Top Ten Motivators for Middle-Schoolers

Middle-schoolers with speech and/or language disorders often have years of therapy under their belts. Typically, communicative disorders are identified early in the preK/early elementary years and by the time kids reach middle school, they are “over it.” It can be challenging to keep them motivated in therapy, so prioritizing rapport-building and honoring where they are is essential.

As a therapist, consciously relating to middle-schoolers as adolescents instead of little kids is key. Otherwise, they can feel disrespected, shut down, and exert minimal effort. Choosing motivational materials (i.e. games, crafts) that do not offend their adolescent status is important. Many commonly used therapy games and materials are too “babified” for middle-schoolers, so I’ve provided a list of my top ten middle-schooler approved motivators:

1.UNO: A classic for good reason---loved by all ages! You can deal smaller hands of 4-5 cards to facilitate a faster finish for use in therapy.

2.Spot It: This fun, competitive game is easily played with only two players. There are even holiday-themed versions to help celebrate the seasons.

3.Yahtzee: The tactile pleasure of rolling dice is appealing to all—even tough-to-please middle-schoolers.

4.War: Played with a common deck of cards, this simple game of competition always gets ‘em going!

5.“I Spy” : This is surprisingly still a beloved game in adolescence and the version that includes a bell is especially liked.

6.Guess Who: Useful to target a variety of speech and language goals, preteens/teens love to deduce their opponent’s “person.”

7.Tetra Tower: Popularized by social media, balancing building blocks on a rocking platform challenges all ages.

8.Magnetic Chess: Every student I treat is enamored with the smooth, magnetic quality of the stones used to play. Middle-schoolers appreciate the game’s popularity on TikTok and ask for it on repeat.

9.Interlocking Mini Building Blocks: These inexpensive, tiny, building blocks satisfy fidgety fingers and inspire creativity in students of all ages. They can “earn” blocks through target productions or simply create/build as therapy tasks are completed.

10.Kinetic Sand: No one ever really outgrows the gratification that kinetic sand provides. One student even taught me a “chopping game” learned on TikTok.

I hope these motivators help facilitate success in your middle-schoolers!

Suzanne B. Burleson, M.A., CF-SLP

Links for less common games:

Tetra Tower:

Magnetic Chess:

Interlocking Mini Building Blocks: