Thematic Instruction in Speech-Language Therapy

By October 18, 2021NESCA Notes 2021

By Olivia Rogers, MA, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, NESCA

What exactly is a theme and why would we use them in speech therapy? A theme can be defined as the creation of various meaningful activities planned around a central topic or idea. For example, using activities that are all about the ocean, sports, or winter. Themed activities can be great for working on speech and language skills.

Here are some benefits of using thematic instruction (Hadley et al., 2018; Wallach, 2014):

  • Thematic instruction is a meaningful and motivating method of learning concepts.
  • Knowledge on different themes and categories supports a child in making connections between various concepts. It also provides the opportunity to teach and practice new skills by building on a child’s existing knowledge of the topic.
  • Teaching words linked in thematic groups allows for a deeper understanding of functions, categories, and features. Thematic instruction can improve vocabulary and increases a child’s understanding and use of synonyms and antonyms.
  • Activating prior knowledge and engaging students in prior knowledge activities increases the comprehension and retention of information. This, in turn, supports story retelling skills, as well as ability to answer “WH” questions – who, what, where, when and why.
  • Themes are relevant to a child’s real-life experiences; therefore, thematic instruction improves a child’s ability to make inferences and predictions. Children can make better inferences and predictions about situations they may encounter on a daily basis with this knowledge of various themes and categories.
  • Thematic instruction promotes generalization outside the therapy room.

Thematic instruction can result in improvements in overall language skills. Additionally, using themes can keep speech-language therapy interesting and help increase engagement. This is key, as it’s been shown that when a child receives eight more minutes of engaging therapy, there is significantly greater improvement than with regular therapy (Schmitt, 2020).

What can you do at home?

Fortunately, thematic instruction can be easily incorporated into daily life or special occasions at home – and can be adapted for any age. October is one of my favorite months as it is packed with themes. I like to dedicate the first part of October to autumn and leaves, as well as fire safety and occupations. Then it’s time to dive into all things Halloween! Here are some Halloween-themed activities you can do at home to support your child’s language development:

  • Read different Halloween stories while increasing the understanding of Halloween-associated vocabulary (e.g., pumpkin, leaves, haunt, eerie, costume, cauldron, ghost, broomstick, etc.) and Halloween lingo (e.g., “trick or treat,” “boo,” “hair-raising,” “if you dare,” “pumpkin carving,” etc. Some great books to help you with these words and phrases are:
    1. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
    2. There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat by Lucille Colandro
    3. Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex
  • Encourage your child to recall details and retell the stories you read. Have them:
    1. Describe the setting of the story.
    2. Tell you about one story character.
    3. Identify their favorite part of the story.
    4. Say what happened at the end of the book.
  • Encourage the use of Halloween-associated vocabulary by going on a neighborhood walk and playing I Spy with your child (e.g., “I spy something orange, that you can carve during Halloween,” or “I spy something that changes colors then falls from trees,” etc.).
  • Discuss the history of Halloween and where it originated.
    1. Make predictions regarding this upcoming Halloween and Halloweens to follow.
    2. Compare and contrast Halloween traditions over the years.
  • Create a hands-on activity (e.g., carving pumpkins, drawing a haunted house, collecting leaves for a craft, etc.) where your child/children follow directions to cooperatively complete the project. This encourages problem solving, reasoning and use of appropriate social skills.
  • Engage in a pretend play scenario about Halloween using all the information your child has learned throughout your thematic intervention.


Hadley, E. B., Dickinson, D. K., Hirsch-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2018). Building semantic networks: The impact of a vocabulary intervention on preschoolers’ depth of word knowledge. Reading Research Quarterly.

Schmitt, M. (2020). Children’s active engagement in public school language therapy relates to greater gains. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology


About the Author

Olivia Rogers received her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Maine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and concentrations in Childhood Development and Disability Studies.

Ms. Rogers has experience working both in the pediatric clinic setting as well as in public schools, evaluating and treating children 2-18 years of age presenting with a wide range of diagnoses (e.g., language delays and disorders, speech sound disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorder, and Down syndrome). Ms. Rogers enjoys making sure therapy is fun and tailored to each client’s interests.

In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts and spending times with friends and families.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.


To book an appointment with Olivia Rogers, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email or call 617-658-9800.