Listening and language learning can be fun and games

by guest author Lynn A. Wood MA CCC/A LSLS Cert. AVT

Commercially available games that maximize listening, spoken language, and communication are a “WIN” for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Playing board games in therapy, school and at home can foster positive attitudes towards learning. Well-chosen games played with Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) strategies and techniques strengthen listening skills, direction following, expand vocabulary, auditory memory, auditory processing and comprehension of conversational speech. Simply by playing games, children learn important social skills such as sharing, waiting, taking turns and self-advocacy strategies. Following game rules and fair play builds respect. Games help children take responsibility for their own communication success as they are motivated to listen to others, use intelligible speech and express their thoughts clearly.

Roald Dahl once wrote, “Life is more fun when you play games.”  Studies reveal playing games produces endorphins that stimulate the brain. These endorphins give children a great sense of happiness and excitement that foster favorable learning opportunities. Games can make learning seem almost effortless. For young children and their families in early intervention, we tuck LSL learning into engaging activities with toys, books, songs and daily routines. Older children want to have fun, and there is no reason they shouldn’t. Many kids and teens have been in therapy for years and are not motivated by activities that look like therapy, so board games are powerful tools.

The Game Plan

Professionals and parents are responsible for weaving LSL strategies, goals and objectives into the game experience. A GAME PLAN is paramount for positive outcomes rather than just a lucky roll of the dice. A strategy for success is worked out in advance. Step one is choosing a game that is developmentally appropriate based on the child’s current goals and their listening, language and learning needs. Resist the temptation to play a game only because it is popular or marketed as therapy-based or educational. Secondly, determine which LSL strategies to incorporate for effective gameplay. Auditory first, wait time, an expectant look, providing choices, adjusting the size of the set, pausing before challenging information, modeling a correct response and asking, “What did you hear?” facilitate auditory learning. Finally, prepare ahead and know the game set up, rules and any modifications. There is a wise adage often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Champions and Challenges

As LSL practitioners, we see many children who make at least one year of listening and language gain for each year they have been able to access hearing. Typically these children enter preschool or kindergarten with hearing peers at age level. It happens for many children, but not all. These are the children that can be described champions like the classic Milton Bradley board game, Go to the Head of the Class. Whereas, The Game of Life by Hasbro describes another group of children.  In life, there are curvy, bumpy roads and detours that lead to very different or unexpected outcomes. Numerous games have challenge cards and players are confronted with a difficulty to be resolved. Some children in our practices or classrooms face significant challenges. Our role is to address these needs and stretch their brains to develop skills and aim for success. Our caseloads are full of children and teens who receive auditory-based intervention but have ongoing listening, language and learning gaps. Typically, they use appropriate hearing technology yet struggle with language learning, literacy, academics and overall achievement.  Life is complicated, and many factors result in slower than expected LSL progress, so games can be excellent tools and benefit these children.

Flourishing Trees That Produce LSL Fruit

Tumble Tree by Blue Orange Games is a fast-paced card placement game with the object to build a baobab tree.  Baobab trees are short with an enormously thick trunks and sprawling canopies, commonly found in Africa. Each card has its own way to be carefully added to the ever-growing tree while not letting it tumble. Leopards leap, bats fly, snakes slither, monkeys swing and bees sting in this balancing card game. Consider LSL learning using the analogy of a tree. This game with the overburdened branches represent kids and teens with weak auditory memory, vocabularies that are not flexible and struggling LSL abilities affecting academics, literacy and communication competence.  A strong LSL root system and trunk must develop before it can grow healthy branches, leaves and abundant fruit. So how do we strengthen the roots, the trunk, spread branches, stimulate flourishing leaves and make it fun? Games as LSL tools, of course!

Off The Shelf Games

There are countless games on the market to target a plethora of LSL goals and can easily be played in therapy, school and at home. Many word-related games challenge children that are deaf or hard of hearing as they center around ambiguous and figurative language, analogies and humor. Well-chosen games build auditory skills, increase auditory memory and working memory, teach vocabulary, categories, inferences and descriptors, strengthen lexical organizations and foster critical thinking while promoting a growth mindset.

When introducing a game, talk about the cards or the game board and the actions necessary to play. Give auditory directions to follow for set up, tear down, and game play. Have the child or teen retell the rules of the game to other players. Talk about the importance of sportsmanship and how to be a good winner or loser.

Lynn’s Best Bets

These games all have excellent replay value and feature a variety of genres. Targeting multiple goals with games makes planning efficient. Here are ten games that I use in my practice that motivate and engage children, teens and families. So have a little fun and play games!

