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Speech, Language, and Literacy Fun with Helen Lester’s Picture Books

Picture books are absolutely wonderful for both assessment and treatment purposes! They are terrific as narrative elicitation aids for children of various ages, ranging from pre-K through fourth grade.  They are amazing treatment aids for addressing a variety of speech, language, and literacy goals that extend far beyond narrative production.

There are numerous children books authors whom I absolutely adore (e.g., Karma Wilson, Keiko Kasza, Jez Alborough, M. Christina Butler, etc.). Today I wanted to describe how I implement books by Helen Lester into my treatment sessions with elementary aged children. (For information on how I use her books: “Pookins Gets Her Way” and “A Porcupine Named Fluffy” for narrative elicitation purposes click HERE.)

It is important to note that while Ms. Lester’s books are intended for younger children (4-7 years; pre-K-3rd grade), older children (~10 years of age) with significant language and learning difficulties and/or intellectual disabilities have enjoyed working with them and have significantly benefited from reading/listening to them.

Two reasons why I love using Ms. Lester’s books are versatility and wealth of social themes. To illustrate, “Hooway for Wodney Wat” and “Wodney Wat’s Wobot” are two books about a shy rat who cannot pronounce his ‘r’ sounds. Wodney is hugely embarrassed by that fact, and since there are no speech-language pathologists in Rodentia-land, Wodney spends his recess, hiding inside his jacket, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. The arrival of a bullying, Miss-know-it-all, Camilla Capybara, brings some unexpected changes into the school’s dynamic, as well as provides Wodney with a very welcome opportunity to shine socially.

Image result for wodney wobotSpeech Production: Not only is there a phenomenal opportunity to use this book with children struggling with /r/ sound production, but it’s also heavily laden with a plethora of /r/ words in a variety of word positions (e.g., rodeo, robot, contraption, barrel, terrific, fur, prickled, bigger, fear, classroom, smarter, sure, etc.).

Language: There are numerous language goals that could be formulated based on Helen Lester’s books including answering concrete and abstract listening comprehension questions, defining story-embedded vocabulary words, producing word associations, synonyms, antonyms, and multiple meaning words (semantic awareness), formulating compound and complex sentences (syntax), answering predicting and inferencing questions (critical thinking), gauging moods and identifying emotional reactions of characters (social communication), assuming characters’ perspectives and frame of reference (social cognition, theory of mind, etc.), identifying main ideas in text (Gestalt processing) and much, much more.

  • Select Highlights:
    • VocabularyFor the ages/grades that there’ve written for (4-7 years; pre-K-3rd grade), Ms. Lester’s books are laden with a wealth of sophisticated vocabulary words such a: curtsy, contraption, trembled, dreary, shudder, varmint, fashionable, rodent, rattled, shenanigans, chanting, surgical, plunked, occasion, exception, etc.
    • Word Play:  Ms. Lester infuses a great deal of humor and wit in her books. Just look at the names of her characters in “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”, which are: Ewetopia, Ewecalyptus, Ewetensil, Heyewe, Rambunctious, Ramshackle, and Ramplestiltskin.  Her ovine characters live in Pastureland and attend Woolyones’ Costume Balls while her porcine characters eat in a trough-a-teria.  
    • Social Communication: Many of Ms. Lester’s book themes focus on the celebration of neurodiversity (e.g., “Tacky the Penguin”), learning valuable life lessons (e.g., “Me First”), addressing one’s fears (e.g., “Something Might Happen”) and feeling uncomfortable in own skin (e.g., “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”), etc.

Literacy: Similar to the above, numerous literacy goals can be formulated based on these books. These include but are not limited to, goals targeting phonological (e.g., rhyming words, counting syllables in words, etc.) and phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency and comprehension, spelling, as well as the composition of written responses to story questions.

  • Image result for princess penelope's parrotSelect Highlights:
    • Phonics: Students can practice reading words containing a variety of syllable shapes as well as decode low-frequency words containing a variety of consonantal clusters (Examples from “Princess Penelope’s Parrot” are:  hissed, parrot, buzzard, horribly, flicked, plucked, field,  flapped, silence, Percival, velvet, cloak, caviar, clippy-clopped, poofiest, impressed, expensive, galloping, gulped, bouquet, squawked, etc.)
    • Morphology: There’s a terrific opportunity to introduce a discussion on roots and affixes when using Ms. Lester’s books to discuss how select prefixes and suffixes (e.g., ante-, -able, -ive, -ion, etc.) can significantly increase word sophistication of numerous root words (e.g., impressive, exception, etc.)
    • Spelling: There is a terrific opportunity for children to practice spelling numerous spelling patterns to solidify their spelling abilities, including -ee-, -ea-, -ou-,-oo-, -oa-, -ui-, -ck, -tt-, -rr-, -ss-, -cc-, etc.

