9 Functional Word Finding Exercises To Try Today

Article by Dana M. Bryant, M.Ed., CCC-SLP

“What do you call this? --- Ball

What’s this ?-- Dog

What do you use these for? ---- To cut”

Your speech therapy session, especially if with a patient with mild or mild-moderate word finding deficits, does NOT have to go like this. As a matter of fact, it shouldn’t. You also don't have to flip through countless workbooks looking for just the right worksheet to help Patient John Doe with naming and word finding. Sometimes, we as speech-language pathologists forget how much word finding is in our everyday life tasks. All we have to do is pull from these simple tasks and create therapy tasks that are not only functional, but also pretty fun. 


See below for a list of “9 Functional Word Finding Tasks” to incorporate into your next speech therapy session. Take into consideration that once you know more about your patient (i.e., their hobbies, what a typical day looks like for them, who their primary communication partners are) the better you can adapt each therapy task below to fit them.  


*PLEASE NOTE: This list is more applicable to patients with mild and mild-to moderate word finding deficits. Use of simplified versions of these tasks or different tasks altogether may be more appropriate for individuals with moderate to severe or severe word finding deficits. 


  1. “NY Times: What’s Going on in This Picture” website. Ever since I found this website, I have been in love with it. It's so fun, yet functional! Each week, the website posts a picture taken from anywhere and of anything. It’s usually from a newspaper or magazine by a professional photographer.  The picture is stripped of its caption so we are left to guess what’s going on in the picture through writing or verbal speech. Each Thursday, this website posts the actual source, context, and caption of the originally published photo. An absolute great task for therapy sessions. You can check the website out here: https://www.nytimes.com/column/learning-whats-going-on-in-this-picture

  2. Explain This! There are plenty of things in life that need “explaining.” Use this functional word finding task by asking the patient to explain a process or even a figurative language expression. For example, you can say “How do you normally scramble an egg?” or “Tell me what the expression ‘every dog has its day’ means.” This is a great opportunity to not only use word finding strategies that you’ve used in sessions but to also practice sequencing with use of transition words such as “then, next, after, before, first, second, third.”

  3. Debatable topics. This task usually gets patients very excited. It is an opportunity for them to discuss their opinions on world issues, think critically, and to have a friendly debate. You can easily google “debatable topics” and choose from hundreds of issues to either be in favor or against. Have patients not only pick a side but state their reasoning for their stance. Emphasis can be on conjunctions such as “because, although” OR negation words such as “won’t, can’t, doesn’t.”

  4. Goodreads website. Goodreads is a book website filled with book synopses, reviews, and recommendations.  If patients are interested, we often visit www.goodreads.com together and browse book genres of interest. We select a book and read its synopsis together. After that, I let them explain whether or not they would actually like the book based on the synopsis or reviews. This is great for decision making and also for generating ideas and articulating their thoughts and opinions. Sometimes they can compare and contrast books, name similar titles or authors, etc.  The point is, they are talking in context with a functional task and that’s what we want them to do!

  5. Podcast discussions. Research shows that there are currently over 800,000 active podcasts on varying topics from sports to movies to health, etc. Use podcasts (preferably shorter ones)  as an opportunity for patients to listen, comprehend, and relay information regarding what the podcasts were about. You can choose to ask for the GIST of the podcast or DETAILS. Either one works but just get the patient talking.

  6. Functional List making/generative naming. Workbooks aren’t the only way to target generative naming or categorical listing. Discuss with the patient relevant lists to their daily lives. For example, say, “Let’s name all the family members you need to purchase gifts for this Christmas.” Or, “How about we list all the books you may want to assign your students to read this summer.” Or, “What other employees work with you at your job?” These can all be ways to target rapid naming/generative naming in a FUNCTIONAL way.

  7. Email writing or text messaging prompts. Writing is an important everyday skill that, unfortunately, often gets overlooked in therapy sessions. Try using email prompts or text message prompts to elicit word finding and functional writing. You can ask the patient to pretend as if they are sending a text message to a friend to schedule a dinner date or pretend they are reaching out to a meal delivery service to complain about a recent order. Make the scenarios as realistic as possible and identify their strengths and weaknesses as they complete each task. NOTE: Imposing time constraints is optional.

  8. News Articles. Just as mentioned above with podcasts, using news articles in treatment sessions can elicit lots of language and therefore, can be used as a way to target word finding. Have the patient read a news article and either summarize it or note something interesting or new they learned from the article. You can even have them generate questions they still have regarding the news topic. (ex: Did they find the culprit? When will the new technology be available? Is it too late to register for this new class? - etc). Big name news sources such as CNN, MSNBC, or NPR always have the latest news articles. However, if you’re looking for shorter texts, websites such as “TalkPath News” may be helpful. Here is their website:  http://talkpathnews.aphasia.com/

  9. Phone calls. Yes, people still talk on the phone in addition to texting. Create some scenarios where the patient needs to make a phone call in session. They can be calling to reschedule a doctor’s appointment, calling to get an estimate on a home repair, calling to see if a new book is in stock at the local library. Make sure they know the purpose/intent of the phone call and then allow them to formulate their own verbal script. Identifying keywords that will be in the verbal script beforehand can help tremendously. Also, don’t worry about them getting “stuck” on the phone call.  You can always use a speaker phone and be there for them if they need help due to a communication breakdown.

That’s it--  9 Functional Word Finding Exercises that you can include in your next speech therapy session. Keep in mind that before each task you can review word finding Strategies that you all have previously discussed. Ensure the patient understands how the word finding strategies can be practically and effectively used for functional tasks like the ones above.  This will make the strategies more salient in the patient’s mind and increase their chance of usage. Remember, the ultimate goal is that they can use these strategies on their own in the real world. It’s our job to prepare them for such. 

We’d love to hear from you now. What have you found to be successful when it comes to functional word finding in treatment sessions? What are some of your favorite functional word finding therapy tasks?

Dana M. Bryant, M.Ed., CCC-SLPAbout the author:

Dana M. Bryant, M.Ed., CCC-SLP is a licensed and certified Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) who works with patients experiencing neurological impairments.

She has been practicing speech language pathology for more than 7 years and is currently working at a Virginia traumatic brain injury clinic serving military men and women.

When Dana isn't working as an SLP, she enjoys reading, traveling, yoga, and spending quality time with loved ones.

You can connect with Dana on Instagram @the.neuro.slp where she shares functional speech therapy ideas, research on brain health, and so much more!



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