Using books to support speech therapy

13 March 2018

We often talk about how important books are to our therapies. Whether it’s Listening and Spoken Language therapy for children with hearing loss or speech pathology for our community clients, books are a mine of useful speech and language activities.

Today we wanted to show you just how we use books with our community Speech Pathology clients, and hopefully you’ll find some inspiration to support your own child’s spoken language. Obviously, the activities undertaken in a therapy session would be targeted towards the specific goals for the child, but practice on these concepts for any child is fantastic.

Meet Gareth. He’s 4 years old and he loves the Wiggles. He has been attending speech pathology sessions with his mum, Yong, since August 2017.

Boy with dark hair looking at camera standing next to pictures of funny faces

When Gareth attended his first session he was communicating with pointing, mime/gesture and his own sign language. After lots of hard work from Gareth and his family, he is now talking in full sentences. Sometimes his speech is unclear, but the progress he has made in just 8 months is phenomenal.  

In a recent sessions Gareth and our Speech Pathologist, Caitlyn, were focusing on body parts. Much of the session was focused around the book Skeleton Crew by Allan Ahlberg and Andrew Amstutz.

Below are some of the activities Caitlyn has developed for this book. Some target Gareth’s session focus of body parts, but some activities are much broader. This is partly because we wanted to give you as many ideas as possible, but also within a session mixing it up allows for more language development (and fun!).

Learning Verbs

The Skeleton Crew contains a lot of verbs as the skeletons go on their adventure.

  • Float
  • Dozing
  • Fishing
  • Throws
  • Catches
  • Climbing
  • Stealing
  • Find
  • Howling
  • Blowing

One fun way to help your child learn these words and their meanings is to act them out. Have fun pretending to float, doze, fish etc.

This is also a great opportunity to introduce synonyms. A word like dozing may be one that your child hasn’t heard before. When you are dozing, ask your child if they can think of another word to describe what they are doing. Not only will this help to expand their vocabulary but will also allow them to gain more understanding of the new word.

Prepositions-Location words

Understanding words which describe the location of something may seem like second nature to you, but for some children this can be tricky. This can be made more complex when they are part of a series of instructions.

In Skeleton Crew the skeletons move around a lot:

  • across (the sea)
  • in (the boat; the water; the deck-chair)
  • out (of the boat)
  • under (the stars)

You can use some toys to act out these locations, giving your child increasingly difficult sets of instructions. For example start with: Place the toy on the table. Next you might want to try a two step instruction:Take the toy out of the box and put it under the blanket. Finally a three step instruction will really test your child: Take the toy from under the blanket, put it inside the box and place the box next to the door

If you have toys that mirror the characters and activities in the book you can use these to recreate scenes from the book using preposition.


You may have noticed that it takes your child a while to get used to different pronouns and when to use them. With the Skeleton Crew Caitlyn develops an understanding of pronouns by modelling pronouns while talking about the characters and how they feel.

  • How did he feel?
  • Did she like the holiday?
  • What will they do next?
  • Have you been on a holiday before? Tell me about it.
  • he-she-it-them-us

Phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to focus on and make individual sounds in words. In Skeleton Crew Caitlyn and Gareth focused on rhyming and syllable clapping to help develop phonological awareness.


Exposing children to rhyming words early on will help set them up for early spelling rules once they reach school. If you know that c-at and h-at have the same “end sounds” and you can identify the first sound, it becomes easier to spell new words like mat and rat. When reading rhyming books an understanding of rhyme helps your child to anticipate what the next word might be – another important reading skill.

You can ask your child about words in the book and whether or not they rhyme or sound the same as other words. Make them as silly as you like – children always get fun from their parents doing one that is obviously not right.

A few rhymes from Skeleton Crew are:

  • boat-float
  • sky-try
  • sea-tree
  • crashes-flashes
  • blown-foam-home
  • high-dry

Syllable clapping

Being able to clap out the number of syllables in another great skill. It allows your child to begin breaking down words into smaller components – a good precursor to reading and writing.

In Skeleton Crew Caitlyn asked Gareth to clap out some words to find the number of syllables.

  • Ske-le-ton
  • do-zing
  • deck-chair
  • fi-shing
  • oc-to-pus
  • pi-rates
  • cat-fish
  • ha-mmock
  • thun-der
  • light-ning
  • ho-li-day

Comprehension questions

Developing language is a lot about practice. Your child needs plenty of opportunities to talk and be listened to. Books provide a great opportunity to have a conversation with your child, and also find out how well they have understood the story!

Ask your child stories about the book and their understanding of it:

  • How many body parts can you think of?
  • Where were the skeletons going?
  • How did they travel to their holiday destination?
  • What animals can you see in the story?
  • Can you think of any other animals that live in the ocean?
  • How did the skeletons feel when the pirates came?
  • How did the skeletons feel when they saw King Kong?
  • Do you think King Kong was friendly or mean? How do you know?
  • What did we do on out last holidays?

Story sequencing

To do this activity you’ll either need a second copy of the book or you can draw out a few simple pictures yourself.

Use the pictures to re-tell the story, having your child put the pictures in the right order and tell the story simply.

This activity tests your child’s memory, their comprehension of the story and their ability to sequence temporal events (events in time).

Cut out and create skeleton

You can’t read Skeleton Crew and not create your own skeleton! We have even found one for you to download.

Your child can put the skeleton together with paper fastener and name all the body parts as they go.

If you are lucky and in the therapy office you might have a giant skeleton like Gareth!

Little boy with dark hair laying on the floor next to a giant skeleton picture


This book also provides a great opportunity to look at plurals. You can talk about body parts and ask how many the child has. Make sure they are pronouncing the /s/ on the end,

  • How many arms do you have …. I have two arms
  • How many toes do you have … I have ten toes
  • How many knees do you have …. I have two knees

Hopefully this has given you some ideas to go and try with your books at home. Reading on its own is great for language development, but it can also provide a great starting point for so many more language development opportunities.

There are so many great resources out there and you can find them pretty quickly using Google and Pinterest. Just search for the book name and speech resources and you’ll be inundated with ideas!

Why not share you favourite book activity below?



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