A humorous and educational look at speech pathology.

Archive for May, 2013

Board Games and Speech Therapy: Storyteller Cards (Contest Included!)

Today, rather than writing a post about a single board game, I’m going to write about a tool for creating games and therapy activities: Storyteller Cards by Jason Tagmire. The project is currently raising funds on Kickstarter (for people unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it’s a site where creators of small-scale projects can raise funds for their creative endeavors using a “crowdfunding” model instead of a traditional investment model – patrons pledge funds toward the project in exchange for a reward from the project creator, usually a physical product).

Storyteller Cards

General Overview: From the tool’s Kickstarter page: “Storyteller Cards is a deck of 54 playing cards that each feature 4 unique elements. There is a CHARACTER, holding an ITEM, completing an ACTION, in a LOCATION. Each of these elements can be used to create something new, get you out of a mid-project slump, or just to have some creative fun with family and friends. The cards also feature additional icons in the corners to help you dig a little deeper into storytelling, creating, and gaming. The icons represent a RANKSUITMOOD,SEASONLETTER, and COLOR.”

The cards themselves come with a Storyteller Manual that contains a number of games that are being revealed as the Kickstarter campaign progresses. Games described so far include Once Upon A Time (not the card game I discussed in an earlier post, but a Mad Libs-style story completion game), the Comic Challenge (a collaborative story-drawing game), To Be Continued (a story-building game in the spirit of the Storybook Game), Possibilities (a free-form card game where the players write the rules as they play), ChromaCards (a strategic crayon coloring game), and Short Stories (a game of my own design in which players use the elements of the cards to tell a story that resolves a storyteller-created conflict). There are still other games yet to be revealed, including  Director’s Cut (a game where the players create their own film using 8 cards from the deck). Some of the games work best with notepads that can be purchased with the cards, but they all work with only the deck of cards and the PDF manual that comes with the kit (some printing of worksheets may be required or desired).

Skill Support:

  • Vocabulary – There are very few games included with this kit that do not involve identifying at least one property of the cards, whether the character, action, setting, item, or something else.
  • Problem Solving – Most of the games (especially Short Stories) require the student to provide some sort of solution to a problem.
  • Narrative Sequencing – As the name implies, Storyteller Cards are primarily about storytelling, and whether you’re building a story with each card as a piece like in To Be Continued or Director’s Cut or using a single card to build an entire story like in Comic Challenge, building a cohesive narrative is a useful skill.


  • Flexible – Because Storyteller Cards were designed as a tool rather than a specific game, an enterprising and creative SLP can find ways to integrate them into most therapy contexts.
  • Low Literacy Friendly – Each Storyteller Card has two letters on it, and those letters are in a corner of the card. Having literacy skills is not a requirement for most activities that use Storyteller Cards.
  • Fun For All Ages – The activities in the Storyteller Manual are designed for students of all ages and ability levels. The project creator has used Storyteller Cards with his five-year-old daughter, and some of the games in the Storyteller Manual can be made complex enough for high school students.


  • Clinician-facing – As a tool rather than a game (although there are games included), Storyteller cards are exactly as useful as the clinician using them can make them. A creative clinician can make Storyteller Cards an indispensible asset, but one who is used to using prescribed activities may have difficulty.
  • Distractions – By design, there is a lot going on in each picture and on each card. A student that has difficulty focusing may have a hard time focusing on the card element that the activity is focused on.

Accommodations/Modifications/Alternate Uses: Because Storyteller Cards are a tool rather than a game, describing accommodations, modifications, or alternate uses isn’t really a thing here; the tool is designed to fit a wide variety of activities (especially in the context of language treatment). The Kickstarter campaign does have some add-ons designed to enhance the Storyteller Card experience (notepads to supplement games, interactive pencils, a deck of blank cards for Possibilities, and a print copy of the Storyteller Manual), but with PDFs included in the base pledge level, the add-ons aren’t necessary if you have access to card stock and a printer.

Obviously, I’m a fan of Storyteller Cards, since I contributed to the manual. I think that the toolkit does a lot to improve on and synthesize other games that I’ve talked about in previous posts, like the Storybook Game and Once Upon a Time (and one of the games that may end up in the manual was originally named “Dixit Done Right”). Once this game arrives (estimated ship date is November if the Kickstarter is fully funded), it will be a staple of my traveling therapy kit.

CONTEST! For the first time, I’m offering a contest through this blog. To compete in the contest, you must post in the comments section of this blog post a speech therapy activity using Storyteller Cards. To be eligible, the activity must include its target skill/goal/objective and a brief description of the activity – I’ll try to comment if I need more description. On June 8 (to give non-winners a day to pledge to the Kickstarter campaign), I’ll review all the eligible entries, and the best entry (totally subjective) will get a free copy of Storyteller cards once pledge rewards are fulfilled (estimated delivery November 2013).


Disclosure: The author of this blog post is a contributor to the Storyteller Manual.


Board Games and Speech Therapy: Word on the Street

This week, I have a (relatively) brief post reviewing another Out of the Box game, Word On The Street.

