Benefits of Using High-Interest Topics with Older Speech Students

If you’re an SLP working in an elementary school, the bulk of your caseload may be made up of students in the younger grades. There is a good reason for that! According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), “The prevalence of voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorders is highest among children ages 3-6 (11.0 percent), compared to children ages 7-10 (9.3 percent), and children ages 11-17 (4.9 percent).” 

This means that by the time students are in 5th grade, fewer than half of those who started in speech therapy when they were younger still need speech services. This is great news because it means that what we are doing is working! However, this also leaves us potentially scratching our heads about how to get buy-in from the almost 5% of middle- and- high-school-aged students who still need speech services, after they have seen more and more peers “graduate” from speech year after year. 

These students may be left wondering why they still need speech, and if there is something wrong with them. They may even become resistant to coming to the speech room or to meeting with you! Can you blame them? They are with fewer peers during speech time and speech resources can appear to be childish, especially to a teenager who desperately wants to appear grown-up. However, there are some great ways to get your older students to love speech again! 

What Do Older Students Do In Speech? 

When most people think of speech therapy, they tend to think of younger students receiving therapy for articulation delays. However, when older students need speech therapy, they may be embarrassed or tired of going to see the speech teacher after what seems like forever to them! 

There are many reasons why older students would need speech therapy. These include: 

  • Articulation delays that were not identified early
  • Receptive language delays
  • Expressive language
  • Narrative development delays
  • Pragmatic delays 

Often, older speech students will have another disability that makes speech and language difficult for them. 

What Are High-Interest Topics for Older Students? 

In order to be respectful of our older speech students and get buy-in from them, we need to have age-appropriate activities for them that focus on high-interest topics. Our students like the same things as their same-aged peers, and we can incorporate these things into speech time. 

Some high-interest topics for middle-to-high-school students include:

  • Sports
  • The Arts
  • Technology
  • Video games
  • Realistic fiction
  • Sci-fi and fantasy
  • Extracurricular activities 
  • Famous people 
  • Pop culture 
  • Cooking 
  • Topics about animals such as training, riding, etc. 
  • Social media 


So how can we tell if a topic is high-interest to older students? One way is to ask the students to complete an interest survey (either written or oral) at the beginning of the year. If you explain to the students that you want them to be able to learn about topics that are interesting, this can be the start of relationship building and student buy-in. Another way to gauge what students are interested in is to talk to them about their hobbies and interests outside of school. This is a great activity for small groups, so they can bounce ideas off of one another. 

Why Use High-Interest Topics? 

There are several reasons why you should use high-interest topics in the speech room! The first is respect. Your students want to be treated in an age-appropriate way, and speech activities made for much younger students aren’t going to make them feel respected, which can damage your relationships with them. 

The second reason is student buy-in. Your speech students will not be successful if they resist coming to or participating in speech therapy. Fun, high-interest, age-appropriate topics and activities will help your students get excited about coming to speech and will also motivate them to try their best. 

Another reason to use high-interest topics in speech is that it more closely mirrors what they are learning and the skills they are working on in the general education classroom. High school students aren’t going to be reading about topics meant for younger kids in the gen ed classroom so don’t have them do it in speech! 

What Are Some Strategies that Use High-Interest Topics? 

Here are some great strategies to use with older students that include high-interest topics! 

  • Interviews/interest surveys. Older students love to talk about their likes, interests, and dislikes. This can also be a great way to get to know a new speech student and find out what they would like to read or talk about. This can work for almost any type of speech goal. 

  • Allow students to choose reading/writing topics from a pre-set list that works with whatever speech goals you are working on. 

  • Allow students to compete or play age-appropriate games with one another in a small group. 

  • When possible, try to use resources that look like their gen ed materials. Real photographs instead of clip art, similar-looking text features, etc. make students feel mature. 

  • Incorporate technology or simulations of texting or social media. Older kids will be familiar with these layouts, and will love the activities! 

If you need more info about the benefits of using high-interest topics in speech, then be sure to check out my monthly membership, SLP Elevate! SLP Elevate will save you from hours spent scrolling for appropriate and engaging resources for older speech students!