Using Communicative Temptations in Speech-Language Therapy

Using Communicative Temptations in Speech-Language Therapy

I wanted to talk a little about something I've found to be extremely useful with my students lately. I have some students who use very little language when communicating and I've had a hard time eliciting language from them. Then I remembered: Communicative temptations!

As a refresher, a communicative temptation (also known as environmental manipulation) is when you manipulate the environment or a situation to elicit some form of communication.

It just so happened that I had some students with me at the same time my light bulb went off. We were using bubbles to elicit words like "pop" and "blow", but I was mostly getting giggles and stomps. Now don't get me wrong, I was glad they were having fun stomping bubbles-- but I really wanted some language. This being said, I realized I was holding the perfect form of communicative temptation right in my hand.

I tightly closed the lid to the bubbles and handed it to one of the students. She held it, looked at me, looked at the bubbles, and attempted to open them. Nothing. The lid didn't budge. She shoved the bubbles back into my hand. I held them, looked at the bubbles, then looked at her. Nothing. I didn't try to open them. 

This student was beginning to look a little concerned. She tapped the lid. I held the bubbles with the lid still on. She took my hand, placed it on the lid of the bubbles, and attempted to twist my hand on the lid to open the container. I did nothing. She was getting frustrated. I asked her, "I'm sorry, I don't understand-- what do you want?" She, again, attempted to manipulate my hand to open the container. I said, "OH! Do you want me to open them? Say 'open'." As soon as the child attempted the word "open", I immediately opened the bubbles, blew one, and then put the lid back on. 

She very soon understood how this game was going to work. I would wait for her to elicit some sort of verbal approximation of "open", then immediately fulfill her request. A few minutes later, I was able to elicit "blow" from her as well. I would wait for "open", dip the wand and hold it in the air where she could see, then wait for her to communicate "blow". As soon as she said "blow", she received the reinforcement of bubbles floating in the air for her to pop and stomp.

After seeing such success in a short amount of time, I decided to brainstorm some other ways of using communicative temptations with students. After all, bubbles will not be effective for everyone.

Here are some other ways I have used communicative temptations during therapy:

  • Putting a locked iPad in front of the student. The student must request assistance to gain access to apps.
  • Put desirable toys (racetrack, dollhouse) on a high shelf where the student cannot reach. If the student leads you to that area, act like you can't see what they want or cup your hand over your ear to encourage a verbal response.
  • Take an item, such as a stamper, and use it on yourself. "Ooh" and "Ahh" over how cool it is. Then put the stamper in your hand and close your hand tightly around it. The student must request the item from you.
  • Put a toy in a clear container and put the lid on tightly. Give the container to the child, and assuming they cannot open it themselves, wait for a request to "open" or "want". 

Here are some ideas from other SLPs who also use communicative temptations in therapy:

"I have a student who uses core/fringe vocabulary boards (low tech AAC) for various activities throughout the day. When we are using the one for puzzles, I will purposely hand him the wrong piece that doesn't fit. It took a couple times modeling but now he will request a different piece using the core /fringe board (we are up to a 4 word phrase "I want different piece") another way I do this is by purposely giving him the wrong snack at snacktime or the wrong piece during Mr. potato head. I want him to communicate that wasn't the right one!"- Mandi, Panda Speech

"When playing with Legos/blocks I keep all the pieces in a clear plastic tub with a lid and hold it on my lap. The child can see in the tub but must ask for the pieces he wants. I then open the tub and give him what he asked for. We work on requesting, colors, using "more" and so much more."- Kristin, Talkin' With Twang

"I love using a hanging bag with clear pockets to put highly desirable objects in. I put it in the kid's line of sight but out of reach." - Heidi, Smartmouth SLP

"I love to use the windup toys that flip or do something special. My kids are fascinated with them and we work on asking for "help", "more", or labeling the action." - Erin, The Speech Attic

"I've been working on the word "go" with one of my kiddos this week. He loves cars so he was excited to see that I wanted to push the car back in forth on the floor with him. I modeled saying "go" when I pushed the car to him. He immediately pushed the car back to me. Before I pushed it back to him the next time, I just held the car and looked at him. He picked up quickly that he needed to say "go" to make the car go back to him." - Natalie, Speech Wonderland

"When playing games, I hold the dice in my hand until they verbally request it."- Ashley, Sweet Southern Speech

Find more of my favorite preschool activities by checking my Preschool Favorites Amazon List (affiliate).

These are all GREAT ideas! Tell me, what do you use as a communicative temptation in therapy? I love to learn from others!

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  1. This is a great post! I love all of the tips. Thanks so much for including me!

  2. Loved your post on Communicative Temptations : can I throw a question out- when working with some families who will participate in therapy but after at home say they 'don't want to frustrate their child' and don't use the strategy, what do you do?