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Use Storybooks for Powerful, Literature-Based Language Therapy with Elementary Students

Updated: Feb 21

How to use storybooks to move your older students past simple WH questions and story grammar into more complex language activities

Children reading books in speech therapy

Something interesting happens with many of my speech and language therapy students around 2nd or 3rd grade.

These students are on my school-based speech therapy caseload because they have difficulties with language, but usually, at that age and grade level, they have progressed to the point where they can actually identify basic story elements (characters, setting, problem, solution) and can answer basic WH questions about the events in storybooks. Many of them have indeed become little WH question-answering robots!

While it’s great that they have gotten to this point, it’s still a pretty superficial level of comprehension and language. And as they get older, their language skills need to become more sophisticated.

So now what? When I looked around for activities to use in my therapy sessions with them, I found that most materials for language therapy at the elementary level are stuck at this very superficial level of language comprehension and use.

I needed to delve deeper into my elementary students' language abilities and goals. I needed to encourage them to use language to think critically about the subject matter they were encountering. And I needed them to get them to “get meta” about language itself.

I wanted to keep using storybooks in therapy because they are a fun and interesting shared context during short therapy sessions (and my students and I love them!), but I had to move to a more complex level of language and meaning when using them. I wanted to see those wheels turning for my students by:

  • encouraging them to explore vocabulary, morphology, and figurative language

  • helping them to understand unspoken social dynamics between characters, and

  • thinking critically about the information in books by sequencing/narrating events, categorizing elements, comparing and contrasting elements, and exploring text structures such as cause & effect, main idea & details, and problem & solutions

Using high-quality, language-rich storybooks, combined with a unique and consistent set of graphic organizers, I developed StoryWhys book companions for these kids. It has been so gratifying to watch my students’ language skills blossom with StoryWhys! I see my students:

  • approaching Tier 2 vocabulary, morphology, and figurative language with curiosity

  • discovering that there are patterns in all of the information we encounter – both in fiction and non-fiction with the help of graphic organizers that they learn to recognize and label by sight

  • using language to talk about language

  • thinking about language, and

  • carrying over skills into the classroom

As SLPs, what could be better than seeing our students do these things?

Other benefits of using StoryWhys book companions, include the ease with which I can use them in my mixed language groups, and my planning time has gone way down.

Want to try a StoryWhys book companion with your speech therapy students? They are perfect for 1:1 sessions or mixed language groups. You can download a FREE book companion with step-by-step instructions on my Special Offers page, and you can go to my store, where there are many different book companions to choose from, including ones that target a specific skill (perspective-taking, finding and describing the main idea & details, comparing and contrasting, comprehending figurative language, categorizing, and recognizing and explaining cause & effect relationships) or ones that target all of these skills with just one high-quality storybook.


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