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We’ve officially wrapped our three-part series all about grammar over here at the podcast, and we are moving on to strategies for implementing the fifth step of the literacy-based therapy framework: Creating a parallel story!

If you haven’t heard of parallel stories before, this is always the last thing that I do in my literacy-based therapy units because it really allows students to integrate skills and apply what we’ve learned throughout the entire unit.

A quick note — before diving into all this episode’s goodness, make sure that you’re familiar with the basics of literacy-based therapy. If you’re not super confident, I recommend going back to episode four, which breaks down the five-step approach I’ll be talking about today.

When you’re clear on the basics, listen to this week’s episode where I share more about creating parallel stories — what they are and why they can be so beneficial, and then we’ll dive into some practical examples to implement this with your caseload.

A lot of you have written in to me saying that you’re looking for a little bit of inspiration on what could happen with the parallel stories, so I’ll share a few ideas about how to work with picture books, a couple of fiction articles, and some ideas for nonfiction articles to round out those various stages of learning.

So, grab your beverage of choice (I’ll have a chai latte!), put your feet up, and listen in.

Key Takeaways + Topics Covered

– Quick review of literacy-based therapy framework
– Using a story grammar organizer
– Examples in practice
– Creating stories on paper vs. digitally
– Parallel stories in fiction vs. non-fiction
– Using pre-story activation to influence the parallel story
– Ideas for parallel stories based on February’s Therapy Bundle
– A sneak peek at March’s therapy materials!

Links Mentioned in the Podcast


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Hello there, and welcome to the SLP Now podcast. Today, we are going to be talking about all things parallel stories. If you haven't heard of parallel stories before, this is always the last thing that I do in my literacy based therapy units for a number of reasons. It really allows students to integrate skills, and just really apply what we've learned throughout the entire unit.

If you're not familiar with literacy based therapy and how to make that work, all of that good stuff, I'd highly recommend going back to episode four which talks about the five step approach. It breaks it down and makes it super easy to approach. Just pause this and head back to episode four if you're not as familiar with the literacy based therapy framework.

But a lot of people who listened to that episode, or who are in the SLP Now membership, or who follow me on social media have asked for more information about those parallel stories, so that's what we're doing today. I'll just tell you a little bit more about what they are, and what the benefits are, and then we'll dive into some practical examples to implement this with your caseload.

I'm going to be sharing some different ideas on what we can do with a couple of different picture books, a couple of different fiction articles, and then I'll just give some different ideas for nonfiction articles as well. And then we'll see what else comes up, but that's the plan.

A parallel story, just backing up to step one, is when we read a story, for example, we read The Mitten, and we went through the whole literacy based therapy framework. We did our pre-story knowledge activation. We have a lot of great background knowledge. We read the story. We did comprehension activities. We worked on all of our vocabulary, and grammar, and just all the different goals that we have.

Then it's time to get some embedded practice and to really put those skills to the test. We always try to embed the skills throughout the skill practice and make it as relevant as possible, but the parallel story is the opportunity to take it to the next level.

So what we do is we take the storyline, and I typically do ... In step three or four of the literacy based therapy unit, I have students fill in either a story grammar organizer, if it is a picture book or a fiction text or a summarizing sheet. I just make these little interactive activities for my nonfiction articles. We do that if we are working on those narratives or ... We do that throughout the unit for the story that we read, and that really helps with comprehension. It's an opportunity to embed our language skills in the retell. But creating a parallel story is just another opportunity to practice these skills in an embedded way, in a very meaningful way because the story ends up being very meaningful to the student. They take ownership of it.

For example, if we read Snowman at Night, it's a story about what snowmen do at night, or it's what this boy imagines that snowmen do at night. And then we can ... One of my groups ended up making a story about what cacti do at night. And so that is a way to take the storyline ... We'll take that story grammar organizer, we'll look at how it worked for Snowman at Night, then we'll take another copy and we'll start filling it in. We will look at Snowmen at Night for inspiration, but we might change the characters, or we might change the problem, or whatever draws a student's attention, that's what we'll do. And they get to take creative license here, and work to create their own story.

There's a couple of different ways that I like to put these together. A lot of my students will ... I love a good, old-fashioned book. So they'll just take some printer paper and, depending on how big we have to write, I'll either just get a stack of paper and put two colored pieces of paper on the front and the back and staple those together, and then we have a book, or I'll fold the paper in half and then create just a smaller book. So that's what we do if we are hand writing and hand illustrating the story.

I worked in a clinic for a while, and I loved doing this in the clinic because those were one-on-one sessions and that worked really well. This can work if you have students who can write independently, or if your students don't mind sharing one book. But I find that it gets a little bit trickier when we have more students in a group. I've definitely been able to make it work, but if I have a mixed group or multiple students in a group, I really like to project what I'm working on, or at least use like a screen that we can all look at.

My favorite thing to use is my laptop when we're doing these, because then I do have the option to project or we can just look at the same screen and work on it together. I love using PowerPoint because I can type really fast, so the students can come up with ... We'll fill in the graphic organizer and then we'll start creating some sentences around what we put in the graphic organizer. So it's like an expanded version of the retell. Then I'll just type up whatever we come up with in the session.

We might pull in, depending on time, we might pull in some Google images, too, so the students don't have to illustrate. And then I just print off multiple copies, so each student has one. It just saves a little bit of time and get to focus on the actual therapeutic elements, and not as many of the elements that take a lot of time.

If it makes sense with the students' goals, I might have them spend some time illustrating the stories, and taking time in those steps. But if it doesn't make sense, then that's the route that I like to go because I like to be efficient and get things done. The students love seeing their finalized books, pulling them off. I usually just will print them and staple them, which I call binding, which is super easy binding, and then they just get to ... They are so excited to see the final product and the thing that we've worked on for so long.

Then all of the students get to practice telling their story or telling their retell. It's a great opportunity because each student gets to practice producing the parallel story, and use their different grammar and vocabulary targets and all of that, but then they get to hear other students tell the story, as well. And then they have this beautiful book that they get to take home and share with their parents, or share with their friends, or their classmates, or their siblings, and then we just get additional practice with all of those targets.

So it ends up being a really fun activity. Yeah. That's the traditional, my go to option. That's what I typically do, definitely if we're using a picture book or a fiction article, and especially for younger students, that's one of my favorite things to do. For older students, sometimes we have to up the ante a little bit and change things up. Then we'll talk about lots of different things when it comes to the nonfiction texts. But if we're looking at picture books and fiction articles, the PowerPoint option, printed off multiple copies for each student, that's my favorite.

Some other things that we can do instead of that printed book, or as an alternative, or as an additional opportunity to practice, I always mention this app, but I love ChatterPix. So if we were telling the story of Cacti at Night, we might take a picture of a cactus, draw a little mouth on the cactus using the ChatterPix app, and then record the retell of the parallel story. It's just a fun way the students get to practice producing their narrative, and they get to hear it back, and have it be told from the perspective of the cactus. You can even pick whatever character you want. So there's some good opportunities for perspective taking, and we can get so incredibly creative, so many opportunities. So, yeah, that's one thing that's very fun. Students love it.

There's also another app called Toontastic, which allows us to create animations. This doesn't always work when we're doing ... I will use ChatterPix if we're just retelling this story, too. We'll take a picture of a character in the story and tell the story that way. Toontastic is amazing, but it doesn't always work because the settings aren't always a match. But if we're telling a parallel story, we can choose whichever setting we want. So Toontastic is really great for that. These are both iPad apps. I'm not sure if they are available on other platforms, but that's one that is very fun.

And then, just the simple activity that students really enjoy ... I feel like all students, or so many of my students, say that they want to become YouTubers. I guess that's the thing these days. And so just being able to record videos of the students is really fun. They can practice retelling their story. It's probably a good idea to get parent permission, but we sometimes just record the video and then just delete it right as the students are leaving. I just want them to be able to see themselves producing their narrative, and get to hear it back. They're just really excited to be able to see that.

We can even create different animations. We can grab just some different props or even print out different pictures and create our own low key animation using printed pieces or whatever toys we have in the speech room to retell a story, just using whatever props we have. You don't need anything super fancy. If you've got a phone or anything that has the ability to record video, there are so many different options and it's super fun.

Hopefully that gives you a good overview, lots of different ideas on things that you can do for fiction texts. Before we dive into nonfiction, I wanted to ... With nonfiction, it's not technically a parallel story, but I find that the principle works really well even using that concept. We're just working on summarizing instead of retelling, but it's still a very relevant skill, and a lot of the same types of things work when we're working on summarizing versus retelling. We're still embedding the concepts. We're still being communicators, all of that good stuff.

