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(#33)  Who Wants a Helpful Halloween Activity? [a fun language task]

Hello to you, SLP!

No time to create helpful (and fun) Halloween activities for your language kids?
You have one now! Are you familiar with Mary Ann Hoberman’s books?
Her books, especially her “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You” series, are excellent for our language kids. I have several of her books and couldn’t do therapy without them.
They provide a framework and context—and the kids LOVE them.
One of my favorites is herVery Short Scary Tales to Read Together book. It’s totally appropriate for Halloween time. The reading level, just in case you’re wondering, is for a capable second grader, and up.
This week, I’ve created language activities around one of the “Scary Tales.”
The story is called “The Witch and the Broomstick.” Your kids will want to read it—or have it read to them--again and again.
Access the activities (PDFs and a PowerPoint) and use the story as a core catalyst for a variety of language and reading targets.
Apply my suggestions or run with it—customize and personalize ‘til your hearts content. Have fun!
The book that contains the story we’re focusing on today is called,You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You; Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together, by Mary Ann Hoberman; Megan Tingley Books, Little, Brown and Co, New York, 2007. Just Google, “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You.” The book and the series are everywhere and they’re from $4 up.

The Story Format

Every story in the book (and in the series) is “paired reading.” The “story” could also be labeled as a poem or even as a reader’s theater script. The concept is perfect for us and for our language kids.
The topics are fun and straight-forward, yet very creative. The sentences and phrases are short, the vocabulary is rich, and contain multiple meanings, idioms, contractions, quotations, and a variety of grammar targets.
Each story has two parts, i.e., thus, the paired reading. The story can be read by you and one other student. or you and a group of students, or by two or more students divided into two groups. Each person or group reads one of the parts. The print in the middle is read chorally by everyone.
The stories can be used with non-readers, as well. (We’ll address that below.)

The Materials

Following are the materials--PDFs andaPowerPoint--for “The Witch and the Broomstick” therapy-story.
ThePDF (click here)contains seven pages:
  • The book cover; if you don’t have the book show this cover page to your kids and say something to the effect, “I wonder what the stories are about in this book? Oh, look at the cover, what do you see? There are many stories in this book. Let’s read one! But first, I have a question for you….” Then move into your “prior knowledge” discussions. Great for personal interactions with a purpose and sets the stage for the story. (See below under Therapy.)
  • Two story-pages out of the book, “The Witch and the Broomstick” (for you and the kids to read).
  • One typed story-page for you to refer to and mark up. Circle the vocab words you want to address, the words they have difficulty with, the grammatical issues they need to work on, etc. Keep track of and document each child’s improvement as you do re-readings over time. Consider duplicating one of these pages for each child.
  • One page of cards, Vocabulary Words in the story: pitch, pointed, thin, fright, beg, weep, silly, power, blockhead, squabble, spat, anew.
  • One page of cards, Multiple Meaning Words in the story: cape, pitch, cry, call, land, stand, slides.
  • One page of cards, Contractions in the story: I’m, couldn’t, it’s, doesn’t, what’s, we’re, let’s (there’s also “so’s”; I omitted it because it’s not a standard contraction, but you may want to mention it with older kids). Yes, I do contractions. Through the years, I’ve noticed a pattern that many of my language kids stumbled on the contractions, i.e., didn’t understand them, and couldn’t read them.
ThePowerPoint (click here) containsten story-slides of The Witch and the Broomstick. Display it on your computer or show it through a SmartBoard or an LCD projector. I like presenting the story this way. It makes the words bigger, and visually minimizes the amount of print per slide. You can also go in and highlight words, or change the colors, or underline them, etc., to compliment your instruction.

The DIY Cards

The cards for this activity were created onSparklebox.co.uk. Just click on Editable Resources, then on Flash Cards and Activities. Pick your card size and color and download the zip file. Open one and save it with a new name, then type on it; print out, laminate, and cut.
Here are two other card-making sites:Eslgamesplus.com andKitzkikz.com. I’m sure there are others. These will get you started.


