One of the most versatile (and cheapest) materials that I use in speech and language therapy is PASTA! 🍝 Dry noodles can be used to target so many articulation and language goals. The things I like most about it are – it’s readily available, cheap, comes in many different varieties, lightweight so it’s easy to travel with, can easily be dyed fun colors, and it can be used in so many different ways! Just be sure to verify any food allergies before you use it!
Let’s start with the basics – How to Dye Pasta
Materials Needed – Dry pasta, Ziplock bags, wax paper/aluminum foil, vinegar or rubbing alcohol, and food coloring *optional – baking sheets. You can buy all of these items from The Dollar Tree (I needed to ask for help finding the food dye but they had it)!
*Disclaimer – I don’t measure anything or follow any set rules. Here’s a link to real instructions, not just my “throw in a little bit of this and add a little bit of that” directions 😂
- Add your dry pasta to some Ziplock bags. You’ll use one bag per color. I recommend using quart-sized bags and adding a bunch of different types of pasta to each bag.
- Add maybe .5-1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol or vinegar, seal the bag, and shake. Always leave some air in the bag when you seal it because it makes it easier for the pasta to move around. Just a splash of the liquid is needed to coat it all a teeny tiny bit. It’s fine if you add a bit more than this. I accidentally have and I didn’t notice much of a difference. I’ve used both rubbing alcohol and vinegar in the past and I can tell you that I prefer rubbing alcohol just because vinegar keeps it’s smell a bit and if you use too much it really smells quite strong.
- Now it’s time to add the food coloring. This is up to your preference. Squeeze just a few drops in, seal the bag with some air in it, shake it, and see what you think. If you like the color, you’re done. If you want it to look a bit more vibrant, keep adding just a couple drops at a time until you get it to the shade you want. Don’t go too crazy with the food dye though, if you use too much it can start to come off and stain your students fingers when they use it. I’ve found that the classic food dye colors work better than the neon. I honestly didn’t notice a difference in name brand vs. Dollar Tree brand.
- Lay out some wax paper on a large area that you won’t need for about a day. Here’s where I went wrong in the past. I ripped off long sheets of wax paper, overlapped them a good bit, and laid them on my dining room table. Bad move. I laid all the pasta out to dry by spreading them out in separate piles on the wax paper. All was fine until I had to transfer the dried pasta to a container. There was no easy way to pick it up or funnel it into something. I’ve since started doing things differently. I bought about 6 baking sheets from The Dollar Tree and started lining each with wax paper or aluminum foil. GAME CHANGER! If this is all you’re going to use the baking sheets for, you don’t even have to line them. Dump the dyed pasta out onto each baking sheet with one color per tray. Let them dry overnight. You can also move them if need be, which is another perk of using the baking sheets. I give them about 18-24 hours to dry. They probably don’t need nearly that long, but I just don’t want to mess around with food dye 🙄 I dye them at night and then package them all up the next night.
- Store them in gallon Ziplock bags or plastic containers.
Warning – you will become addicted to dying pasta! I couldn’t stop. I made gallons of bags worth! It’s so fast and easy 😄
Note – This is the same exact process I use to dye rice for my sensory bins. Nothing different about it.
How to Use the Pasta to Target Speech and Language Goals
Free TPT Printables – Click here to download these free printable speech therapy activities. You can use them to target articulation, language, and so much more! 🙂
Reinforcement – Necklace – Have your students practice a word X number of times and then add a piece of pasta to a necklace. *Note – don’t use yarn or any string that is on the thicker or easily-frayed side. Sturdy thin string works best because it easily gets through narrow tubular/curly pasta. I like using the wagon wheel pasta for necklaces because it provides a good spacer between big rigatoni noodles and the smaller pasta. Otherwise, the rigatoni would just slide right over something like ziti.
Reinforcement – Snake – My students LOVE this activity. I have them roll a dice, practice their word that many times, then add that many pieces of pasta to a snake. You can do this for language goals, too. Just have your student complete your directive or work on their target goal in whatever way you instruct, then they can roll the die and add that many pieces of pasta to the snake. This is great for mixed groups!
Reinforcement – Pattern Tracing – This is so easy and you can get tons of free patterns here on this website! Just find the pattern you want and copy/paste it into a word document. From there you can play around with the sizing, alignment, margins, and then print. 🙂 You can also just draw your own pattern on a piece of construction paper.
Phonological Awareness & Phonemic Awareness – You can use the pasta to spell words or work on phonemic awareness skills. In the pic on the left below, I had one student come up with a word that started with /r/. They said “rip”. They practiced the word each time they added a piece of pasta. Then we added another sound to form a new word, “grip”. For “artist”, the student first came up with “art”. Then we added more to come up with “artist”. This is great way to manipulate phonemes and work on a ton of phonological and phonemic awareness skills.
Receptive Language – You can target a TON of different language goals by just using the pasta. Talk about how it looks (size, shape, texture, color, etc.), feels (bumpy, smooth, sharp, etc.), how it compares to other pasta (compare/contrast), what meals you can make with pasta (categorization), what goes with pasta (associations), how to make a basic pasta dish (sequencing), and use the pasta to work on following directions/basic concepts by giving the student instructions to follow using the noodles. *I like to make the following directions part twofold. I give a direction and then ask the student to describe where the pasta is. This is a great way to incorporate receptive and expressive language in one easy activity.