But before we do that, I wanted to dive into a couple of different examples of what this looks like for a couple of different texts. We will start, because I just pulled out my cheat sheets for the different units. I create them for every month of the year. Every month has a book, a picture book, a fiction article, and a nonfiction text that we focus on. And so you're getting a sneak peek of the books and fiction articles that are going to be coming out for the next couple of months inside the SLP Now membership. You don't need the membership to make this happen. That's just where I'm getting the inspiration from, and just from what I've done with previous students as well.

The first book that we'll dive into is The Mitten. This is a story about a boy who asks for white mittens from his grandmother. She knits them. She's hesitant to make them, though, because they're white and they get lost in the snow. And then the boy ends up going out to play. He loses one of the mittens. A bunch of stuff happens to the mitten while it's out in the forest, and then you'll just have to read the story to see what happens to the boy at the end of the story. That's just a recap of that story.

There are unlimited options that we could ... Your students will surprise you. They'll have so many different ideas on parallel stories based on their experiences. You'll do the pre-story knowledge activation, you'll be able to ... Some of those experiences will start to come up, and you'll be able to pull from those as you're working on the parallel story. It's a nice way to wrap everything up, because you're pulling all of the elements from the entire unit, even the pre-story. It's beautiful. I love it. For The Mitten, the students could tell ... Everyone has lost something at some point, so they could tell a story about something they lost. They could tell a story about a gift that they got from their grandmother or from their grandfather, or just any gift that they got. They could tell a story about the last time they were in the snow, the last time they were in the forest. As long as it follows the storyline and it has those story grammar elements, anything is fair game.

And sometimes we might want to steer the direction. Like if we really want to have a repetitive element with animals, like The Mitten does, we might want to steer students in that direction. You can steer the ship in the way that you want to get whatever grammar targets are, not grammar necessarily, but whatever targets you want to elicit, you can steer it that way.

If we really want to focus on animal vocabulary, I'll encourage the students to come up with a story about animals. So we can tell a story about a boy who wants a sand colored hat, and he lives in the desert and he loses his hat, and all of the animals crawl into his hat. That's an example that really closely follows the storyline, but it's in a different setting.

Or if you want to work on seasons, this story happens in the winter. You can tell the story about the spring or the summer, and what that would look like in the forest, or what would the boy want in the summertime? What would he be wearing in the summertime? So there's lots and lots of options. They are absolutely endless.

If you use the story grammar organizer, I have one in the SLP Now membership, but there are ... I'll link to some, but there are hundreds of research articles that outline these different elements. They give you different ideas for icons to use. There are so many options. I just pulled together what made sense for me. If you have that, you can't go wrong. You just ask the students, who is the parallel story about? Where did the parallel story happen? What was the problem? And you just work through that.

If you have their original graphic organizer to reference, the students will use that for inspiration. It works out beautifully, and it's so incredibly interesting to see what the students come up with. So those are some ideas for The Mitten. That's what I have planned for January.

As for some ideas for February, The Day it Rained Hearts is the book that I have planned for the February unit. The Day it Rained Hearts is a story about a girl who catches hearts on a rainy day. It's close to Valentine's Day, and she needs to figure out what to get her friends, so she uses the hearts to create valentines for her friends.

Again, tons and tons of story options here. Maybe you can create a similar story, like it's Halloween and it's raining pumpkins, or leaves are falling, or it's raining ... I don't know what it can rain, all of this sorts of things. It's raining paper and it's Christmas time. What can she make out of paper for Christmas presents? You can follow that main storyline. You can tell a story about Valentine's Day, maybe what they're doing for their valentines, or they had to go to the store with their mom and they couldn't find valentines, because they waited too long, or they forgot their valentines or ... There's so many things that can come up.

Again, just really thinking back, what came up during the pre-story knowledge activation? What did the students share and how can we integrate that experience and put it together? Maybe all of the students love dinosaurs, or they love a certain TV show, or it's a group of girls and they're really interested in Zac Efron or ... You can make it fun and engaging. They can choose the character. They can pick whichever celebrities or movie characters or whatever they want. And the nice thing is if you use Google images, you can easily grab those, and create the most engaging parallel story in the world. So those are just some ideas for February.

