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And Now on the Value of Wordless Picture Books

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Today I am writing on one of my favorite topics: how to use wordless picture books for narrative assessment and treatment purposes in speech language pathology.  I love wordless picture books (or WLPBs as I refer to them) for a good reason and its not just due to their cute illustrations.  WLPBs are so flexible that use can use them for both assessment and treatment of narratives.  I personally prefer the Mercer Meyer  series: ‘A Boy, a dog, a frog and a friend’ for sentimental reasons (they were the first WLPBs I used in grad school) but some of you may want to use a few others which is why I’ll be proving a few links containing lists of select picture books for you to choose from at the end of this post.

So how do I use them and with which age groups?  Well, believe it or not you can start using them pretty early with toddlers and go all the way through upper elementary years. For myself, I found them to be most effective tools for children between 3-9 years of age.  During comprehensive language assessments I use WLPBs in the following way.  First I read a script based on the book. Depending on which WLPBs you use you can actually find select scripts online instead of creating your own.  For example, if you choose to use  the “Frog Series” by Mercer Meyer, the folks  at SALT SOFTWARE already done the job for you and you can find those  scripts HERE in both English and Spanish with audio to boot. 

After I read/play the script, I ask the child to retell the story (a modified version of dynamic narrative assessment if you will) to see what their narrative is like.  I am also looking to see whether the child is utilizing story telling techniques appropriate for his/her age.

For example,  I expect a child between 3-4 years of age to be able to tell a story which contains 3 story grammar components (e.g., —Initiating event, —Attempt or Action, —Consequences), minimally interpret/predict events during story telling, use some pronouns along with references to the characters names as well as discuss the character’s facial expressions, body postures & feelings (utilize early perspective taking) (Hedberg & Westby, 1993 ). By the time the child reaches 7 years of age, I expect him/her to be able to tell a story utilizing 5+ story grammar elements along with a clear ending, which indicates a resolution of the story’s problem, have a well developed plot, characters and a clear sequence of events, as well as keep consistent perspective which focuses around an incident in a story (Hedberg & Westby, 1993 ).

Therefore as children retell their stories based on the book I am keeping an eye on the following elements (as relevant to the child’s age of course):

  • Is the child’s story order adequate or all jumbled up?
  • Is the child using relevant story details or providing the bare minimum before turning the page?
  • How’s the child’s grammar? Are there errors, telegraphic speech or overuse of run-on sentences?
  • Is the child using any temporal (first, then, after that) and cohesive markers (and, so, but, etc)?
  • Is the child’s vocabulary adequate of immature for his/her age?
  • Is there an excessive number of word-retrieval difficulties which interfere with story telling and subsequently its comprehension?
  • Is the child’s story coherent and cohesive?
  • Is the child utilizing any perspective taking vocabulary and inferring the characters, feeling, ideas, beliefs, and thoughts?

Yes all of the above can be gleaned from a one wordless picture book!

If my assessment reveals that the child’s ability to engage in story telling is impaired for his/her age and I initiate treatment and still continue to use WLPBs in therapy.  Depending on the child’s deficits I focus on remediating  either elements of macrostructure (use-story organization and cohesion), microstructure (content + form including grammar syntax and vocabulary) or both.

Here are a few examples of story prompts I use in treatment with WLBPs:

  • —What is happening in this picture?
  • —Why do you think?
  • —What are the characters doing?
  • — Who /what else do you see?
  • —Does it look like anything is missing from this picture?
  • —Let’s make up a sentence with __________ (this word)
  • —Let’s tell the story. You start:
  • —Once upon a time
  • — You can say ____ or you can say ______ (teaching synonyms)
  • —What would be the opposite of _______? (teaching antonyms)
  • — Do you know that _____(this word) has 2 meanings
    • —1st meaning
    • —2nd meaning
Below are the questions I ask that focus on Story Characters and Setting —
  • Who is in this story?
  • —What do they do?
  • —How do they go together?
  • —How do you think s/he feels?
    • —Why?
    • —How do you know?
  • —What do you think s/he thinking?
    • — Why?
  • —What do you think s/he saying?
  • — Where is the story happening?
    • —Is this inside or outside?
      • —How do you know?
  • — Did the characters visit different places in the story?
    • —Which ones?
    • How many?

Here are the questions related to Story Sequencing

  • —What happens at the beginning of the story?
  • —How do we start a story?
  • — What happened second?
  • —What happened next?
  • —What happened after that?
  • —What happened last?
  • —What do we say at the end of a story?
  • —Was there trouble/problem in the story?
    • —What happened?
    • —Who fixed it?
    • —How did s/he fix it?
  • —Was there adventure in the story?
    • If yes how did it start and end?

As the child advances his/her skills I attempt to engage them in more complex book interactions—

  • —Compare and contrast story characters/items
  • —(e.g. objects/people/animals)
  • —Make predictions and inferences about what going to happen in the story
  • —Ask the child to problem solve the situation for the character
    • —What do you think he must do to…?
  • —Ask the child to state his/her likes and dislikes about the story or its characters
  • —Ask the child to tell the story back
    • —Based on Pictures
    • —Without Pictures

Wordless picture books are also terrific for teaching vocabulary of feelings and emotions

  • —Words related to thinking
    • —Know, think, remember, guess
  • —Words related to senses
    • —See, Hear, Watch, Feel
  • —Words related to personal wants
    • — Want, Need, Wish
  • —Words related to emotions and feelings
    • — Happy, Mad, Sad
  • —Words related to emotional behaviors
    • — Crying, Laughing, Frowning

So this is how I use wordless picture books for the purposes of assessment and therapy.  I’d love to know how you use them?

Before I sign off here are a few WDPBs links for you, hope you like them!

 Start having fun with your wordless picture books today!

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources: 

6 thoughts on “And Now on the Value of Wordless Picture Books

  1. […] a dynamic assessment of their retelling abilities following a clinician’s narrative model (e.g., HERE).  For early elementary aged children (grades 2 and up), I recommend using picture books, which […]

  2. […] so much value in wordless picture books that speech language pathologists use them for assessment and treatment […]

  3. I LOVE using Wordless Picture books. My favourites are the Mercer Meyer ones, as well as Journey by Aaron Becker for my older kids.

  4. I don’t own any WLPBs, but hope to add some to my library!

  5. […] assessment of their retelling abilities following a clinician’s narrative model (e.g., HERE).  For early elementary aged children (grades 2 and up), I recommend using picture books, which […]

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