For some years speech-language pathologists have been using storybooks successfully in therapy sessions for many reasons. This is the decade of No Child Left Behindas mandated by the government.  There is approximately 20% – 25% of the population that is unable to read at a level that affords the opportunities to a quality life. However, by applying research in a developmentally appropriate way it is possible to reduce this number. Some of these children have the diagnosis of dyslexia, which is a disorder of reading due to differences in processing sounds and language. There are many children diagnosed with developmental delays or disorders other than dyslexia that can learn to read and should be considered in the government’s mandate of No Child Left Behind. If used appropriately, storybooks can address dyslexia as well as a number of developmental delays and disorders using multi-sensory methods that will achieve greater carryover of speech, language, and reading skills into the school setting.  Parents can also use some of the methods that speech-language pathologists and special education teacher’s use for children who have been diagnosed with developmental delays or disorders or those who are at risk. Some of the risk factors are family history of dyslexia, little exposure to oral language and print awareness, and many ear infections that have lasted for extended periods. This article hopes to give parents some general tips and suggestions on storybook reading and some of the criteria for good books. 

The early skills that speech-language pathologists address in relation to reading are phonemic awareness, print literacy, and language concepts.  Phonemic awareness simply refers to the ability to understand how to manipulate parts of words to create new words. This is why rhyming and word play books are so important. Print awareness includes understanding that a word represents a picture or concept, knowing front and back of the book, understanding when to turn a page, understanding that print goes left-to-right. The language concepts or terms that are specific to the teaching vocabulary and other terms that will help with reading comprehension are also important. The storybook is a great resource for teaching the skill of phonemic awareness, print awareness, and language concepts.  

There are many phonemic awarenessactivities you can do in conjunction with a story.  Read stories with animal sounds and rhyming. The 2-3 year old will enjoy activities based on animal sounds. Have the child locate the animal or decide which animal is heard first or last.  At three years begin teaching the child to become aware that words are individual units. Allow your child to complete sentences from favorite books.  Play word games with your child to count the words; i.e. count the words in a sentence. The 4-year old will be ready to be taught that a word can have more than one syllable. The children love to play the robot game and guess what you will say as you pause between each syllable. You speak 2- or 3-syllable words with a slight pause between syllables and your child guesses the word you say.  When your child is ready to enter kindergarten begin teaching sounds.  Say words with a pause between the sounds; i.e. d-o-g (dog), and your child guesses the word you say.  Play rhyming activities by substituting a different sound at the beginning of a word you are reading.   

There are several ways to increase print awarenessduring storybook reading. Talk about the name of the book before reading it.  Talk about the author and illustrator. If the book has print embedded in pictures, point to these as you read. Run your finger under the print as you read or have your child help your finger move. The print awareness can be extended outside of the book reading by drawing pictures or cutting book related pictures out of magazines and labeling them to make a related book.  

When teaching language conceptsthere are several things the parent can do.  Talk about what the child sees first, in the middle, and last in a left-to-right progression. Make the sounds of animals in the books, while using puppets (pictures on a popsicle stick) and talk about what they hear. Talk about same and different and number concepts.  Begin with concrete objects like animals or objects of interest to the children.  The two cows are the same.  The two cows make the same sound.  The cow and the horse are different because they make different sounds.    

Other language concepts are who, what, where, when, and why questions. If the child has difficulty answering these questions, you can present them with choices.  You can ask, “Was she wearing a blue or red dress?”  Open-ended questions are important for critical thinking skills.  You can phrase your questions as, “What do you think she will do?”  It is good to accept different answers other than those you think are correct.  Your child will be encouraged to ask more questions when they are praised for asking questions.

There are some specific suggestions and activitiesto use during story time to teach pre-reading skills. Repetition is important.  A story can be read as many times as your child enjoys it. Make it fun by allowing your child to choose books that s/he likes.  Interactive reading increases your child interest. Children enjoy taking turns or even acting out the story with puppets. If your child does not want to sit and listen to a story, do not make him/her.  You can come up with some tricks to get your child to look at books.  If your child has too much energy to sit for a reading and he likes cars, get a book of car pictures and ask him to look up a favorite car. 

Criteria for good children’s booksare large print, print embedded in the pictures, lots of repetition, and lots of rhyming.  Choose books with a length that matches the attention of your child.  

The use of storybooks as a teaching tool can be effective because it is fun and stimulating and developmentally appropriate.  It is multi-sensory because the children use many senses. They see the pictures. They hear the words in conjunction with the pictures. They hear the sounds repeated in many different contexts. By developing activities around the stories the senses of feeling and smelling (example – baking a gingerbread man) can also be incorporated. Reading storybooks and using activities that utilize phonemic awareness, print awareness, and language skills will increase a young child’s chance of being more successful in all the communication skills of speech, language, and reading.    

If a child has a diagnosed disability, the speech-language pathologist can give additional information on how to use storybooks for that particular diagnosis other than dyslexia. Storybooks are good for teaching important skills to children with different diagnoses. However, the teaching method may vary somewhat from one diagnosis to another, i.e., autism and Down syndrome. 

How does one determine which storybooks are is good for therapy? A good example is the free workbook for the book, Can a Toucan Hoot Too It will show how you can write a complete workbook based on the theme and items in the chart below.

Analysis of book for Phonological Awareness and

Early Language Skills

Instructions: (1) Read the book and list the words in each column. (2) Beside each word put in parentheses the number of syllables/number of speech sounds if it is a one-syllable word. (3) Go through your list of words. Find the sound that occurs most often. At the bottom of the page list words according to the position of that frequently occurring sound; i.e. initial, medial, final. (4) Choose one word and list other rhyming words and nonsense words you can use as a teaching tool during the day or during the lesson.

Book title:                                           Author:

Phonological awareness

Nouns                                     Verbs                                     Adjectives

Ex. Apple (2 syllables)Jump (1/4 =1 syll/4 sounds)Blue (1/3)

Articulation sounds

3. Initial                      Medial                                    Final                            (4) Rhyming words


Grammar and syntax: 

  • 2-3 word utterances
  • Tenses – present, past, future
  • “is ______ing”
  • Noun-verb agreement
  • Possessives
  • Adjectives
  • Pronouns – he, she, it, I, we, you, they
  • Others ______________________________________________


  • Categories
  • Homonyms
  • Prepositions
  • Idioms
  • Attributes
  • Morphology
  • Beginning concepts (sizes, colors, and shapes)
  • Others _________________________________________________

Language literacy

  • Cause-and effect relationships
  • Problem solving
  • Drawing inferences
  • Sequencing
  • Storytelling
  • Compare and contrast (same/different, big, bigger, biggest, etc.)
  • Relating personal experiences
  • Others ____________________________________________________

Writer biography: 

Lavelle Carlson is a retired speech-language pathologist, children’s book author, retired member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, retired member of Texas Speech-Language Hearing Association and past member of the International Dyslexia Association. She has taught remedial reading to dyslexics. She developed a website to feature and honor speech/language pathology authors,

She is author of several children’s books:

The Book of IF for Children: “Boat ride? Mom, I thought you said, goat ride!” Teach the early pre-reading skill of rhyming in a fun and humorous way. Price drop for a limited time!

EEK! I Hear a Squeak – entertaining book that introduces children to fairy tales related to the number “three”.

I Am Not Sleeping: Storybook that teaches verbs in both English and Spanish with added verbs in the back to help educators translate from English to Spanish.

Using Storybooks to Teach Early Reading Skills