books in therapy, I naturally ask my students a lot of “wh” questions throughout the story, I mean, who doesn’t?! But I also love to target “wh” questions after the story is over to target more specific literary concepts such as characters, setting, main idea vs. supporting details, information recall, etc. The “wh” questions activities in this companion are broken down by type, and also include bonus, open-ended questions which are great to target conversational skills and pragmatic language. I always encourage my students to either ask me a reciprocal question for 1:1 sessions, or for group sessions to listen to their peers' responses and ask a topically appropriate question based on their answer. I love that I can target pragmatic language and social thinking skills throughout any and all speech activities and that it doesn’t have to be an isolated task. I also love to target vocabulary concepts such as synonyms, antonyms, homophones, and even defining words using context clues. Understanding context clues is such an important skill, and one that I find a lot of my speech-language students need more support and time with than some of their peers. I love being able to target concepts like this in therapy, and then have immediate, direct carryover to classroom activities. The compare and contrast section of this book companion is another favorite. The vocabulary and concepts in the story are ones a lot of my students are familiar with this time of year, so talking about similarities and differences between a stove and an oven, or a storybook and a cookbook are great ways to practice this skill with items my students can easily visualize or have maybe even used in the past.
One of the benefits of remote learning sessions has been parent involvement, in my opinion. People with children have worked so hard this year to balance and juggle new challenges on top of an already pretty tough job, raising these little humans! Tele-therapy has allowed so many parents to see how I target speech and language goals with their students, and give them models for how to approach communication breakdowns first hand. I love when parents are available to read books with us in therapy so they can see how important it is to engage with their little one while reading by pausing, commenting, labeling, asking questions, answering questions, making predictions, using sequential vocabulary, the list goes on and on! It’s so rewarding to have parents give positive feedback and tell me that they have started to incorporate things I do in therapy with their child at home outside of speech, because it is so, so necessary for our student’s progress!
Here is a list of more Holiday Themed Freebies:
Here's to surviving a busy, chaotic, wonderful season with your students, teams and families! I would love to hear your favorite Christmas activities!