Why Books are the Best Tool for Speech Therapy

Books are the best speech therapy tool! They provide a great way to work on a variety of goals and the central activity ties mixed groups together. And you know that our kids need more exposure to books!

In preschool, simple repetitive books are great. Children love that they can ‘read’ by repeating the refrain, and truly, it is a way to teach children to begin to read.

Adapted, interactive books keep kids engaged.

Why use repetitive books?

👀 To reinforce the speech or language skill you just worked on in a very functional activity.

👀 To help students with apraxia or motoric speech disorders to build their skills in connected speech with a rhythm.

👀 To get lots of sound repetitions with a repetitive refrain that incorporates their target sounds.

👀 To easily make interactive adapted books.

👀 To have simple language that usually matches the illustration on the page.

What a wonderful gift we are giving to students if we help them learn to love books!

If your students have problems attending to market picture books, it could be from difficulty attending that long or that the language and the pictures don’t sync well enough for students to gain meaning.

Interactive adapted books can be made as short or as long as your students’ attention spans allow! The language used is reflected in the pictures and the interactive nature keeps kids involved during reading.

This free set can help you learn to use interactive, adapted books with your students when you join my Literacy Group.

But what about older kids?

It can be difficult to find good books for older, lower-level students.  Look for books that:
👀 have pictures.
👀 are not too babyish.
👀 use inferring skills.
👀 have multiple characters and plot lines.
👀 have character interactions that let you work on problem-solving and social skills.

A tough set of requirements to fill! The high level/low-interest books tend to have limited vocabulary and very simple plot lines, which work well for reading out loud but aren’t the language rich books that SLPs need.

Why literacy in speech? Therapy tips from young to old.

Some of the books by Chris Van Allsburg fit this bill if your students are impossibly lost with grade-level texts.

“The Stranger”  is a great book for making inferences with beautiful illustrations. The plot of the story is just difficult enough to use for skill-building, while the illustrations keep it from looking babyish.

👀 Students with auditory memory problems need to practice the strategy of looking back at the text to find the important details and answer factual questions. 

👀 Making inferences is a skill practiced over and over again in both the pictures and text of the book in order for students to understand the plot.

👀 There’s even a great YouTube video to use as a follow-up activity. It is well-acted and lets students practice interpreting facial expressions and body language.

👀 Elicit language for comparing and contrasting the video version with the book.

The Widow’s Broom is another great book to read if your students have social language difficulties.

👀 Students who are working on narrative skills can practice retelling the beginning of the book from two different character’s points of view.

👀 For conversation or past tense goals, have them retell the story as if they were telling a friend about what happened.

👀 It is also great for working on theory of mind. Will your students realize that the widow has no idea about the witch’s activities that night since she was sound asleep?

👀 Practice perspective-taking by discussing the varied point of view characters have about the broom. Is it wonderful or evil?

Using books like these with your students can also be a learning experience as a therapist. When middle school students have problems with the inferences and perspective-taking skills needed for these books, it becomes easy to understand why they are so frustrated with the books the curriculum requires.

What books do you like to use in therapy during the fall?

Tips for Using Books with Students Who Don't Read

Books! Most of our students will say that they don’t read and that they don’t like books, but they need this exposure, believe me! Reading (and listening to books) builds vocabulary, linguistic structure, and knowledge of story plot elements. 

It is  important for SLPS to support development of literacy skills.

There are so many books to use in therapy for young children.
It is easy to make mixed groups work is by centering therapy around a great book. In preschool, it was easy to find a book that coordinated with the theme (usually seasonal) that the teacher was using in the classroom. 

As students get older, it is not quite as easy. When I’ve tried using classroom books, there was too much my students didn’t understand and the pace was too fast for therapy twice a week to keep up with the plot.

Then I tried using books by Chris Van Allsburg and my students loved them - even my middle schoolers who struggled with curriculum! The plot is in-depth enough to address multiple goals, the books are short enough to do in a few sessions, and the pictures are fantastic! They are beautifully drawn and not babyish, so the books can work for older kids.

Getting Started with a New Book

Tips for how to address varied goals using literacy activities.

👀 Read through the book and figure out where to take breaks.

👀 With simple sequential narratives and younger attention spans, that is the beginning, middle, and end of the story plot.

👀 Divide longer books into complete episodes, if it is possible. 

👀 Use sticky notes to remember where to take breaks and the kind of speech/language goals that can be elicited at that point.

For older students, look for:

👀 Interesting pictures, art or photographs that give clues to the plot without ‘giving it away.’

👀 Stories that have multiple plot episodes to keep your students engaged while still being able to finish an episode in each session.

👀 Stories which provide background knowledge and vocabulary that supports classroom topics or themes.

