The Many Uses of Wordless Picture Books

There is no moment more magical than the first time a child reads — actually reads — a book independently.  Such focus, such concentration on the text as the child decodes the printed words!  This is the first step on a lifelong journey across time, space, cultures, and ideas that a love of reading will provide.

29313But firing the imagination is not limited to books with text.  Indeed, wordless picture books may tap into more imagination, more language, more critical thinking, and more projecting of one’s self into the story.  Whether illustrations are simple or lush, the reader uses them to answer so many questions, because that is the only way the story can be told:  Who or what is in the picture?  Where and when is this taking place?  What is happening?  Why is this happening?  What is the problem?  What are some solutions?  How did the character’s actions work out?  What is the difference between this picture and the one before and the one after?  Did anything change?  How does the character feel? What is the character thinking?  How would you feel?  What would you do?  What will happen next?  And on and on….

Wordless picture books are ideal for speech/language therapy.  Just think of how many 17165875goals can be addressed by a single wordless book by letting the child take the lead in “reading” the story:  describing, labeling, grammar, predicting, articulation, and fluency are just a few of the typical s/l skills that can be practiced and measured.  Add to that joint attention, answering questions, turn-taking, and perspective-taking, and you’ll see that wordless picture books are ideal for working on pragmatic skills.  When the child has finished “reading” the book, review it for practice in recall, retelling, and sequencing.  Have a student who is weak in written language?  Use wordless picture books to practice sentence and story writing. Working with very young children or children with cognitive impairments?  Use the books to build receptive skills and basic concepts:  Show me —.  Point to —-.  Where is —?  What color/shape is —?   He is clapping;  now you clap.    Imagine — all of these communication skills can be  worked on, no reading required!

the-lion-and-the-mouseWordless picture books are especially good for children who use AAC.  In addition to building all of the skills detailed above, the children can use their AAC system at the single word, phrase, or full sentence levels to tell the story, answer your questions, and ask questions of their own.  This builds fluency with the system as they learn how to navigate to needed core and fringe vocabulary, and helps AAC users increase their mean length of utterance.

22750286If you Google “wordless picture books,” you’ll find a lot of “top ten” recommendations.  If you want to find titles of a hundreds wordless picture books, join Goodreads.com (free), then put in this URL:  https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/wordless-picture-books.  I guarantee you’ll find a year’s worth of books that will appeal to and be appropriate for all of the students on your caseload, regardless of age, gender, personal interests, or IEP goals.  Many may be available in your school or public library.  To add to your own collection, you can search local booksellers or find nearly all on Amazon.

Umm…can you give me a hint?

I’ve been supporting a few young children who desperately want to be verbal communicators but they have multiple articulation errors that affect their intelligibility. Yes, we have introduced them to communication books and AAC apps on iPads, but these were met with resistance.  The truth is, when you know the context, you can pretty much figure out what they are saying.  Without context, you’re lost. A couple of these students will keep repeating their message or will search for other ways to help the listener understand, but it’s been noticed that one student is now very quick to give up with a shrug and “never mind,” and his overall communication attempts have dwindled at home and at school.  Without some kind of support, all of the students may become discouraged and withdrawn, to the detriment of their self-esteem, social relationships, and academic progress.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 5.42.10 AMSince none of these students are proficient readers/writers, the simplest and most effective solution was to give them a topic-setting board that can be used for to establish context and clarify misunderstood messages.  With plenty of adult modeling during conversation, these students learn how to identify when they are talking about a place, a person, a TV show, etc.  As their literacy skills develop, they can use the alphabet section to spell out whole words. For now, just giving the initial sound of a misunderstood word can be a big help to the listener.

Meanwhile, the students continue to receive therapy for articulation and phonology. That, plus maturation, may be all they need to become intelligible speakers. If AAC support is needed in the future, they’ve at least started down that road by using the topic-setting board. In the meantime, the topic-setting board helps to clarify their messages, reduces frustration, and keeps them talking.  You can download a free copy of this topic-setting board from the Materials Exchange on Speaking of Speech.com, under the heading AAC.

“What goes on in that Speech Room?”

Kids are curious about that little room down the hall, next to the nurse’s office.  What is that room for?  Who goes there?  It looks like a fun place!  Why can’t I go, too?  Kids who WILL be going to speech/language therapy have different questions.  Why am I going to Speech?  What is therapy like?

To help SLPs and teachers explain speech/language therapy to newly identified students AND the rest of the class, I’ve written three children’s books that address three different aspects of what we do.

Matthew cover“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own” is about a little boy with such significant articulation issues that he can’t even say his own name.  He is isolated from his classmates, who think he is speaking a foreign language, and he misses out on daily activities because he can’t make himself understood.  Fortunately, the speech/language pathologist comes to the rescue and leads him through the process from screening to articulate speech. At the end of the book, I’ve answered questions submitted by students from my own elementary school in a section called “Get to Know a Speech/Language Pathologist.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.06.24 PM“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice” is a silly rhyming tale to introduce students to all of the items commonly used in therapy. Kids love this “speechie” twist on a familiar tale.  The book ends with a glossary of all of the therapy items and how we use them, and has a “Speech Room Scavenger Hunt” that you can photocopy for the students as they hunt for all of  the items in your room — a language lesson in itself!

 

Katie cover“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”  acquaints students with assistive technology, including augmentative communication, and how it changes the way classmates view a fourth grade girl who has significant physical and communication disabilities.  This book ends with a section on disability etiquette.   Katie is also available in a German translation from Amazon in Germany.

