Tips for Using Books with Students Who Refuse to Read
Books are one of the best speech therapy tools, especially for students who refuse to read. Try these tips for involving students who have reading problems.
Most of our students will say that they don’t read and that they don’t like books, but they need this exposure, believe me! Reading (and listening to books) builds vocabulary, linguistic structure, and knowledge of story plot elements.
It is easy to make mixed groups work is by centering therapy around a great book. In preschool, it was easy to find a book that coordinated with the theme (usually seasonal) that the teacher was using in the classroom.
As students get older, it is not quite as easy. When I’ve tried using classroom books, there was too much my students didn’t understand and the pace was too fast for therapy twice a week to keep up with the plot.
Then I tried using books by Chris Van Allsburg and my students loved them – even my middle schoolers who struggled with the curriculum.
The plots of his books are in-depth enough to address multiple goals, the books are short enough to do in a few sessions, and the pictures are fantastic! They are beautifully drawn and not babyish, so the books can work for older kids.
How to Get Started with a New Book
- Read through the book and figure out where to take breaks.
- With simple sequential narratives and younger attention spans, that is the beginning, middle, and end of the story plot.
- Divide longer books into complete episodes, if it is possible.
- Use sticky notes to remember where to take breaks and the kind of speech/language goals that can be elicited at that point.
For older students, look for:
Interesting pictures, art, or photographs that give clues to the plot without ‘giving it away.’
Stories that have multiple plot episodes to keep your students engaged while still being able to finish an episode in each session.
Stories that provide background knowledge and vocabulary that supports classroom topics or themes.
Start with your most mixed group, or most behaviorally difficult group, and fill in an organizer with the group goals and the targets that you can elicit at that point in the story.
You can use my free story organizer or fill in the needed information on any organizer your students will fill out after the book is done.
Then write a set of questions on a sticky note for asking at various points while reading. This keeps each student participating at short intervals of the story.
This helpful strategy keeps students with short attention spans, poor working memory, or processing problems engaged. (It is also great for tired SLP overload and memory issues!)
Address any other goals or student needs in a follow-up activity. There’s room on the organizer for those, too.
Tips for Eliciting Goals
These are the easiest!
- Just identify the words, phrases, or sentences in each section that you want your student to read aloud.
- If there aren’t enough, make a question list that will elicit those words.
- Or challenge your students with a homework assignment where they have to find and pronounce the words with their sounds in a story passage.
Story question goals
- Have you tried using story grammar? My students showed great success when questions were paired with story grammar symbols. The visual cues helped reduce processing time and enabled students to look back in the text for the requested information.
- Try placing the question words or a story element on a popsicle stick for your students to pick out of a can and answer when the story is done.
- Occasionally put in one sticky note that has something fun, like 2 free minutes on the computer or a no homework pass, and your students will always want to finish the activity.
Eliciting target structures in sentences is easily achieved.
Have your students:
- tell what just happened with correct sentences.
- describe the story pictures.
- ask a peer a question.
Receptive/ expressive language goals
Pause at sections for students to:
- sequence the events so far.
- retell the story.
- summarize the last episode.
- tell how a character feels.
- infer what they could be thinking at this point.
- make a prediction about what will happen next.