Barrier Games - The Only Time We Want Barriers in Language and Communication


In the world of speech and language therapy, some activities have truly stood the test of time, proving their worth in fostering effective communication and cooperation skills. Among these treasured classics lies a versatile and engaging activity known as Barrier Games. Whether you're an SLP, educator, parent, or anyone seeking interactive learning experiences, Barrier Games offer a fun and educational adventure.

What Are Barrier Games?

Barrier Games are an old-time SLP staple in the therapy materials repertoire. This interactive activity is designed to enhance various language skills, including giving and following directions, using and understanding descriptive words and spatial concepts, and promoting cooperation within pairs or small groups.

The concept is simple yet powerful: two participants sit facing each other with a barrier between them, blocking their view of each other's desks or spaces. Each student receives an identical scene or flat mat in front of them, along with a set of images or objects. One student then provides instructions to the other on where to place specific items within the scene, based on the directions they are given.

How Does It Work?

At its most basic level, Barrier Games involve using different colors and shapes that students assemble according to the directions they receive. However, for a more captivating and engaging experience, thematic and motivating images are utilized. These visuals not only add to the fun but also stimulate imagination and creativity.

For AAC Users: Breaking Communication Barriers

One of the most intriguing aspects of Barrier Games is their adaptability to cater to students who use picture-based or text-based communication systems. In fact, Barrier Games are perfect for honing the same essential skills for AAC users. By focusing on core words, these games help AAC users practice and understand descriptive words, locative words, and action words, all within the framework of their communication system.

Students using AAC systems benefit from having descriptive words and prepositions conveniently located on the same page or within the same folder, making communication more efficient and accessible. Additionally, some AAC systems incorporate the use of "not" + adjective for opposite concepts, further enriching the gameplay and language learning.

Why Barrier Games Shine:

1. Language Development: Barrier Games demand clear and concise communication, fostering listening, speaking, and understanding of instructions.

2. Collaboration: Participants must work together and practice active listening to overcome the barrier, promoting teamwork and cooperation.

3. Problem-Solving: The games present obstacles that require critical thinking, enhancing cognitive development.

4. Core Vocabulary: Students get to practice core words such as prepositions, adjectives, and action words, contributing to functional language skills.

5. Inclusivity: Barrier Games are adaptable for all students, including those using AAC systems, ensuring a truly inclusive learning experience.

Let's Get Creative!

Gone are the days of simple construction paper shapes – today's SLPs are inventively using vibrant and thematic images to capture their students' imaginations. The resulting excitement and laughter make the learning process both enjoyable and effective.

Here's how you can take your barrier games to the next level:

  1. Create a Diverse Background: Instead of plain geometric shapes, introduce background scenes to your barrier games. Whether it's an empty beach, a classroom, a secluded forest path, or any other setting, these scenes provide a context for your students to explore and describe.

  2. Add a Splash of Creativity: Gather a variety of pictures to populate your scenes. While the basics, like kids in bathing suits, beach umbrellas, and towels, set the stage, don't shy away from adding unexpected elements. Penguins on the beach, a lunchbox, a dog, or even an elephant can make the game more fun and generate giggles. To make it interesting, ensure that some pictures are quite similar, providing a challenge for both the student describing and the student listening.

  3. Make Copies and Organize: Duplicate all your pictures, so you have two copies of each. Store them in separate sets, such as plastic baggies or envelopes, and attach them to folders with the scenes inside for easy access and organization.

  4. Set Up the Barrier: To maintain the excitement and focus of your students, use a barrier. Those cardboard science project tri-folds work great, ensuring that the students on either side cannot see each other.

Now, your students can take turns being the speaker and the listener, and the real language magic begins. The speaker selects elements to place in the scene and instructs the other student where to position them. The challenge escalates when there are pictures very similar to each other, requiring careful discrimination.

Barrier games are not just about fun; they can also target important language skills:

  • Spatial Concepts: Students learn to describe the position and location of objects in the scene.
  • Descriptive Concepts: Rich vocabulary and adjectives are encouraged to provide detailed descriptions.
  • Giving and Following Directions: The speaker must convey instructions effectively, and the listener must follow them accurately.
  • Using Complete Sentences: Both students practice forming complete, coherent sentences.

For those of you working with larger groups, there's an innovative twist to barrier games. You can set a theme, like "Alien Sighting," and have your students collaborate. One student leaves the room while the others create a drawing based on the theme. The absent student then returns and follows their classmates' directions to draw the alien. This collaborative approach not only fosters communication but also adds an element of suspense and creativity.


Incorporating Barrier Games into therapy sessions, classrooms, or home settings opens up a world of opportunities for interactive learning and skill development. As participants tackle language challenges, embrace creativity, and communicate effectively, they build the foundations for a lifetime of successful communication.

So, let's continue to explore the world of Barrier Games and celebrate the joy of communication while breaking down barriers together!

Are you ready to embark on this exciting journey of language development and cooperation? Give Barrier Games a try, and watch your students or loved ones thrive in the world of interactive play and learning!

Here is a FREE small barrier game for you.

If you enjoy barrier games in your therapy practice, consider some of the games I've made for you to save you the time and stress. You can find them here. Go take a look! Add some fun to your therapy bag.

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