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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Think Your AAC User Can't? Bet You He Can!

One old-time SLP staple in terms of therapy materials has been Barrier Games.  Barrier games are great for working on giving and following directions, using and understanding descriptive words and spatial concepts, and, if done in pairs or small groups, with working on cooperation.

Barrier games, for those who have not heard of them, are played with 2 people, usually, seated facing each other but with a barrier between them that keeps them from seeing each others’ desks or spaces.
Each student has an identical scene or flat mat/paper in front of him, and an identical selection of images.  

One student gives directions to the other one about where to place specific items.  At its simplest, barrier games are played with multiple colors of shapes, which students assemble according to the directions they are given.  For more fun and better engagement, use pictures that are fun and motivating.

Recently a SLP asked me how on Earth you could use barrier games with students who use AAC.  Actually, barrier games are perfect for those same skills for students who use picture-based or text-based communication systems.
And, they are perfect for focusing on core words.

Think about what words are needed in a barrier game activity. Aside from the words for the specific objects, which are those pesky nouns, players need descriptive words and locative words, action words for “put” and “move,” for example.
Students need to use and understand color words (the green one), prepositions (put it under), other adjectives (the big one, the striped one).  These are all in core. And descriptive words are all on the same page or at least within the same folder. Prepositions are going to bee on the same page.  And in some systems, rather than taking up space with opposite concepts, users are supposed to learn “not” + adjective; as in “Not big.”

When I first came across barrier games about 30 years ago, they were construction paper shapes in different sizes and colors.  SLPs these days are more inventive and decidedly better at finding thematic images to motive students more.
You might like my set of barrier games to try it out.

And don’t think you need to play with just 2 students.  One very popular activity I used to do with Middle School students with language disorders  called for one student to stand at the chalk board (yes, that long ago), while I showed the rest of the class a picture of an “alien.”  Students in the class had to provide descriptive details to the student at the board, so that he could draw an alien that looked just like the one I was showing the class.

Kids found the resulting drawings hilarious, and the student drawing never felt badly about not coming up with the “correct” drawing because it was all just plain funny.

So, enjoy barrier games with all of your students, and….. keep on talking!


  1. I LOVE barrier games too! I am going to give it a try with some of my friends this week, thanks for the idea!

    1. Heidi, thanks for reading. Happy to be a source of good ideas!