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Social Games & Verbal Routines

What are social games/verbal routines?

Social games/verbal routines are interactive songs, finger games/rhymes with hand motions, and repetitions of the same phrases/sentences of language in the context of a playful activity that are beneficial to building social interaction and learning language. Social games and verbal routines are FUN for kids because they are repetitive, easy to predict, and usually have fun gestures/hand motions to go along with them, which taps into a child’s different multiple intelligence strengths (bodily-kinesthetic, musical, etc.) and are overall very motivating to kids.

How can I use verbal routines for increasing language?

With a lot of our kiddos that we see for speech and language therapy, they have trouble with staying WITH us and playing WITH us as therapists. They have to engage WITH us in order to learn language FROM us. Social games/verbal routines are a great way to get them “hooked in” to social engagement with another person (adult/therapist/parent). For our friends with delayed language skills, they need a lot of repetition and need to see it (gestures/hands motions/sign language) and hear it in order to be able to imitate verbally (say the words) or nonverbally (copy the hand motion/gestures). Social games/verbal routines are a great place to start for activities for nonverbal children because they focus on social interaction and imitation of body movements/gestures, which are foundational skills that need to emerge BEFORE talking. Another benefit of using social games in therapy-no materials needed and are easy to teach parents/caregivers for carryover at home! Verbal routines/social games can be done with other family members, on the go, etc. They can also be used with early language intervention (birth-3) or school aged children, depending on where they are currently functioning in the areas of cognition, receptive language, and expressive language.

Bonus tip:

While trying these social games/verbal routines, make your voice sound as FUN as possible. Think animated Disney character or preschool teacher vibes. The more fun you sound, the more likely you are to get (and keep) your child’s attention.

My favorite social games/verbal routines for speech and language activities:

Ready….set…go!/1-2-3…go: This verbal routine can be played across context such as sliding down the slide, racing cars down a ramp, swinging on the swing, or jumping in a pool. When you can tell that your child is verbally imitating parts of the phrase or all of the phrase, try leaving out one word at the end i.e. “Ready…set…..” then look expectantly at the child with a smile and PAUSE to see if she/he will fill in “go!” or an approximation of that word. You can also use signs for “go” or holding up your fingers while you count for visual prompts.

Peek-a-Boo: Kids are HUGE fans of this one! Start off with saying “wheeeerrrre is (kid’s name)??” in a super playful voice and encouraging them to cover their own eyes (or you can model it for them by covering your eyes with your hands). You can assist the child in taking their hands off their eyes and saying “Peek-a-boo!” then starting the routine again. Repetition is the name of the game here. After several turns of this, try pausing to see if child will take their hands off of their eyes on their own after you ask “Wherrrreee issss (kid’s name)?”. Then you can switch in to “Where is mommy/daddy/sissy/brother” for more of a receptive ID game to see if they understand family member names. You can also do this activity with a blanket; try putting the blanket over your head and their heads.

Other verbal routines/social games/interactive songs for speech therapy: Wheels on the Bus, Twinkle Twinkle, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Ring Around the Rosie, Patty Cake, Where is Thumbkin, 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Row Row Row Your Boat, Night night/wake up play routine, Old McDonald, 5 Little Ducks, Bumble bee song, This is How the Gentlemen/Ladies Ride, Ants Go Marching.

Additional Resources:

I’m a huge fan of Laura Mize, from She has excellent ideas for parents on how to use verbal routines/social games at home to help with social engagement and, in turn, language development.

– Megan Kuussalo, M.S. CCC-SLP