Symbols and Learning to Read

Watch this short video discussing when to symbolate in texts . . . and when NOT to!

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Symbols and Learning to Read Video

I Like Books

This app includes 37 read-aloud stories for young children (e.g., I Like Cats, I Rocks, I Like Math). The app is both flexible and customizeable. Students can choose three options (all with very clear digitized speech):

a) Read to me: reads text as soon as the student turns the page, with highlighing. When touched, each word is spoken and highlighted.

b) Read by myself: The entire page is not read, but each word can be read by touching it.

c) Autoplay: Same as Read to me, except that pages turn automatically.

This app has very extensive settings changes, such as toggling on / off highlights, sound, swiping, etc.

Why: This app provides an extensive library for young children, and reads in a very clear female voice.

Who: This app is great for students who are not reading independently, as it supports print tracking and vocabulary development. I’ve used it with preschoolers and children up to age 8. After that age, I feel that stories are too young, but using them to support re-writing text is fantastic for older students! The autoplay feature is nice for students with very significant access issues, but should not be used otherwise, as students should have time to explore the pictures and print before turning the page.

Where: I’ve used this app in small group activities, and individual sessions, at school and at home.

How: Consider carefully the settings to make this app work ideally for your student. My favorite feature of this app is that each of the 37 stories is customizeable!!

That means that you can re-write and re-record each page. Happily, this does NOT overwrite the original story! I was especially pleased to note that words that were in the original vocabulary set can still be spoken when touched.

Tip: Have your older students who are beginning readers work in teams to re-write books for younger students. This gives a very authentic purpose for reading simple stories, then re-writing them and reading them again!

Submitted by: Dr. Caroline Musselwhite

This is an excellent free app. The photos and voice quality are wonderful.

My only wish is that the text box could be bigger when re-writing the books. I would also LOVE to see a similar set for older students, with topics and a voice that are more age-appropriate for older students.


ATIA 2016 Presentation by Dr. Gretchen Hanser, Dr. Caroline Musselwhite, and Deanna K. Wagner
(Adapted for AzTAP Webinar 4/19/16 by Deanna Wagner)
Erickson, K., and Koppenhaver, D. (2007). Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four Blocks® Way. Greensboro, NC: Carson-Dellosa. 64–65

Self-Selected Silent Reading Block
  • Time for developing a love for reading is fostered by giving students time for independent reading and exploration of books at an appropriate reading level.
  • Children learn to read silently through models and developing a “voice” in their head.
  • Teachers provide a good model of slower, fluent reading so all students can understand teacher read-alouds
  • Teachers make books accessible to students so they can easily and independently choose books
  • Teachers make books accessible to students so they can easily and independently explore books.

Think about this…
  • Do all of the students in your classroom have access to a wide range of experiences with texts that offer rich content and opportunities to build vocabulary and/or world knowledge?
  • What about students who need physical adaptations or simplified text?
  • Selecting a book, turning pages, and conferencing with the teacher (giving opinions) can be challenging for some students, especially for those with limited verbal skills or who use augmentative communication devices.
Emergent readers need…
  • Indestructible books
  • Books that support concepts about print
    • Get eyes on print
    • Concept of “letter,” “word,” “sentence”
    • Teach good vocabulary words and language concepts
  • Predictable books that help students be a part of reading
Emergent Literacy Experiences Support Students in Becoming Conventional Readers
Early Conventional Readers ...
  • need access to a LOT of books to develop silent reading skills
  • need instruction to develop silent reading comprehension
  • need books with good vocabulary words & language concepts
  • need opportunities to listen to fluent models of reading that are at their comprehension level

Access Tools

Finding Books

Adapting/Making Books
  • Download PPT stories from Pete's PPTs or Tarheel Reader (more about Tarheel Reader in other sections on this WIKI)
  • Print slides 4 per page and put in baggies with cardboard for stability
  • Add tactiles
  • Make or adapt electronic books
  • Tips for changing text:
    • Take apart compound sentences
    • Use simpler vocabulary
    • Watch pronoun use
    • Consider students’ background knowledge
    • DOWNLOAD text tips from
    • Example from On My Honor
      (Book by Marion Dane Bauer)
      • Unsimplified: A shiver convulsed Joel, though the sun was still bright and hot, and he began to move woodenly toward the spot where he had left his clothes.
      • Simplified: Joel shivered. He walked over to his clothes.

    • Writing Simple Stories...In a N.Y. Minute (Musselwhite & Erickson, Tip of the Month, November, 2005
    • Choose topics based on student interest
    • Keep it SHORT, SHORT, SHORT
      • 6 words or less per page
      • Have AAC student add sound effects/comments
      • Sentence Frames -- e.g., (noun) in the (place), (at, on, up)
      • Fun Use of Repeated Lines-but sparingly
      • Use High Frequency Words -- link HERE to top 40 words for AAC
      • Make noun, verb, adjective books

Choosing Books
  • Create Communication Displays from Title Pages or Screenshots of websites
  • TarheelReader has option for creating a bookshelf of Favorites you can scan
  • Create PPTs with hyperlinks
  • Create page links in communication displays/apps (e.g., GoTalk NOW)

Angelman Syndrome Foundation Communication Training Series Webinars
  • #14. Reading as Communication: Selecting Books with Caroline Musselwhite and Erin Sheldon
YouTube video link
Handout link
  • #27. Independent Reading: Text Types, Paper Books, and Digital with Caroline Musselwhite

YouTube video link
Handout link

posted by Deanna on March 20, 2011:

A Beginning Literacy Framework (by Erickson, Musselwhite, & Ziolkowski) describes early levels of text as enrichment, transitional, and conventional for students reading below the first grade level. You can use this resource when writing your own stories to match early literacy goals for your students. It is the framework used on the Tarheel Reader website (see below). The Beginning Literacy Framework can be found on the Don Johnston website at this address:

Students need daily opportunities to practice reading text that is easy. Take a look at the Tarheel Reader for thousands of stories at the transitional and early conventional stages. There are options for turning on/off a voice that reads the text, pages can be turned with the arrow keys, and stories can be downloaded as PPT. Over 3800 authors have written nearly 15,000 books in 15 languages (Arabic, Basque, Danish, English, Filipino, French, Galician, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish).

The top 10 most read books on the site are:
  1. Declensions
  2. Our First Black President
  3. The ABC Book
  4. Lady Gaga
  5. The ABC Book(yes there are two ABC books at the top of the list)
  6. I am Michael Jordan
  7. Disney Princesses
  8. Three Little Kittens
  9. Cupcakes
  10. Silly Bands(This is the currently the hottest book rising to number 10 in only 37 days.)

Route 66 Literacy external image backgroundlogin.jpg

An online, instructional literacy program for adolescent and adult beginning readers is now available. Based on research-proven pedagogical methods, Route 66 pairs beginning readers side-by-side with more literate teacher-tutors who guide the interaction with the computer. Key benefits:
  • reading, writing, and word study in a flexible, dynamic, internet-based instructional program.
  • age-, interest-, and ability-appropriate books
  • no special training to teach literacy other than basic web navigation skills

Sign up to get access to a free 45-day trial with sample books and bookshelves.