How to Help Language Impaired Students Improve their Leisure Skills

Do you have students on your caseload who have very limited leisure skill interests? Are these students often left out of group activities at school and in the home environment? When our students do not engage in play/ leisure activities they are missing out on a natural way to work on language instruction.

Read the following article, a guest post by Rosemarie Griffin from ABA Speech, to help your students increase their functional language and leisure skills:

Leisure skills can be addressed in a variety of ways in clinic or school based settings. If you have a student who receives direct individual therapy, you could work on a specific leisure skill during therapy and generalize it to a larger group, when the student is able to engage in the skill with minimal prompts from an adult. Another way to target leisure skill instruction would be to teach a specific leisure skill (i.e. modified musical chairs) to a small group of students. It is important whether you are teaching the skill in an individual or small group session that the students know exactly how to engage in the skill. There are many evidenced based strategies, but we will focus on the skill of video modeling.

Video modeling is a mode of teaching that uses video recording. The video recording acts as a visual model of the targeted skill or behavior. It can take many forms. The video can be of the student engaging in the skill or it can be of another individual engaging in the skill. The learner watches the video and then they perform the skill in the moment or at a later time. For example, if you are teaching students to play UNO® as a modified game; you could make a video of students playing this game the modified way ( i.e. matching just the color cards or playing minus the skip, reverse, wild and draw two). You would show the video to the students learning the game and then have them play the game. There is a lot of research that supports using this strategy to teach skills to individuals with autism and other disabilities. Below I will describe 2 modified leisure activities that I use with my middle school and high school students.

A favorite of game of my students happens to be UNO®. There are 2 ways to modify UNO® based on the level of learner you have in your group. For early learners, you can lay out one card of each color on the table ( yellow, red, green, blue) and put the other cards face down. You each take a turn picking a card and matching it to the cards on the table. If your students are ready for more of a challenge you can play uno the regular way but without the skip, reverse, wild and draw two cards. This is such a popular game and one that many families have at home. It would be great to work on this at school and let the parents know about all of the work that you have done. Playing UNO® at home would be a wonderful way for your student to spend quality time with his family, while generalizing this leisure skill to new people and new environments.

Another game that many of my students enjoy is playing Scrabble®. We each pick seven tiles and take turns making words on the board. The modification is that the words do not have to be connected in any way. This is what makes Scrabble® so difficult! I allow the students to make a word anywhere that they want on the board. If you have a student in the group who is having difficulty making a word on their own, grab a dry erase board and write down a word for them that they could make with their tiles. They can pick the tiles and match them to the word and transfer to the board. Viola a wonderful way to enjoy a cooperative group activity with students of varying ability levels.

Being able to participate in age appropriate leisure skills gives students the opportunity to practice social language skills and helps them to feel more included with peers and their family members. Working on leisure skills can be enjoyable for all; I hope that these strategies will help you incorporate this instruction into your therapeutic practice.


Rosemarie Griffin is a speech language pathologist, board certified behavior analyst and product developer. She is the creator of the Action Builder Cards. To learn more about modified leisure skills or to gather information about using applied behavior analysis to help students increase their communication skills, check out her website www.abaspeech.org or like her Facebook page here: ABA SPEECH ON FACEBOOK.



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