1. Would You Rather? SpinMaster Games or
Would you rather get stung by three bees or get a really bad sunburn?  Listen then defend your choice. Neither is never an answer.
Skills: Develops the ability to reason, explain, persuade, and problem-solve

2. Don’t Say It! Pressman
Can you get the other players to say FISH? It’s not as easy as it sounds because you can’t say scales, fins, water, or hook.
Skills: Promotes flexible thinking and vocabulary

3. BackSeat Drawing Patch Products
The artists don’t know what they are drawing but listen and follow the instructions given by another player.
Skills: Fosters describing, problem-solving and clarification skills

4. TAPPLE USAopoly
Fast-paced word game. Pick a category, give answers for the topic by the first letter of the word, then pass the Tapple wheel and beat the timer.
Skills: Improves categorizing and vocabulary

5. Tribond Patch Products
Games of Threes. Players listen to a list of three items and determine the common bond. At first, they may seem to have nothing in common. Camp, Place, Wild are linked by the word fire. Palm, Christmas, Apple are linked by the word tree.
Skills: Boosts auditory association

6. What’s Yours Like? Patch Products
Share descriptions that are truthful, yet clever, so the player in the hot seat listens but doesn’t get an easy guess. An example is a swimsuit. Clues could be, “Mine has strings.” “Mine gets wet.”
Skills: Enhances auditory memory and comprehension

7. Rhyme Out Educational Insights
A triple-rhyming card game that the players take turns listening to the 3 clues. Race to shout out 3 correct responses that rhyme! CLUES: What bees do if you make them mad. What bells do when shaken. What birds do in the morning. Answers: Sting. Ring. Sing.
Skills: Encourages quick thinking skills and auditory comprehension

8. Five Second Rule Play Monster
It should be easy to name 3 breeds of dogs. The pressure is on with a  5-second twisted timer that makes a fun zooooop sound when turned over and tiny metal balls swirl down to keep time.
Skills: Advances vocabulary and quick word recall

9. Blurt! Educational Insights
A word race to identify words by listening to the definition.  A drink made from lemon juice and sweetened water – LEMONADE.  BLURT it out!
Skills: Targets vocabulary and word recall

10. Buzzword Play Monster
Listen to solve 10 clues. All the answers contain a Buzzword word such as “ball.” Clue: On top of spaghetti Answer: Meatball.  Clue: Inflatable sand toy Answer: Beachball.|
Skills: Strengthens auditory processing

I would love to hear games you recommend and play in LSL lessons or sessions. I can never have too many games so share by email at

The endorsements on this list are the author’s own and do not reflect on CID.

Meet Lynn A. Wood MA CCC/A LSLS Cert. AVT, a Rehabilitative Audiologist and an Auditory Verbal Therapist at the Auditory Verbal Center of Wheaton in Illinois. Auditory Verbal Therapy is the heart of her practice and Lynn also specializes in post cochlear implant rehabilitation and therapy for individuals with auditory processing needs. Lynn actively consults in the field as a Rehabilitation Specialist and a Professional Outreach Representative for Advanced Bionics, LLC, at and for Lynn has held contracts with Cochlear Ltd. and authored content for auditory rehabilitation. Lynn is on the Board of the Illinois Chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She served on the Board of Illinois Hands and Voices and was a co-founder of Hearing Connections, a group for Auditory-Verbal families and friends in Chicagoland. Lynn presents at local, state, and national conferences and has worked internationally mentoring professionals and providing auditory verbal therapy.

4 replies
  1. Sydne
    Sydne says:

    Ms. Wood,

    Thank you for your insightful post about using games to enhance listening and spoken language skills. I am currently a graduate student studying the education for students with multiple and severe disabilities and often seek ideas to motivate naturalistic communication among my students. The list of games you provided is fantastic and I plan to take it with me in my work with children on the Autism Spectrum with communication deficits. I also love that you included off the shelf board games in addition to the other games. I think too often we think there has to be a structured intervention in order to enhance students’ skills, however something as simple as playing a game with students may be just as, if not more, beneficial to the development of skills. A connection I made while reading your post was the saying “children learn through play”. With children of all abilities, giving a natural opportunity to play with peers also gives an opportunity for communication with those peers. In creating a setting where children are playing games in a structured setting, you are creating an opportunity to target specific needs of students.

    Thank you for your post!

  2. Sarah S.
    Sarah S. says:

    Ms. Wood- This post is extremely thorough in how it helps children to foster Listening & Spoken Language skills! I am a graduate student currently studying the education of students with multiple and severe disabilities. I feel that this strategy (like many others) can be applied to students of varying abilities, not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Board games are such a basic way to connect people through communication (my own family uses this strategy to connect with each other when everyone is home for the holidays!)- What a brilliant idea to use it to motivate students and develop their communication skills. In addition to the descriptions of why games are helpful in building these skills with children and families, your list of games you use in your practice is a valuable resource that I hope to use in my classroom. For example, I never would have thought to use “Would You Rather?” in my classroom, but see how it would help to “develop the ability to reason, explain, persuade, and problem-solve.” Thank you for this post!

  3. Julia
    Julia says:

    Hi Ms. Wood,

    I am a graduate student studying communication sciences and disorders and I really enjoyed reading your post! I am always considering games that will be exciting and motivating to help with the language development of deaf and hard of hearing children, and your post provided many different games that look wonderful! I especially appreciated that many of these games can be used in group sessions, as it seems as though it may be more difficult to find activities motivating to a group of students versus one-on-one sessions. I was wondering if it is ever challenging to manage group sessions with games when children may have different strengths and weaknesses in the session? As you mention, the first step is choosing a game that is relevant to the student’s current goals as well as their listening, language, and learning needs. Does this mean that groups are comprised of students with similar listening and language needs or can children with a wide range of needs be accommodated within group sessions?

    Thank you for your wonderful advice,

  4. Shelley. Donovan
    Shelley. Donovan says:

    The key to teaching is to make learning fun, interesting, and productive. Teaching listening and language skills is necessary AND easy to teach in a fun manner.


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