How to Turn Board Games into Cooperative Games

Games are great motivators in speech therapy. And I love getting lots of data from open-ended turn-taking games. The downside? Games are games. And they can bring out competitiveness, cries of "No fair!" and not much focus on language skills. Cooperative games are my solution, and this method will work for open-ended board games!


I changed to cooperative games waaay back in 2002. You can read about my reasons for this in Cooperative Games. Suffice it to say, there was a group of 2nd-grade boys who tested ALL of my therapy skills. We weren't getting ANY work done. I had to change.

Open-ended games are some of my favorite therapy tools. I can address some drill & kill in mixed groups, get good hard data, and the games are pretty easy to set up. I frequently use the August-December and January through April game boards from Mia McDaniel - Putting Words in Your Mouth.


A typical session starts with assigning game pieces. I've tried different ways - letting students pick, shaking the pieces in my hand and drawing them out blind, and throwing them up in the air like confetti and seeing who catches which one. Not really, but it feels that way sometimes!

The best way to assign the game pieces is by shirt color. I can keep track of which pawn is whose at a glance - a handy thing when I'm keeping data, running the game, working with a small group, AND doing behavior management.

Next, we quickly review our speech and language goals for the session.

I explain the rules of the game. It should be pretty easy - take a turn, roll a die, first one to finish wins. It's not. Inevitably, one student will always roll the 1 while another always rolls the 3 (I only use 1, 2, 3 dice.) Here are the rules for a cooperative game:

* EVERYONE has to get to the end to get a reward. I use smellies (read about these here and here) because they are easy and motivating. Stickers and brag tags also work.
* The first one to finish still takes turns. They continue to roll and let another student move those spaces.
* If you roll the die off the table, you lose your turn.

That's it. Just 3 rules. The benefits are:
* Behavior management - the students are focused on working together to all finish the game.
* Focus on speech/language skills - the students aren't worried about who is ahead.
* Fewer cries of "No fair!", "He's cheating!", and "I'll never win!"

Usually, there is one student in the group who is one concerned about where everyone is on the game board. You know, the one who moans, "I'll never catch up!" or crows "I'm so far ahead of everyone!" Cooperative games give that student a chance to be helpful instead of telling other students they are behind or that they are cheating just because they rolled the 3 instead of the 1.

Another trick I like to use is to give each student a homework page and have them write their words between turns. The table can get a little crowded if there is a game, homework pages, and more than 4 students, but it does help with focus on speech and language skills.

While this works for 98% of my groups, nothing is 100%. I don't use cooperative games if students are working on social skills such as sportsmanship or playing games with peers.

I hope these these tips help you with your own groups. Be sure to check back for future posts on other types of games!




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