How you adapt the story will depend on the age, reading level, and language needs of your kids. Here’s some suggestions to add to your own style of language therapy.
Prior knowledge:
When reading a story, poem, article, or reader’s theater script, I always like to discuss their prior knowledge about the topic or an associated topic. This gives you information as to what they know about the topic, how they express it, and related information you can later refer to as you do activities with the story.It provides learning associations. Possible questions:
  • At Halloween, have you ever dressed up like a witch? Or maybe a broomstick?
  • Have you ever had a friend that you argued with? (you have to read the story to get the relevance of this!)
  • Have you ever tried to ride a broomstick?
  • Have you ever had a broomstick as a friend? Well, I know someone who has….
“This is a story about a witch and her friend, a broomstick. And, it’s about a broomstick and its friend, a witch. Here’s what happened….”
First, read the story through in its entirety, at least one time (you do all parts). Captivate them with your fun and varied expressions, your vocal inflections, pitch variations and intensity, as well as your facial expressions and gestures. Gain eye-contact along the way and capture and keep their attention. You want them to listen and watch you read the story and become intrigued—because they will be eventually reading and discussing it.
Basic Questions; Content and Thought Questions: (following are a few possibilities to get you started)
  • The most basic question you can ask is personal response, “Did you like the story?” Then, depending on the child, “What did you like?” or “What was your favorite part?” Once you’ve “personalized” it, move into the content and thought questions.
  • You’re the witch, describe what you look like.
  • You’re the broomstick, describe what you look like.
  • When and why does the witch look down?
  • You’re the witch, what do you do?
  • You’re the broomstick, what do you do?
  • What was the witches’ personality like? Did you like her?
  • What was the broomstick’s personality like? Did you like it?
  • Who has “the power?” What does that mean?
  • In the end, what do they do together?
  • Think of another way this story could have ended.
Do Repeated Readings:
Kids require several exposures to learn, incorporate and use new words.
Our language-kids require and enjoy repeated readings. Therefore, read the story and do the relevant language tasks several times. This is a good way to solidify learning and also document what they’ve learned. It’s important, however, to vary the tasks along the way.
According to Snell, et al, “Reading develops vocabulary, among other things, via: repeated readings, retelling, defining words [incorporating child-friendly word meanings], and repeated exposure to new words in other contexts.”
Do Echo Reading:
“Echo reading is great for word pronunciation, saying and learning new words, comprehension, grammar, syntax, and reading fluency,” (Homan, Klesius, and Hite, 1993). As you progress through the narrative, ask the child/children to repeat a word, phrase or short sentence to help you read the story.
This is a terrific technique for our language delayed kids and challenged readers.
I wish I had done more echo reading in my language therapy. They don’t have to decode or create the words, they participate in the story, and, they experience what reading fluency feels like. I love using echo reading for syntax practice and expressive expansion, as well as understanding and use of vocabulary words and grammar. It’s even good for artic practice.
If at first the child repeats the phrase or sentence incorrectly, that’s okay, move on; they’re participating. They will improve with several exposures over time.
The Hoberman stories are ideal for echo reading; the phrases and sentences are short.
Language Ideas:
Consider presenting the vocabulary cards and their meanings before reading the story, i.e.,not in context. Then, during the story, identify them and expand the meaning of the wordswithin the context of the story.
I love narratives. Narrative provide framework and context—it’s a constructive way for our kids to learn, remember, and use.
Following are a few language-learning ideas (in no particular order):
  • Look up and discuss child-friendly word meanings. Personalize it: Do they use the word? Have they heard the word before? Is it a totally new word? When would they ever possibly use the word?
  • Expand the vocabulary words; generate tier 2 synonyms. For example, “Think of another word that means _____ and say the sentence with the new word. Is the meaning with the new word more clear, or not?”
  • Point out, and do echo reading, of phrases with regular and irregular plurals, tenses, etc.
  • Match the word on the screen with the card; give the meaning or a synonym.
  • Display an array of cards, “Pick out the word that means _____. Remember when it was used in the story?”
  • Extract the multiple meaning words and brainstorm the “other” meanings. Put them in sentences.
  • Identify any saying or idioms (“black as pitch; then brainstorm, black as _____ ).
  • Drill and instill the contractions.
  • Identify quotations and quotation marks; discuss. (“Whee! Is that a broomstick that we see?” “Come see the witch!”)
  • Line up 5 cards; see who can identify/find those words the quickest in the story, then repeat the sentences.
  • Identify the rhyming words. Are there other words that would have worked in their place?
  • Work on pronunciation with difficult-to-say words. Kids will not use the word if they cannot pronounce it.
No doubt you have many more applications up your sleeve. It’s what you do--and you’re good at it!
See you next week!
Homan, Klesius, Hite, 1993. Effects of repeated readings and nonrepetitive strategies on students’ fluency and comprehension. Journal of Educational Research, 87, 94-99.
Neuman, Wong, Kaefer, 2017. Content not form predicts oral language comprehension: the influence of the medium on preschoolers’ story understanding. Reading and Writing Journal, Vol 30, Issue 8, 1753-1771.
Snell, Hindman, Wasik, How Can Book Reading Close the Word Gap? Five Key Practices from Research. Reading Teacher, April, 2015.

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