Word on the Street (regular version)

Word on the Street

Variants/Expansions: There is a Junior version of the game, which includes simpler categories and tiles for the entire alphabet (rather than only 17 letters).

General Overview: Word on the Street is a word-based party game designed for 2-8 players of ages 12+ (8+ for the Junior version of the game). Players are presented with a category, name an item in that category, and move the letters used to spell that item toward them in a “tug of war” fashion. Once a letter is moved off one side of the board, that player (or team, if there are more than two players) claims the letter and it cannot be moved again. Once a player or team claims eight letters, that player or team wins.

Skill Support:

  • Category Identification – Players need to name items in categories to determine what words they’re spelling.
  • Spelling – Word on the Street requires students to spell the words out in order to know what letters to move.
  • Phonemic Awareness – As the students work to spell the words, they need to demonstrate or practice phonemic awareness skills.


  • Playable “Out of the Box”: This is a game that can be explained and demonstrated with less than five minutes of setup. Modeling game play is easy.
  • Variable Challenge Level: Younger students who have a hard time with spelling and/or vocabulary will only be able to create smaller words, but if everyone in the group is at that level, the game’s challenge level, by its nature, adjusts to meet the students’ ability level.
  • Multisensory: By physically move the pieces and saying the letter’s name out loud while doing so, a student who has difficulty with spelling or single-modality learning can participate in the activity using visual, kinesthetic, and auditory methods, helping to reinforce concepts.
  • Variable Participation: Because this is a game that uses teams, it’s possible to pair two younger or weaker students together against an older or stronger student (or the therapist), allowing the teams to collaborate to give everyone a chance to remain engaged.


  • Literacy is required: All the cards have words, and none of the cards (even in the younger versions of the game) have pictures. In addition, spelling the answers is a part of the game, so if spelling is hard for your students, modifications will need to be made.
  • Narrow scope: This game is rooted in naming and spelling items in categories. Unlike many Out of the Box games, there isn’t much variability in skills using the components in the box.
  • Team game: Because this is a team game, it isn’t as useful for individual therapy unless you participate at the child’s level, which can sometimes make note-taking difficult.


  • Therapist participation: The biggest area in which a therapist may need to participate or interfere with the game is to help with spelling. This can be done as a treatment activity by itself to work with phonemic awareness, or done entirely by the therapist to reduce frustration.
  • Heavy example use: Using one or two examples of an item that fits into a particular category can really help to jog a student’s memory if he or she is having difficulty.

Alternate Uses:

  • The board and letters can be used to add kinesthetic engagement for other tasks with single-word answers.
  • The category cards can be combined with a number of other activities to create an entirely different game that reinforces a wide variety of skills.

This game is narrow, but the inherent multisensory and multimodal use of the game’s components make it ideal for the skills it addresses. It’s more popular with my younger students than any other game that requires literacy, and the strategy of trying to think of words that use particular letters keeps older, more capable students engaged.

Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you used?


Board Games and Speech Therapy: Once Upon a Time

Returning after a long (too long) break, I’m excited to start with more reviews – and super-excited for an announcement related to this blog next week.

If this is your first time here, you may want to go here to the “home” page. It explains a bit about what I’m hoping to accomplish with this series, and lists the games I’ve already reviewed.

This is the first review that I’ve timed to coincide with another event. Once Upon A Time, designed by Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, and James Wallis and published by Atlas Games, is being covered on the board gaming YouTube show TableTop this week (for reference, two other games reviewed in this series that have been covered on TableTop include Dixit and Get Bit! – and beware, TableTop is not always school/work-safe viewing), and since it was already on the “review” list, I moved it up the list – and used the show’s timing to give myself a deadline.

Once Upon A Time

Variants/Expansions: Once Upon a Time is now in its third edition of printing, and has three expansions: Dark Tales, Enchanting Tales, and Seafaring Tales. Each of the expansions adds a slightly different theme (evil creatures and unhappy endings, enchanted princesses, and stories of the sea, respectively). I haven’t tried the expansions, but the added variety should come in handy after using the game in therapy a few times. There are also Create-Your-Own Cards if you want to add cards specific to speech therapy or to your local area.

General Overview: Once Upon A Time is a story-building game designed for two to six players of ages 8 and up. Players are dealt one Happily Ever After card, which details the ending of a fantasy-style fairy tale story, and 5-10 Once Upon A Time cards, which each contain one plot element of a fantasy/fairy tale story. One Storyteller begins to tell the fairy tale, trying to use the Characters, Items, Places, Aspects (adjectives), and Events in his or her hand to tell the story. As the Storyteller uses a plot element on his or her card, the Storyteller plays the card, trying to empty his or her hand of Once Upon a Time cards and end the game with a Happily Ever After card. The other players pay close attention to the story and the cards in their hand, because if the Storyteller uses a plot element that is on one of their cards, then the player can play his or her card and take over the story, becoming the new Storyteller.

