Expanding bubbles

Every professional who is working on encouraging language in young children usually have at least one bottle of bubbles in their tool kit. Children love bubbles. It is a really fun activity. Bubbles are often used with early learners to build and shape up vocalisations for requests for bubbles. It can often be a motivating activity, so can be the starting point for many children. But what about advanced learners? Children in Level 2 and 3 of the VB Mapp Assessment (Sundberg, 2008) can still benefit from this sensory activity as it can offer many wonderful learning opportunities.

Body Parts

If you’re learner is beginning to learn about body parts you can include this in a bubble activity. Popping or catching the bubbles on different parts of your bodies can give this activity a silly twist that supports generalisation of this skill. You can do this receptively by saying “let’s pop it with our knees, can you show me your knee?” and see where they point and then blow bubbles. Or you could do this as a tact target “Let’s pop them with this part of our bodies, what is this called?” You can easily pop bubbles with your knees, toes, fingers, elbow, belly, hair/head, nose, chin, etc! Also, you can encourage your learner to request for you to blow the bubbles towards a body point. If your learner is not quite ready for this skill, but you want to begin incidentally teaching body parts you can do this as a motor imitation skills. This can be done by saying “Let’s pop them with our knees [point to your knees]” then raise your knee and say “Copy me”.

VB Mapp: Mand – 10M. Listener Responding – 4c, 6M, 8M, 10M. Tact – 7a, 7M. Motor Imitation – 5M, 10M. (Sundberg, 2008)


You can encourage your learner to use a variety of action words in this activity. In addition to open and blow, you can mix in a wide range of actions. You can jump over the bubbles, kick the bubbles (gently pop with toes), spin around with the bubbles or catch/pop the bubbles. In addition you could contrive motivation for your learner to ask for you to sit or stand, turn around (if you face away). These can all be done as mands (requests), or alternatively you could do these as receptive targets “show me spinning” or “pop the bubbles”, or as tact targets by asking “what am I doing?” as you demonstrate these actions.

VB Mapp: Mand – 7M. Listener Responding – 8M. Tact – 8M. Motor Imitation – 5M, 10M. (Sundberg, 2008)


As either requests, receptive or tact targets, you can encourage your learner to use a variety of adjectives. If you have different coloured bottles or wands, then you can ask your learner which coloured bottle you will use. To build on this you can contrive learning opportunities around full/empty (bottles), big/small (wands or bottle), long/short (wands). You can encourage your learner to identify the bottle or wand by one of these adjectives, or ask you’re learning to label.

VB Mapp: Mand – 13M Listener Responding – 11M, 13M. Tact – 13M. (Sundberg, 2008)


Two sets of adverbs you can include are fast/slow, high/low and close/far. This can be done as requests by the learner, “blow fast/faster” or “blow slowly”. Typically when you blow fast, no bubbles will appear but blowing slowly will help make a lot of bubbles. High and low can be done by bending down and blowing the bubbles close to the floor, or blowing them high by pointing the wand upwards when you’re standing up. You can model these two to your learner and encourage them to request their preference. In addition you can do close/far by positioning yourself closer or further away from your learner.

VB Mapp: Mand – 13M. Listener Responding – 11M, 13M. Tact – 13M. (Sundberg, 2008)


You can position yourself, or your learner in different ways to make the activities more exciting and motivating. This can be done as instructions to your learner “stand behind the chair” or “go under the blanket” and then you can blow bubbles over them. Alternatively you can stand in different places, behind the door, in front of the sofa, etc., and encourage your learner to label where you are. You can encourage your learner to request for you to stand in a certain place or blow the bubble’s in a certain direction using prepositions, e.g., “blow bubbles on table”, “blow bubbles next to me”, “blow bubbles under blanket”, etc..

VB Mapp: Mand – 13M. Listener Responding – 8M. Tact – 12M. (Sundberg, 2008)


This can be a bit trickier to teach in this activity but can allow an opportunity for your learner to practise my or mine vs yours. If you have two bottles, or your learner has some that belong to them in their learning environment, you can teach or generalise this skill. Whilst your learner has a bottle you can point to it and ask “Whose bubbles?” and they can answer “mine/my bubbles”, and then you point to your bottle and ask “Whose are these?” and they can answer “yours”. Also if you take turns with the bubbles, you can practise my turn/your turn. When it’s the learners turn you can ask them “Who is blowing bubbles?” and they should answer “me/I am”, and then when it is your turn you can ask “Who is blowing bubbles now?” and they should answer “you”. Please be mindful to avoid praising your learner using any pronouns, for example, if you teach “me” (by asking “Who is blowing bubbles?”) then avoid saying “That’s right, you are!”. This can be confusing and impact acquisition!

VB Mapp: Mand – 8c. Listener Responding – 11e. Tact – 12M. (Sundberg, 2008)

Teaching skills in the natural environment can lead to secure acquisition of those skills. One of the earliest studies to support teaching in the Natural Environment was Hart & Risley (1968). They investigated teaching children noun-adjective combinations when they withheld them to contrive teaching opportunities through requesting. They found that the children did not learn the target language through group learning or incidental teaching, but encouraging them to requests using the noun-adjective combinations showed an increase in their ability to use this language skills. Many researchers have supported that teaching through motivating activities in the natural environment can lead to acquisition of skills (McGee et al, 1983; Rosales-Ruiz & Baer, 1997; Welch & Pear, 1980). Welch & Pear (1980) study highlights the important of using objects to assist with learning. Using bubbles to teach these different units of language will assist your learners acquisition and generalisation. This is a motivating activity and your learner won’t even realise they are learning!


Hart, B. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Establishing use of descriptive adjectives in the spontaneous speech of disadvantaged preschool children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis1(2), 109-120.

McGee, G. G., Krantz, P. J., Mason, D., & McClannahan, L. E. (1983). A modified incidental-teaching procedure for autistic youth: acquisition and generalisation of receptive object labels. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16(3), 329-338.

Rosales-Ruiz, J., & Baer, D. M.(1997) Behavioral cusps: A developmental and pragmatic concept for behaviour analysis, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis30(3), 533-544.

Sundberg, M. L. (2008) Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program: The VB-MAPP. Concord, CA: AVB Press.

Welch, S. J. & Pear, J. J. (1980). Generalisation of naming responses to objects in the natural environment as a function of training stimulus modality with retarded children, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis13(4), 629-643.

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