The School SLP

Using “Planet Earth” In Speech Therapy

Why Planet Earth?

Recently, my husband and I have been on a mission to cut back on our Netflix binging- a habit that we developed during the winter months.  We decided we’d watch Planet Earth, because, you know, it’s educational. With less drama and more facts we were hoping Planet Earth would help us wean ourselves from Netflix. We could watch an episode every now and then to give us time to turn our brains off before engaging in something productive during the evenings. However, things didn’t really go according to plan. If you are a fool like us and didn’t already know, Planet Earth is actually super good. Planet Earth II is even better! Due to a combination of learning about how awesome the world is and some good editing, we found ourselves wanting to binge watch it just as much as any other show on Netflix. Planet Earth makes learning so fun, and more than anything, I found myself wanting to find ways to share this knowledge with all of my students! So on a whim one Friday, I tried using Planet Earth in speech therapy- and it was a hit!

Everyone Wants To Learn About Zombie Ants

You already know that we love using animals because they’re so motivating and fun. Planet Earth follows suit. For example, did you know there’s a “Zombie Fungus” that infects the brains of ants, overrides their nervous system causing them to climb to high points in the rain forest where it then grows a spore-releasing stalk out of the back of the victim’s head to infect more ants on the ground below?!? What?! Just one of the many things I learned from Planet Earth. If that’s not motivating for your middle school boys, I don’t know what is!

Using Planet Earth During Language Therapy

I love using Planet Earth to target sentence complexity with my LI kids of all ages. Below you’ll find examples and freebies for how to use Planet Earth to target complex sentences, but know that there are WAY more goals you could target than just this one.  Why complex sentences? Being able to produce and comprehend complex sentences can be a game changer for reading comprehension (Scott, 2009) and we know that direct instruction of complex sentences can improve language skills (Balthazar, Scott, 2018). Planet Earth is the perfect facilitator for teaching complex sentences because there are so many actions and visuals.

Our sessions look like this:

We watch a 3-4 minute clip from Planet Earth.

While we watch, my students love to talk about what they’re seeing.

They describe and ask questions.

We make predictions about what might happen.

They make connections to what they already know.

Excitement ensues when they’re watching a clip of something that they’ve already learned in class!

After the clip is over, we target language in one of the following ways:

1. Coordinating Conjunctions

You can download and use this list of coordinating conjunctions to teach combining two sentences to create a complex sentence.

Use this freebie below to write the combined sentences.

coordinating conjunctions

Here’s what the end result looks like! Note, I don’t have a color printer- colored markers work just fine and add extra motivation!

coordinating conjunctions example

2. Subordinating Conjunctions

Here’s a list of subordinating conjunctions that you can download and use! I like this visual because it breaks down which conjunctions are used with each constraint. When teaching subordinating conjunctions, the first step is to teach the meaning of the constraints. It always amazes me how many of my students don’t know what many of these words mean.


Here’s another freebie that you can download to target subordinating conjunctions and complex sentences. This one has two outlined boxes because there are two options where the conjunction may go.

subordinating conjunctions visual

coordinating conjunctions example










    Expanding Sentences

Use this free template to target expanding sentences. This is one of my FAVORITE resources and teachers love it. Students are constantly being asked to “add details” and “expand” their writing assignments and this is a fun way to practice. Click the picture on the left to download for free!

expanding sentences speech therapy

expanding sentences














More Info:

As I mentioned in the intro, Planet Earth is currently available on Netflix. Here are a few of my favorite clips for teaching to get you started:

Planet Earth 1,

Episode 8, 27:00-30:00- Zombie Ants

 Episode 9 15:30-19:30- Hydroplaning Dolphins

Planet Earth 2

Episode 2 3:05 Baby Ibex

Episode 6, 28:03-31:08 Thieving Monkeys

There are also tons of clips and shows very similar to Planet Earth available on YouTube.

If you’re looking for more info on teaching language, this website is a great resource for learning more about teaching syntax! 


Balthazar, C. and Scott, C. (2018). Targeting Complex Sentences in Older School Children With Specific Language Impairment: Results From an Early-Phase Treatment Study. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 61(3), p.713.

Scott, C. (2009). A Case for the Sentence in Reading Comprehension. Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 40(2), p.184.