And then March, we've got another story. My cards are out of order here. For March, we have Spring is Here. It's a bear and mole story. This is a story about a mole who wakes up and realizes that it's spring, because bears and moles hibernate. I don't know how this works out, but he lives with a bear, and bear is still sleeping, and the mole really wants to wake up the bear, but he won't wake up. So then he comes up with a creative way to wake up his sleepy friend.

So lots and lots of options here. Again, use the pre-story knowledge questions to guide the decision making. You can choose, and it really depends on what you want to focus on. Do you want to focus on different times of year? Do you want to talk about different seasons? Maybe it's about to be winter and they have to get ready to hibernate. What's happening then? Or did they ever have a hard time waking any one up? What did they do to wake up? Like, if they were going to be late for school and they had to wake up their brother or their mom couldn't wake them up.

Or maybe there's different animals. Maybe we talk about, I don't know, just different characters, different setting, different time of year, place, time of year. Maybe we reverse the roles. Maybe the mole won't wake up. What would the bear do to wake up the mole? Or what would happen if the bear didn't wake up? Just all sorts of different things, lots and lots of options.

Hopefully those types of questions and ideas help you because I know a lot of you were just looking for a little bit of inspiration on what could happen with the parallel stories. Hopefully those three give you some different ideas. I have all of this sheets through May, but I think you get the idea. I think you have some good ideas on how to put this together for a parallel story.

I want to give some examples for fiction articles, too. I love using picture books for my preschool, early elementary students. But as they get a little bit older, it's just not quite as age appropriate, and the teachers are switching to more text-based materials so it makes sense that we make that switch, too. A fifth grader won't appreciate a picture book quite as much, and we want to give materials that are age appropriate.

So as students get older, I like to move towards those fiction articles because they still have ... The syntax is usually pretty doable. They've got a nice variety of vocabulary. It's a little bit of a step up from several picture books, which is nice. It's a little bit more challenging in terms of reading level. You can find articles that are at the same reading level as the picture books, too, but we just have more options and it's easier to find things that are educationally relevant.

Like I said, I love using I can just match up with what they're talking about in the classroom, and that makes it really easy to put together. So that's what I like to do. I use those fiction articles until the students have a firm grasp of story, grammar, and all of the things that that entails, because story grammar is important for them to be able to tell their own narratives and story retell, and just in the expression components.

But it's also incredibly powerful. We won't dive into all of it today, but there's some really cool research out there about how teaching story grammar elements helps improve comprehension. They did a study with older students, and it helped. I think it gives students a framework, and it even helped improve comprehension of a classroom lecture, which is so incredibly interesting to me.

If you're interested in that, definitely check out our other narrative presentations. I think there's so much utility in targeting narratives in therapy, and I want to stick with that as long as possible. It's not something that they're being introduced to in the classroom, at least not in the way that we're teaching it. So I think it's incredibly powerful to stick with it, even if the students are older.

Now, if they have a really firm grasp of story grammar, they can tell nice narratives and all of that, it makes sense to move to a nonfiction text, which we'll touch on towards the end of this presentation. I like nonfiction texts, because the syntax gets a little more challenging and so that's more in line with the rigor of what they'll be seeing in the classroom.

It also is helpful because they're reading to learn at this point, and they're having to extract a lot of information out of their textbooks and all of that. So by reading nonfiction texts and summarizing them, it's just a really helpful study tool. And if they've already got the narrative skills down, like they've got a solid foundation, then it makes a lot of sense to continue on that.

But I would not be opposed to using a fiction article with secondary students, even later secondary, if that's what they need. Fiction articles can work for a wide range of students, and it's just really based on their needs. There's not a specific grade assigned to that.

The first fiction text that I have planned for January is called Snow Day Fever. This is a fiction article about a boy who has a fever on a snow day. He really wants to play outside, and he tricks his mom so that she'll let him play in the snow.

