Supporting Storytelling with Symbols

Claire Harrison from CALL Scotland explores how symbols can support reading and storytelling for pupils with additional support needs.

It was hugely enjoyable to see the different ways children all over Scotland have been introduced to their P1 Bookbug Bags during Book Week Scotland. If you go to Twitter and search for #BookbugPrize, there are lots brilliant examples of schools creating events and activities for the three Bookbug Picture Book Prize finalists, which this year were One Button Benny by Alan Windram, I am Bat by Morag Hood and Eric makes a Splash by Emily Mackenzie.

We know that shared reading is one of the ways literacy and language develop by creating opportunities for asking questions and discussing the text, exploring the illustrations and allowing children to re-tell the story. If a child has a language or communication difficulty, these shared discussions can be more difficult, but there are some simple ways we can create inclusive shared reading experiences for all children.


Symbolised Resources

For a number of years, CALL Scotland has created symbolised resources for each of the books in the P1 family bags.  Included in these symbolised resources is an overlay for something called a ‘GoTalk 9+’. We at CALL Scotland like the ‘GoTalk 9+’ as it’s a simple to use communication aid which allows you to quickly record the messages to be spoken aloud for each story overlay. You can watch a video of how it works on the CALL Scotland website.

However, you don’t need a GoTalk9+ to use the story overlay, as it can be used as a ‘low-tech’ aid, by printing out the PDF.

Now you have a simple symbol board, which you can use by pointing to the symbols on the overlay as you read the story. So, when Bat gets quite cross about someone daring to take his cherries in I am Bat, you can point to the ‘not’ and ‘take’ symbols as you read the text aloud. Modelling how the symbols relate to the language in the story is an important part of developing understanding for children with ASN.


Telling Stories with Symbols

You can use ‘low tech’ versions of the symbol resources to help children understand the language in the stories, and with a pair of scissors, some Velcro and a carpet offcut or car mat (yes, really!) you can create a way for children to re-tell the stories

and express themselves without relying on spoken language. Cut up a laminated symbol overlay and attach the rough side of the Velcro to the back. You can stick the individual symbols onto a mat.

This gives you a surface where the symbols can easily be attached and moved. This creates a way for a child to re-tell a story by moving the symbols around as the story progresses.

So, when Eric in Eric Makes a Splash is feeling brave and jumps into the water, a pupil can take the Eric picture symbol and ‘jump’ it off the mat or perhaps into the ‘swimming’ picture symbol.

Or the Benny picture symbol can zoom up into the sky as he heads up to the moon in One Button Benny, and the lion picture symbol can try sneaking up on the ‘cherries’ picture symbol for I am Bat. By enabling children to re-tell a story using symbols in this way can help them feel more confident about speaking aloud, particularly if they are reluctant to speak in a larger group.


Downloadable Resources

You can download the symbol overlays for I Am Bat, One Button Benny and Eric Makes a Splash from the Bookbug section of the Symbols for All website. You can also download symbol resources from previous years.

In addition, you can download (for free)  lots of symbols resources for learning and teaching, including a symbol story board for ‘The 3 Little Pigs’ from the curricular resources section of the Symbols for All website.

Claire Harrison

Claire Harrison is the Assistive Technology and Complex Needs Officer at CALL Scotland. CALL Scotland work with children across Scotland to overcome disability and to fulfil their potential.