Shared book reading is an excellent therapy intervention context, allowing us to nurture language and literacy goals. Speech-language pathologists often have favorite books, like Dear Zoo or Brown Bear, but are these the best choices for the specific outcomes we are targeting?
When working with preschoolers, these targeted outcomes often include higher-level vocabulary and syntax, literacy vocabulary, and pretend play. One way to achieve these goals is focused stimulation,1 which instructs us to repeat a target word, phrase, or sentence multiple times, in context, to help children learn both the concept and the associated language. So how can we select picture books that use focused stimulation to facilitate preschool vocabulary, syntax, literacy, and pretend play goals?
Preschool Vocabulary: Focus on Verbs
The first verbs children learn are movement verbs such as “eat,” “wash,” and “go.” With time, they learn the verbs needed to talk about:
- The five senses (“see,” “hear”)
- Thinking (“think,” “wish,” “pretend”)
- Communicating (“say,” “tell”)
To target any of these categories of verbs, choose picture books that use focused stimulation. For example, The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper repeats the phrase, “I think I can, I think I can,” throughout the story. Discussing the difference between “think” and “know” can foster further learning.
My book, Hey, Hey, Let’s All Say, repeats the word “say” three times on every page for eight early words: “The baby says EAT. The mommy says EAT. Hey, hey, let’s all say EAT, EAT, EAT.” To deepen a child’s understanding of the verb “say,” we might also incorporate talking puppets into our play/therapy.
Preschool Syntax: Focus on Connectives
As children progress in their language development, they move from simple to compound sentences, using words such as “and” and “because.” At this stage, we can select focused stimulation books such as Laura Gaylord’s I Love My Mommy Because and Todd Parr’s The Mommy Book to facilitate sentences such as, “I love my mommy because…” and “Some mommies like to dance [and] some mommies like to sing,” respectively. The repetition gives children the confidence to join in with the reader while learning the syntax.
Literacy: Focus on Vocabulary
While all books provide opportunities to learn novel vocabulary, certain books focus on the vocabulary of literacy. Words like “title,” “author,” “reading/read/reader,” and “book” typically are not repeated through a story. However, if you choose Reading Makes You Feel Good by Todd Parr, the word “reading” is repeated every few pages, but feel free to add “reading makes you feel good” to every page! Illustrations of readers throughout the book help reinforce this concept to children.
In Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book, the characters discuss how a “reader” is “reading” them because they are in a “book.” Each of these words is repeated multiple times, which again helps children learn the concepts as well as the words that represent the concepts. As an example, one of the characters in the book, Piggie, gets the reader to read the word “banana,” further illustrating the concept.
Pretend Play: Focus on Vocabulary and Syntax
The word “pretend” is a higher-level verb that children learn in the preschool years. During this stage, they are also learning early temporal words to help them link sentences into narratives. A book like I Can Play That, written by this author (and illustrated by Jennifer Loehr, another MedBridge instructor!), offers focused stimulation of the word “pretend” while also providing sequencing words like “first,” “next,” “and then,” and “last”: “First it’s time to make the tea, make the tea, make the tea. First pretend to make the tea. Teddy, you, and me. Next it’s time to….”
We can encourage children to engage in the pretense along with the story to help them understand what it means to “pretend.”
Picture books with repetitive vocabulary and syntax do a great job of providing the context for a successful preschool session. Choose books with bright, bold colors and those with rhymes you can chant along to for a fun activity. And if you can’t find a book that uses focused stimulation specific to your goal, don’t be afraid to “edit” one that’s already on your shelf—or even write your own!
To learn more about facilitating preschool language and literacy goals across the early childhood curriculum, check out my MedBridge course, “Preschool Language, Emergent Literacy, and Pretend Play.”
- Ellis Weismer, S.E., Venker, C.E., & Robertson, S. (2017). Focused stimulation approach to language intervention. In McCauley, Fey, & Gillam (Eds.) Treatment of Language Disorders in Children (2nd edition). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.