Again, it follows the same kind of thing. I fill out that graphic organizer, or my students and I fill out that graphic organizer, to map out the story grammar elements in this particular story. Then, based on the pre-story knowledge activation discussion, based on their additional experiences, whatever came up during the story, the students can then create a story maybe about the last time they were sick, the last time they had a snow day, the last time they tried to trick their mom. There's lots of fun ones that can come out of that. There's tons and tons of options. Again, changing out any of the elements, change the character, or the setting, or the problem. Maybe there's a kid who's afraid of the snow and he really doesn't want to go out, but his brothers keep teasing him or whatnot. There's so many different options, and we just let the students guide that discussion and steer the ship and we just guide.

For February, the next thing is How to Say I [Ref 00:29:21] You. This is for February, so it's with the Valentine's theme. There's a boy who didn't get any valentines at school, but someone in his family is very sweet and ended up taking care of him. It's a really sweet story about Valentine's Day.

The students, especially the older students, they will have lots of stories and emotions around Valentine's Day. So we can talk about, like, maybe they didn't get any valentines. Or maybe sometimes they send out cards for different occasions at school, so maybe they had an experience like they didn't get something that everyone else did. Or maybe they can talk about like figuring out the perfect valentine for someone they like or for a special friend or whatever it may be. Again, lots of options for that as well. And then, just thinking again about how can we change the characters, the setting, same thing. So nothing super unique here.

And then, the third article that I have planned, this one is from March and it's called The Hiking Trip. This is a fiction article about a hiking trip that a boy goes on with his dad. This is the March one, so it's almost spring and they couldn't go all winter because it was snowing, and so now that spring had arrived, they were able to go on a hike. His dad was hesitant to go, and it was an experience. So this is a story that involves waiting for things.

So maybe they're waiting all fall, they're just waiting for the snow. They're waiting for winter so they could go snowboarding. Maybe they tell a story about that. Maybe they tell a story about a time that they got lost, which happens in this story. Or maybe they tell about a time that they really wanted to do something and their parents wouldn't let them, or they had to wait for something.

The students will bring so many experiences to the table. If anything, you'll have a hard time just picking something because they're all such fun, good, unique ideas and so it's just a matter of navigating that, because not everyone will get to have their topic every time. You can take turns in being the storyteller.

If you're using the PowerPoint example, you can create multiple parallel stories and just have additional opportunities to practice, and that will extend the unit out a little bit longer. It gives the students more opportunities to really implement those. They'll get exposure to different vocabulary because you'll be changing up things in the story, and then they'll get to use their vocabulary, their grammar, all of the different skills. They'll be able to embed that into their retell of the story in a really meaningful way. I love being able to put those together, and it just really helps solidify all of those different skills. And it is super fun.

Then for the nonfiction articles, we have a lot of different options here, as well. I love the new newscast format. Like I said, a lot of the students want to be YouTubers, so creating a video is really exciting to them. And then I'll still use ChatterPix for these kids, too.

One example that I always give, it's an article about a futurologist who talks about his opinions about what he thinks traffic will look like in the future. I love having students ... Like, will you take a picture of whatever we think the futurologist looks like, and then we have him share his opinion. Then we can take pictures of different characters. We can have a picture of a teenager, or a mom or whatever, and we can have them share their opinions, too. So there's some opportunities to get a little bit creative here and not just summarizing this story, but then sharing opinions, working on fact versus opinion. Because I remember even in my essays as a high school/college student, they would have me highlight ... It was an activity that came up multiple times where in class we were working on highlighting things that were facts and things that were opinions. That's something that a lot of our students struggle with, and they will really struggle with a persuasive essay if they struggle, too, with perspective taking, and identifying the facts, and identifying the opinions, and finding out how to weave them together.

So these types of activities are incredibly relevant, especially if we're selecting articles that relate to what they're discussing in the classroom. It can just really make that experience that much easier. So yeah, that's what we've got.

If you tune into the live course, I will walk through some examples of stories that we put together. I can share, and these are ... Because I wasn't able to share the student work, they're examples that I created. But I'll show you the different examples of the written book, the PowerPoint book, the ChatterPix story, and the Toontastic. I'll just put together a bunch of different finalized products.

If you're not joining the live course, hopefully you have enough to go off of and have some ideas and inspiration on how to put this together. But, yeah, I'm excited to share that little extra bonus if you are joining us for the live speech therapy PD course.

You can find all of the info for this episode, all the links and citations that I mentioned at And then if you're here live, stay tuned for those little videos as promised, and we will see you next time. Thank you!




Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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