When working with picture books, I typically spend numerous sessions working with the same book. That is because research indicates that language disordered children require 36 exposures  (as compared with 12 exposures for typically developing children) to learn new words via interactive book reading (Storkel et al, 2016). As such, I discuss vocabulary words before, during, and after the book reading, by asking the children to both repeatedly define and then use selected words in sentences so the students can solidify their knowledge of these words.

I also spent quite a bit of time on macrostructure, particularly on the identification and definitions of story grammar elements as well as having the student match the story grammar picture cards to various portions of the book.

When working with picture books, here are some verbal prompts that I provide to the students with a focus on story Characters and Setting

  • Who are the characters in this story?
  • Where is the setting in this story?
  • Are there multiple settings in this story?
  • What are some emotions the characters experience throughout this story?
  • When did they experience these emotions in the story?
  • How do you think this character is feeling when ____?
    • Why?
    • How do you know?
  • What do you think this character is thinking?
    • Why?
    • How do you know?
  • What are some actions the characters performed throughout the story?
  • What were the results of some of those actions?

Here is a sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on story Sequencing 

  • What happened at the beginning of the story?
    • What words can we use to start a story?
  • What happened next?
  • What happened after that?
  • What happened last?
  • How do we end a story?
  • What was the problem in the story?
  • Was there more than one problem?
    • What happened?
    • Who solved it?
    • How did s/he solve it?
  • Was there adventure in the story?
    • If yes, how did it start and end?

Here is a sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on Critical Thinking 

  • How are these two characters alike/different? (compare/contrast)
  • What do you think will happen next? (predicting)
  •  Why/How do you think ___ happened (inferencing)
  • Why shouldn’t you, couldn’t s/he ____ ? (answering negative questions)
  • What do you thing s/he must do to ______? (problem-solving)
  • How would you solve his problem? (determining solutions)
  • Why is your solution ______ a good solution? (providing justifications)

Image result for tacky penguinHere is a small sampling of verbal prompts I provide to the students with a focus on Social Communication and Social Cognition 

  • How would you feel if ____?
  • What is his/her mood at ____ point in the story?
    • How do you know?
  • What is his/her reaction to the ____?
    • How do you know?
  • How does it make you feel that s/he are _____?
  • Can you tell me two completely different results of this character’s actions?
  • What could you say to this character to make him/her feel better?
    • Why?
  • What would you think if?

At times, I also use Ms. Lester’s guide for the following books: ‘It Wasn’t My Fault’, ‘Listen, Buddy’, ‘Me First’, and ‘A Porcupine Named Fluffy‘ to supplement my therapy sessions goals. It provides additional helpful ideas and suggestions on how her books can be further used in both therapy room as well as the classroom.

Finally, one of the major reasons why I really like Ms. Lester’s books is because some of them are ‘art imitating life’ and do not necessarily end up in a ‘traditional’ happily ever after. To, illustrate, “Princess Penelope’s Parrot” is a book about a spoiled princess who cannot get her new parrot to talk, even after threatening it and calling it insulting names. When Prince Percival comes courting, the parrot takes his hilarious revenge on Princess Penelope, and the parrot and Prince Percival do end up living happily ever after. However, Princess Penelope quickly gets over her embarrassment and goes back to her unrepentantly spoiled way of acting.

There you have it! Just a few of my many reasons why I adore using Helen Lester’s books for language and literacy treatment purposes. How about you? Do you use any of her books for assessment and treatment purposes? If yes, comment below which ones you use and why do you use them?

References:

Helpful Related Smart Speech Therapy Resources: 

 

One thought on “Speech, Language, and Literacy Fun with Helen Lester’s Picture Books

  1. This was a response I have received from Ms. Lester sent via Emma Gordon her head of publicity at HMH Books.
    “YOU’VE KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF!
    Dear Tatyana,
    Emma Gordon sent along your wonderful materials yesterday. MY my what a superb job you’ve done! Never have I seen my books treated in such a way and I’m deeply flattered. Thank you SO much for sending your brilliant work along. You are such an excellent educator – I say that as a former elementary school teacher and my husband, a former school head agrees.
    I’m so honored! Yippee!
    All good wishes,
    Helen Lester”

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