How to Use Story Starters in Speech Therapy

  • August 20, 2019
  • Tera Rowland

Story starters serve as prompts to help students create a story. This activity is useful in therapy sessions with students who are working on narrative, syntax, or social skills. SLPs can take advantage of this strategy to work with bilingual students in a less biased way than traditional language therapy. Story starters will allow you to support students in their home language without the need for extra materials. The benefit of story starters is that there are a variety of ways to implement them. The beauty of using story starters is how each student builds their narrative differently to create their own story. Storytelling will look different for different cultures and you want to be respectful of the cultural differences of your students.

Story starters are easily created and accessed. They come in a variety of forms including lists, online platforms, apps, flashcards and printable activities. You can get creative with how you present story starters depending on the grade level. Younger children may want to draw a picture to go along with a story that they make up. Older students might benefit from the use of graphic organizers as they develop their stories.  You can use story starters in groups sessions by having one student start the story and continue around in a circle. Another way to use story starters is as ice breakers for new therapy groups or as beginning of the school year activity. Visual cues will help the student understand the different elements and develop their own story. You will get a lot of information on your student’s language skills during these activities.

We’ve put together a few ways on how to utilize story starters in speech therapy sessions.

Group and Individual Story Time

Create a group activity to get kids interested in how to create their own story. Prepare cards that have different genres, protagonists, places, objects, adjectives, and actions.  Take some time to go over what each of the card’s categories is about. Pull out one card from the genre category to set the tone of the story. Then select someone to begin with “Once upon a time….” and select a card from the other categories to use in that first sentence. Rotate from person to person adding other sentences while picking cards from the deck to make a story that goes together. It may be silly, but you are working on sequencing, story building, details, and more. You may wish to record the stories to make a book that can be used later on with students.

To make things a little more of a challenge, set a theme for students to use when telling a story. Select a topic you are working on so that vocabulary choices may flow better with the random cards. Some possibilities are:

  • At lunch we…
  • During the school day we…
  • My favorite __ is….

 The possibilities are endless for topics that you can use during storytelling activities. You could even begin with questions and have them focus on answering it with the cards. Think outside the box and let your imagination fly as the kids relax and have fun building on their skills with this game.

Talking Tenses and More

For older students, story starters can help to work on mastering the use of different verb tenses. Correct use of verb tense in narratives takes practice. A great storyteller will shift between tenses to create effects and provide context. Our students might shift tenses incorrectly or stick to one tense even when it does not apply. To work on this skill, you can use a list of story starters that you’ve drafted taking into consideration the students’ cultural backgrounds and context. Give the student the specific tense to work on and one of the story starters from your list. The student will have to make a sentence or a complete story, depending on the difficulty level you want, using the given verb tense. In addition to this, you can provide students with a sheet that focuses on verb tenses as a visual prompt. Another activity could be that you provide the story in the present tense on the top line, and then the student goes back and retells it in the past tense.

At-Home Activities

Think about sending the fun home for children to share with their families. Include instructions that are personalized for each familiy. Explain the purpose of the activity and how they can be involved and assist their children with practicing this skill. Make a list of story starters like:

  • Every night the family…
  • They were getting ready to celebrate…
  • They dreamed of…

Include instructions for parents to practice making and telling stories with their child. Take into consideration cultural backgrounds and home language when selecting the story starters and connecting with the family. When they come back to school, have the student share their stories and talk about their experience. Reinforcement of skills and building confidence in speech and language is important, and activities like this will assist in generalizing the skill.

Online Activities

Students can also utilize online platforms such as Scholastic Story Starters to play interactive and educational games centered around story starters. After choosing their theme, students have the opportunity to interact with the platform to create a variety of customized stories based on the programs’ prompts. This user-friendly option provides students the opportunity to practice their lessons at school and home.

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