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Use Books for Literature-Based Speech Therapy to Target Pragmatic Language with Elementary Students

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

You can use books for speech therapy to target pragmatic language goals

Ever read The Gruffalo with your speech therapy students and get blank faces staring back at you?

I think about this book a lot.

The Gruffalo is a big kids’ book disguised as a little kids’ book; there’s a cute mouse as a main character, a monster that’s more ridiculous than scary, and rhyming prose with phrases like, “Too-whit! Too-whoo!”

But the cute mouse is actually a cunning mastermind, and it requires a great deal of theory of mind and perspective-taking to understand all of the unspoken character dynamics in this seemingly simple storybook.

In a nutshell, all the animals in the story want to eat the mouse, but they disguise their evil intent with enticing offers to have the mouse in for lunch or tea.

The mouse knows their offers are bogus, but declines politely by making up a story that he wishes he could, but already has lunch plans with a monster, called a gruffalo, who likes to eat animals like them.

This successfully scares his predators off.

The mouse is then stunned when he actually comes across a real-life gruffalo who, of course, also wants to eat the mouse.

The mouse then tricks the gruffalo by telling him he can’t possibly eat him because the mouse is the most feared creature in the woods.

The gruffalo doesn’t believe him but agrees to walk through the woods with him so the mouse can prove his claim.

Each predator sees the gruffalo and flees, but the gruffalo thinks the predators are fleeing the mouse.

The cunning mouse then gets the gruffalo to flee by claiming that his favorite food is gruffalo crumble.

This is soap opera-level deception. And none of the characters’ thoughts or feelings are stated, so this all needs to be inferred.

Complicated, right?!

As speech-language pathologists, we know that kids with language challenges often have a very difficult time with social perspective-taking and pragmatic language (see this guest blog I wrote about pragmatic language and social communication), which makes reading comprehension and social comprehension really hard. Thus the blank faces when I used to read The Gruffalo with them!

I've developed the StoryWhys book companion system so we can use books for speech therapy to help elementary students develop these skills.

Check out this blog post for step-by-step instructions about how to teach perspective-taking with storybooks.

Are you a speech-language pathologist who wants to learn how to use books in speech therapy so that you can target your elementary students' goals with fun, research-based activities?

Are you looking for literature-based, print-and-go speech therapy activities with step-by-step instructions?

Try StoryWhys!

StoryWhys is a one-of-a-kind, literature-based system that combines high-quality storybooks with book companions that contain a set of clear and consistent visual/graphic supports, and that targets the following skill areas:

✔️Comprehension and use of Tier 2 vocabulary

✔️Critical thinking and higher-level comprehension (categories, cause & effect, compare/contrast, main idea & details, etc.)

✔️Perspective-taking/social inferencing with specific feelings/emotion vocabulary

✔️Comprehension of figurative language

✔️Morphological knowledge

✔️Complex/compound sentence building

✔️Sequencing and formulation of organized narratives

And, the best part is, the more you use StoryWhys, the better it works!

Check out The Gruffalo, as well as all of my other "Spotlight on Perspective-Taking" book companions here.

And try a FREE, 71-page book companion on the Special Offers page.


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