Skill Support:

  • Story Sequencing – Once Upon A Time requires the player to connect events in a (mostly) logical fashion to form a coherent narrative.
  • Divided Attention – When a player is not the Storyteller, he or she needs to pay attention to both the cards in his or her hand and the story the Storyteller is telling, trying to find a place where the two match.
  • Imaginative Play – Because this game deals with a fantasy theme, it works well to help a student with limited imaginative play with a structure to support the development of fantasy and creativity.
  • Categorizing/Grammar – The cards are labelled with groups (Characters, Events, Places), making it easy to reinforce word categories and parts of speech while playing.
  • Expressive Vocabulary – Many of the terms used in the game may be terms that are familiar to the student from listening to fairy tales, but are terms that don’t always come up in spontaneous use. Once Upon A Time encourages students to use these terms in a slightly different context than the context in which the term was learned.


  • Easy to demonstrate: While the rules (at least the rules for the second edition of the game, which I have) aren’t spectacular at getting you playing the game quickly, the game is easy to demonstrate once you have a handle on them. This makes the game not quite out of the box, but one that takes minimal time out of a therapy session to teach.
  • Antecedent In Popular Culture: While princess movies are on the decline in popularity, there are still enough (especially with the Disney Princess franchise ramping up consumerism) that most children have encountered fantasy themes in their previous experience. Using the same themes in a therapy activity helps to reinforce the therapy skills being targeted.
  • Aligned With Common Core ELA State Standards: One of the ongoing challenges of innovation in education is that service providers are being encouraged to draw direct and indirect connections between their services and grade level content expectations, most commonly the English and Language Arts standards in the case of speech pathology. This article from Booklist describes how a number of fairy tale texts can be used to meet Common Core ELA objectives. The philosophy discussed in this article can easily be transferred to Once Upon A Time.
  • Useful With Many Age Groups: This probably isn’t a game for kindergarteners with language difficulties, but this game can be used both from students in second or third grade all the way to high school seniors, with the language expectations rising with the students’ ages and performance ability.


  • Literacy is required: While the Once Upon A Time cards use words and pictures (which is fantastic), the Happily Ever After cards only have text, requiring that the players either be literate or have assistance finishing the story.
  • Tricky Fonts. The font used on the Once Upon A Time cards for the group label (Place, Character, etc) can be difficult to read for students that are not used to script writing – or even some who are). This is greatly improved in the game’s third edition, but be aware of this if you’ve found an older copy at a thrift store or on eBay.
  • Distracting Rules. The game has a couple rules and cards that can be really distracting or confusing if a student isn’t ready to process three or four different pieces of information at a time. One such rule says that cards can only be played if its use is important to the story, but doesn’t provide great guidance as to when something would be “mentioned for no reason”. Also, there are Interrupt cards that allow players to take the story away from the Storyteller when the Storyteller plays a card of that type; these cards make for a more interesting game, but they detract from the use of the game’s theme to build of language skills.


  • Get rid of the Interrupts: Taking all the Interrupt cards out of the deck has two benefits. First, it allows you to focus more on the narrative aspect of the game without removing much gameplay. Second, it takes away the attention from the part of the card that has the most difficult to read font (if the Interrupts aren’t present, then the card’s group isn’t relevant to game mechanics).
  • Made-up Happily Ever After: For students who aren’t literate, you can get rid of the Happily Ever After cards as well, allowing a student to make up their own ending once he or she is out of cards.
  • Therapist moderation: “Ground rules” from the therapist or teacher can do a lot to prevent confusion and/or argument about when a card can be played as part of a story. I usually use two ground rules: There can only be one card played in each sentence (a rule from the rulebook), and the card played must “do something” (meaning that it must be an active rather than passive agent in the story).

Alternate Uses:

  • Social Stories: Using cards from Once Upon A Time can be used in creating social stories in a number of ways. When the student is first learning social stories, the cards can be used as visual cues for a therapist-created social story. After the student starts to gain proficiency, the clinician and student can work together, with the student creating the base story and the clinician asking questions and adding story elements as needed to guide the narrative. Finally, as the student becomes proficient in understanding the social concepts taught by the social stories, he or she can use cards from Once Upon A Time to demonstrate his or her knowledge (especially useful for students who are weak with verbal language).
  • Graphic Organizers: As students begin writing stories on their own, Once Upon A Time cards can be used as tactile graphic organizers to help the student organize his or her thoughts. One of the major challenges of traditional graphic organizers is that it can be difficult to follow characters through actions and interactions, and the ability to use these cards as something of a movable storyboard can help scaffold a student’s writing or story generation.
  • Writing Prompts: In addition to scaffolding writing in general, Once Upon A Time cards can be used to create randomized writing prompts for students who have written language objectives. Using a random Character, Item, Aspect, Place, and Event (adding another card or two as the cards call for) can create a large number of unique prompts to save students the monotony of writing and rewriting on the same prompts – and to save you the effort of continuously searching for and printing out new prompts.

In general, this is a good game for speech therapy. The rules could use some improvement, and some modifications to the game can be needed for each individual group. But if you’re not ready to make some modifications to materials to maximize their impact, what are you doing in speech therapy? 😉