Barrier Games: Great for Language Enrichment

Several years ago I came across a post on a speech message board about barrier games. I remembered learning about them in grad school and the post rekindled my interest in using them as part of my speech and language therapy. Today, I have found Barrier Games to be a very important tool in my speech therapy tool box, particularly for my students working on language concepts. However I have also found that they have so many other uses in therapy sessions.

What is a barrier game? A barrier game requires two or more players sitting around a table with some kind of barrier(s) so that players cannot see each others materials (books, file folders, or binders can work as barriers). Every player has the same set of materials in front of them. The players take turns giving the other players very specific directions (per ability level) on how to arrange the materials in front of them, without any visual cues. The goal of the game is to have all the players’ materials look the same at the end of the activity.

What skills can you target using barrier games? This is the BEST part of barrier games: you can target SO MUCH and these work really well for groups of children who are working on different goals. Here are some examples of what you can target:

  • Expressive use of and receptive understanding of basic concepts such as colors, shapes, sizes, quantity, spacial, temporal, etc.
  • Expressive use of and receptive understanding of basically any vocabulary (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc) you can think of.
  • Expressive ability to give one, two, three or more step directives
  • Receptive ability to follow one, two, three or more step directives
  • Expressive ability to ask “wh” questions
  • Receptive ability to answer “wh” questions
  • Storytelling/narratives
  • For children working on articulation, barrier games can be used to target his/her  sounds in structured or spontaneous speech
  • For children working on fluency, barrier games can be used to target the use of smooth speech tools in structured or spontaneous speech.
  • For children working on social/pragmatic skills or problem solving, you can pair up children in teams and have them work together in teams.
  • The possibilities are endless!

Where can I get a barrier game? This is the other awesome thing about barrier games…though there are some commercially available, you can actually “make your own” barrier games for free or for very low cost! Here are some ideas of inexpensive or virtually free barrier games, as well toys you can adapt and use as barrier games and commercially available barrier games as well:

Click picture to go to the DLTK site

  • My #1 barrier game that I use ALL THE TIME will cost you only the price of to print and copy. At one of my most favorite sites for free printable activities,, you can find these awesome “Draw the Details” pictures in the “coloring sheets” sections under many themes. What you do, is print out a master copy in black and white, and then copy them off. Each child gets their own picture, and have the children take turns telling the other children what to draw/color on the person/animal/item. I use these for preschool kiddos up through 5th grade! Even my articulation groups LOVE these. Typically I will do at least one of these a month, sometimes more. The picture on the right is an example of one of their Thanksgiving sheets (examples are in color, but like I said, print them in their black and white option). Click on the picture to see other Thanksgiving sheets. They also have them for the different seasons, Christmas, etc! Also, you can easily use their coloring sheets in a similar way on their site!
  • Buy coloring books with characters that your students like. Copy off the pages for your group members and use them like I explained in the example above.
  • Simply hand out scratch paper to each person and have the children take turns telling each other what to draw where. You may want to first give them some kind of “theme” to help guide their drawing/vocabulary.
  • Take a Mr. Potato Head (with at least one set of the same things for every player) or Cootie game and have each child take turns telling the other which pieces to put where. This can be really fun with the Mr. Potato Heads that have costumes, or are made for different holidays. These are GREAT for targeting a TON of vocabulary!

  • Cut out different shapes of different colors and give each child a matching set. Have one child create a pattern and tell the other children how to create a matching pattern.
  • Head up the dollar store and get some cheap stickers. Have the children take turns describing the stickers and giving directions to each other on where to place the stickers on their papers.
  • Buy two sets (or enough for each person in your group) of paper dolls, magnetic dolls, etc and have each child “dress” their doll and then describe the items of clothing and give directions to peers to dress the dolls the same.
  • Buy two sets (or enough for each person in your group) of magnetic play scenes (I have seen them in the travel section at Target as well as on Amazon) and have the children take turns describing the items and giving directions to make their story scenes match.

  • For older children, you can print out and laminate some simple maps. Have a child draw a path from one location to another with dry erase markers and then give directions to the other students. (I think I got this idea originally from a thread on the Speaking of Speech Message Boards and the person who posted it recommended using North/South/East/West rather than left vs. right).
  • Available from Super Duper Inc is a great magnetic barrier game MagneTalk Match-up Adventures Kit. Though it is a little pricey, I used this a TON in my former district (and was sad to leave it behind). However, if you watch closely they DO go on sale…I just bought a set for myself because it was on sale! These also come with worksheets you can use for homework or follow up activities.

Tips on how to target specific vocabulary: One thing I do when I want my students to practice using specific words (like let’s say spacial concepts), is I will simply write the target words down on some 3×5 cards cut in 1/2 and put the words in a pile and have the child pick a card and use the target word in his/her directions he gives out. For little ones who can’t read, I typically will do this but then read the word to them, though you could make cards (or use card you already have) that have pictures of the target words on them.

Do you use barrier games in therapy (if you are an SLP)? If you are a parent, have you ever used these at home either for fun or as part of a homeschool activity? I would love to hear your ideas of how barrier games are used in different teaching environments!



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  1. says

    I “met” you in the Melissa and Doug group on We Teach. I’m a mom of three, with a masters in reading education. I taught first grade until my first son was born. I’ve never heard of Barrier Games, but I love the concept! It would be so easy to implement both in a classroom and at home. I’m going to try it with my middle child (he’ll be 3 in January) because he has trouble listening… and we’re trying to figure out if it’s comprehension he struggles with, or if he just doesn’t pay attention to directions. :o) Thanks for sharing.

    • Katie says

      Hi Laurie, so nice to “meet” you! Barrier games are AWESOME and I bet your little guy will enjoy them, just make sure you use some motivating items. :) If you have any questions about using them feel free to email me! And thanks fo stopping by!

  2. Elizabeth Brooker says

    I have a 4 yer old son who hs been in speech and other therapies for years now and even though we have seen some improvement in his ability to speak he still gets highly fustrated and i am at my wits end. Any advise you hve would be greatly appericated.

  3. Melisa says

    My daughter has Apraxia & we use barrier games in her speech lessons. She enjoys them & doesn’t even realize she is practicing her target sounds and words. :)

  4. says

    My favorite barrier game is a box of various colored 1″ blocks and the ole block design cards. Taking turns giving directions on how to replicate the pictured block design gives my students great practice with using prepositions and clear speech and cohesive directions, as well as asking for clarification, etc. The old Uniset barrier games are great too and the Highlights magazines hidden pictures work well. I love when my kids are engaged in real,communication and they do too. Hard to find these things now.


  1. […] 1. Discount Stores: I try to check out stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls every month or so for toys, games, and books. (I also hit up Big Lots every couple months but I don’t find as much success at my local one). Their selections vary weekly so you never know what you might find. At Christmas time I got a BUNCH of Melissa and Doug toys for my own kids at a fraction of the price you would find them elsewhere. I am HUGE on adapting regular games and such for therapy as much as I can. For example, if you find two (or more) identical reusable sticker books for $2 each, you can buy two or more and use them for Barrier Games! […]

  2. […] You can also help students by modeling listening, thinking and speaking skills by doing Think Aloud, Read Aloud and guided practice .  Other communicative activities can include Jigsaw readings, anticipation guides, Think-Pair-Share, Literature Circles (Literature Circle Role Sheet Directions, Simplified Lit Circle Sheets ) and Barrier games (Barrier Games Overview). […]

  3. […] games is one of my all time favorite activities for therapy. Katie had a wonderful description in this post about how to use them for a variety of targets!  I mostly use it for following directions, concepts and […]