Planning Themes in Speech Therapy: Animals

I love themes! Themes help you plan, support carryover in the classroom or home, and are just plain fun.

What’s even better about themes? You are building vocabulary through word relationships and how they connect to the larger world. And this is supported by research!  Just like we are made to be social creatures and live with community support (yes, even us introverts), learning takes on a whole other meaning when viewed through a relational lens.  Research from Scott, Nagy, and Flinspace, 2008, says, ‘…students learn academic vocabulary through social interactions as members of the learning community’.

Today starts a 4 part series in planning basic themes in speech therapy. These posts will focus on animals, food, transportation, and basic concepts.

Let’s get started!

First, decide what animals you want to address. What toys, books, activities do you already own? Are there animals that are very motivating for some of the children you serve? Is there a field trip to a farm coming up? Are there materials in the classroom that you can also use, borrow, or adapt? Answering those questions are a big step in planning your upcoming activities.

Farm Animals

Get these printables here.

Break out your toy barn!

If you don’t have a play barn with animals, keep your eyes peeled because I see them ALL the time at thrift stores.  Anecdotally,  they have seemed to be universal as an engaging play activity for most of my students. There are so many concepts to explore with these toys including animal names/sounds, positional concepts, WH questions, social skills, and more!

And don’t forget to sing, ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’, watch a cool youtube video about farm facts, and/or check out the plethora of books with a farm theme at your school or local library.

The Zoo

The students at my school get to go to the zoo for one of their field trips, so I love presenting this unit before they go.  I have inherited my zoo animal toys over the years (I really don’t know where they all came from!) but they are fairly cheap and accessible. If you are reading this around Easter, go check out the dollar store. Sometimes you can find Easter eggs shaped as zoo animals – which can be used as great motivators, games, and conversation starters.

Get these printables here.

I love this book to talk about zoo mamas and babies for some of my youngest children, but if you are looking for something a little bit older try checking out National Geographic books for kids. They have covered pretty much every group/type of animal out there with interesting facts and amazing pictures.

And get local! Go online and check out the website of your local zoo. There are plenty of interesting pictures and facts to discuss with your student or child. Thinking and talking about your city and community really takes those language skills beyond the home or therapy room.


I love talking about pets. This is a common topic that pops up in my speech room fairly often. If my students don’t have pets in their home, they often have some kind of connection to one.  Be sensitive to those who may have lost a pet or are fearful to common household animals.

Get these printables here.

This little pet shelter is a great activity to make associations.  It only requires glue, crayons, and scissors!

So how do I incorporate play here?

My own children have a play doctors kit that I use on a couple of stuffed animals so we pretend to be a ‘vet’.

I also use my farm and zoo animals to ask, ‘Can this be a pet?’.  Excellent and funny conversations come out of this simple activity.

For my older students, I ask them to draw pictures of their pets (or what pet they would like to have) and then we create sentences about their creations. If we are working on sequencing we may talk about the steps taken for various actions to care for a pet such as feeding or bathing.

And as always…..include your books :).

Sea Life

Sea life = water play!! If you are into using water in your therapy sessions this is a great time to do so.  Use a small container to fill halfway with water and add toys. Be sure and have towels handy.

Refer back to this cut/paste activity as your learner plays in the water to discuss positional concepts or compare/contrast.  Get these printables here.

If you have ever read Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea by Jan Pack, you know it’s perfect for naming vocabulary and describing. It has the cutest little surprise ending as well.  But that’s not all. I pull out graham crackers, blue icing, and gold fish to make our own little sea scene that we can taste!  It’s fun and makes a lasting impression.

So there you go! How many therapy sessions and goals would this cover?  Would these things be motivating to your learners? How might they carry over this vocabulary in the home of the classroom?

Stay turned for (my favorite) a food themed speech therapy unit!





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