Use an Organizer

Organizers are great tools for literacy skills.

Start with your most mixed group, or most behaviorally difficult group, and fill in an organizer with the group goals and the targets that you can elicit at that point in the story. 

You can use my free story organizer or fill in the needed information on any organizer your students will fill out after the book is done.

Write a set of questions on a sticky note for asking at various points while reading. This keeps each student participating at short intervals of the story. 

This helpful strategy keeps students with short attention spans, poor working memory, or processing problems engaged. (It is also great for tired SLP overload and memory issues!)

Then add in any other goals or student needs you want to have prepared. 

Tips for Eliciting Goals

Articulation goals

These are the easiest!

👀 Just identify the words, phrases or sentences in each section that you want your student to read aloud.
👀 If there aren’t enough, make a question list that will elicit those words.

👀 Or challenge your students with a homework assignment where they have to find and pronounce the words with their sounds in a story passage.

Story question goals

👀 Have you tried using story grammar? My students showed great success when questions were paired with story grammar symbols. The visual cues helped reduce processing time and enabled students to look back in the text for the requested information.
👀 Try placing the question words or a story element on a popsicle stick for your students to pick out of a can and answer when the story is done.

Occasionally put in one sticky note that has something fun, like 2 free minutes on the computer or a no homework pass, and your students will always want to finish the activity

Grammar goals

Eliciting target structures in sentences is easily achieved.

Have your students:
👀 tell what just happened with correct sentences.
👀 describe the story pictures.

👀 ask a peer a question.

Receptive / expressive language goals

Pause at sections for students to:

👀 sequence the events so far.
👀 retell the story.
👀 summarize the last episode.
👀 tell how a character feels.
👀 infer what they could be thinking at this point.

👀 make a prediction about what will happen next.

For goals that are difficult to target during a story:

👀 Address them in a follow-up activity at the end of the session
👀 Use games as the cohesive element on some therapy days.
👀 Figure out ways to pair up student goals in activities for a smoother flow.

Managing the needs of mixed groups in therapy is a common SLP concern.

Have you found a great way to use books to organize mixed groups in speech/language therapy?

3 Quick Tips to Make Mixed Groups that Work!

Do you feel qualms about how to make speech/language therapy work when you know you have mixed groups? Does figuring out student grouping get you stressed?

It may feel like a juggling act, but these tips actually work!

Try using these tips to make your SLP life easier!

1. Accept that you will have mixed groups!

While sometimes you may be fortunate enough to have compatible groups with the same goals, this will likely be rare in the schools. On the bright side, mixed groups do have some benefits!

👀 Mixed groups can grow your skills as an SLP, encouraging you to learn to adapt activities in a variety of ways.

👀 In mixed groups, you can use your students’ strengths to help them interact with others.

👀 Especially with students who have behavioral difficulties, your groups will be more successful when the students like to be with each other.

Pair goals that can be elicited together in your therapy activities.

2. Think about how this year’s goals could pair up.

Picture the types of activities you like to use in your therapy sessions. Which speech/language goals are easy to elicit?

If you can elicit articulation goals with a particular activity/material set during one session and adapt the activity the next session for language goals, you can work with a mixed group! Just modify how each child in the group is participating!

Some easy to do pairings include:

Receptive/Expressive Vocabulary paired with Sentence Structure : Using the same vocabulary pictures and activities, students can find /label words while the others produce sentences or practice syntax.

WH Questions paired with Sentence Structure: Using the same materials, start with one set of students answering questions to give appropriate information while the other students answer using correct sentences (whatever their specific target is.)

When the activity is easy, have the first group of students ask the questions of the others!

Or play a Jeopardy version where the sentence goals students give an answer and the WH group has to think of a question.

Inferences paired with Narrative Goals:  Literacy activities are great for language in general, but specifically, it is easy to ask one set of students about story grammar/plot first to get the details, then follow up with having the other students pull the information together and make an inference.
Think about your mixed groups during meetings geared for teachers.

3.  Make an organization for goal sets that work well together.

Try to fit all of the information you have just figured out on one sheet of paper to have as an easy reference while scheduling. Divide a page into sections, leaving enough room to pencil in student names for possible groups.

It is okay to place a name in more than one section! Sometimes it is easier to manage diverse goals when students have different partners on different days.

On the back, do the same thing for students who come individually or goals that you haven’t figured out how to pair up yet.

Keep this organization sheet in a page protector or other organizer and use it for getting out materials, planning activities, figuring out what you need to buy, and scheduling!

I have gotten up to 15+ schedule revisions in some years where it never settled down, needing this organization sheet all year long. What is the maximum number of schedule changes you’ve had in one year?

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