 

 

Each book can be a stand-alone lesson, but you don’t have to stop there!  Here are additional resources that will extend each book into lessons in articulation, vocabulary, language, story mapping, and more. Click on the colored text below to get to the resources, the majority of which are FREE!

“How Katie Got a Voice (and a cool new nickname)”:  I’ve created a Reader’s Theater version of the book and PowerPoint “scenery” you can project, a free Discussion Guide which can also be used as writing prompts, and a Communication Word Search.  A Disability Etiquette video, “Making Everyone Feel Welcome,” told by the characters of the book, is on my YouTube channel. While on YouTube, check out the amazing video made by Polish students who have disabilities, inspired by Katie’s story, ideal for middle and high school students.  Clever SLP, Truvine Walker, offers a number of free artic and language activities related to this book at her TeachersPayTeachers store.

“The Mouth With a Mind of Its Own”:  Truvine Walker offers a free Speech/Language Companion Packet for this book on TPT that extends the story in many directions to meet a variety of s/l therapy goals.

“There Was a Speech Teacher Who Swallowed Some Dice”:   Truvine Walker created an amazing Speech/Language Companion Packet for this wacky story — again, it’s free!

These books are super gifts for student clinicians and SLPs in the school.  Autographed and personalized copies are available through Speaking of Speech.com.  Did you order your copy from Amazon but wish it was autographed?  Send me an email at pat@speakingofspeech.com, and I’ll send you a free signed bookplate!

“No Useful Moves Detected”

SolitaireTo keep my mind sharp in those rare moments of down time (never at school, I assure you!), I like to play Solitaire on my iPad.  Maybe it’s the need to organize things that attracts me to the game, or maybe it is the quickness of the outcome;  win or lose, a game never takes more than 3 minutes, often much less than that, and that’s often all the down time I have!

As I play, I pay attention to the cards.  If I hit a wall, I may “undo” my moves until I get to a place where I can make a different choice.  I may simply replay the game, remembering where I went wrong and seeing if playing a different card yields a different outcome.  If nothing works and I get the dreaded “No useful moves detected” message, I try to figure out which cards remain hidden, as they are the key to the game’s solution.  And oh, what momentary and silly delight, when I beat my best time or number of moves!

In many ways, I view therapy in the same way.  Students come into my room with the cards they were dealt, some more disorganized than others.  As we go through therapy, be it artic or language, I proceed in a methodical manner, always watching for the outcome of each move.  It is truly joyful when a student’s system becomes organized, especially when this happens in the fewest sessions possible.  It is truly frustrating when we hit a wall in therapy.  That’s when I need to step back an analyze the situation to determine what “cards” need to be uncovered for the student to become successful.

  • Did I give enough background knowledge and training in the desired skill, or did I jump to therapy techniques and materials without a solid foundation of understanding?  This occurred with several students in Learning Support who were having difficulty with auditory comprehension and couldn’t reliably answer “wh” questions about story details after hearing a story of 3-5 sentences.  Practicing this each week wasn’t having much positive effect, so I backed up, designed a graphic organizer, and asked them to note the “wh” info from a single sentence.  Holy smokes!  That was the problem!  They weren’t able to organize and relate the information to the “who, what, when, where, why” at the sentence level.  Once we practiced this in therapy (and I shared this strategy with their special education teacher), the students gained proficiency at the sentence level, and THEN we could move on to one, then two, paragraphs with more complex graphic organizers.  The same goes for parts of speech, grammar forms, and various aspects of vocabulary:  sometimes we need to start back at the beginning in order to move the students ahead. “Never assume!” is my mantra.
  • Have I provided sufficient auditory, verbal, visual, and tactile instruction?  Maybe I  skipped over critical steps.  Do we need to revisit the “speech helpers” lesson and manner/place/voicing for target sounds? Is more time needed on auditory discrimination? Would going back to the sound/syllable level help them move on to more successful productions at the word and phrase levels?  Should we bring back the mirror and flashlight, VowelViz or other visual apps, the “speech gizmo” or other tactile cues, or search for other strategies to build on?  Standing up and/or squeezing a stress ball to increase muscle tension; lying over the bed in the nurse’s office to let gravity pull that tongue back; using PVC “speech phones” to increase auditory feedback; recording and playing back video to improve self-awareness; using mouth puppets, posters, drawings, and gestures to cue desired targets and movements;  making Silly Putty tongues:  all of these ideas came from Internet and therapy book resources or were born from an “aha” moment when what we were doing simply wasn’t working.
  • Am I giving sufficient descriptive feedback?  It’s not enough to tell students they made the sound or answered the question correctly.  We need to tell them what they did to get to that correct production or response; this will ensure the student’s foundation is solid and the chances of repeated and more advanced successes are high.
  • Have I given the student ownership of his or her therapy process and outcomes?  Do the students have clear understanding of their goals? Do they know what successfully meeting the goals will look like?  Do they know where they presently stand on that path to success?  Do they understand the importance of practicing and applying their skills?  I start each year with a review of each student’s IEP goals and write them in their speech folder in terms they can understand.  I review each quarter’s progress on a graph to show growth, which is very motivating to the students.  I actively engage the students in data collection and other self-monitoring strategies, and encourage them to make connections between therapy goals, their activities and interests, and their curriculum.

Just like in a game of Solitaire, if the present game plan isn’t leading anywhere, and you sense that “no useful moves are detected,” it’s time to reshuffle the deck and start again.  Only in that way will the student’s system become organized and then you’ll know “You’ve  Won!”