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How to Use Print Referencing in Speech Therapy

Purple background with a stack of books. Text reads How to use print referencing in speech therapy.

Hi friends!

Wondering how you can easily implement print referencing during shared book reading? Let's dive into some examples!

Before we get started, if you're wanting to know more about print referencing and referencing cues, take a look at this blog post.

With print referencing, emergent literacy skills can be developed simultaneously using the same materials as literacy-based and narrative language intervention, with minimal additional time and effort.

If you're already reading books as a part of the literacy-based therapy framework or narrative language intervention, you can easily implement this strategy to support your kiddos further with their literacy skills!

Here are a bunch of ideas on how you can utilize all five print referencing cues (read more about this here) to target all three areas or written language (e.g. print concepts, concept of a word, alphabet knowledge). Use whichever ideas are helpful for you and your students and within their zones of proximal development.

Before you start reading

Pick up the book and bring your students' awareness to how a book should be held. Purposely hold it upside down and ask "Is this how we read a book?" If your students aren't ready for that, you can say "The book is upside down. I can't read it like that. Let's turn it the correct way."

Then you can bring attention to the front and back of the book. "This is the front of the book. It's called the cover. This is where we start."

Before opening the book, point out the title and say "This is the title of the story." Then as you track your finger under the word(s), say "The title is: Dragons Love Tacos." Repeat these non-verbal and verbal print referencing cues with the author and/or illustrator's name.

print concepts

Open the book and ask students where you should start reading. You can ask "Do you remember where I start reading on the page? Where would you start if you were reading the story to me?" For students who need modeling, you can say "We start by reading the words here at the top of the page and then we move to the side." (if you're reading in English)

As you read, you can track print and point out paragraphs, sentences, and/or words. You could say "This sentence says 'Dragons listen to me'. I know the sentence has ended because I see a period. A period tells me the sentence has ended."

If your book has page numbers you can point them out and relate them to where in the story you're at. "We're on page 2. That's a small number. We're still in the beginning of the book."

concept of a word (with some print concepts sprinkled in)

Point out certain sentences or words, especially if they are repeating words or emphasized in some way. For example, in the picture below you can point to the sentence that is capitalized and larger than the rest of the text on the page and say "This sentence says 'DO NOT LET THOSE DRAGONS EAT THOSE TACOS!!!' Why do you think this sentence is written so largely? It is written in capital letters to show that it is really important the boy doesn't let the dragons eat the tacos. Ooh do you think something bad will happen if they eat the tacos?"

You could also point to the words "crunch" since they repeat. "This word says 'crunch.' What do you think this word says? (point to the other words that say "crunch"). What do they mean? These words tell us the dragons are taking many bites of the tacos."

Page from the story Dragons Love Tacos.

In the picture below from the story "Be You," you could say "This word colored pink says 'forward'." Or "These words have big letters. That means they're important."

Page from the book Be You. Text reads dreamers have a way of bouncing back...and moving forward.

In the picture below from "Today I will Fly" (Elephant and Piggy series), you could point out the word bubbles and their colors and how they relate to the characters. "These are talking bubbles. That means this is what the characters are saying. This word bubble is pink. It says 'fly, fly, fly, fly.' Who do you think said those words? Piggy said those words. We know that because the talking bubble is pink like Piggy and it points to Piggy."

You can also talk explicitly about individual word as its own unit. "This word says fly. How many times did Piggy say fly?"

"This talking bubble is gray. It says 'You need help.' Who do you think said those words?"

A page from the story Today I Will Fly and elephant and piggy book. Piggy's talking bubble says fly, fly, fly, fly. And Elephant's talking bubble says you need help.

In the picture below, you can point out the words in the illustration on the sign. "This word says strictly. This word says no. This word says elephants. One, two, three. There are three words on this sign. Together they say Strictly No Elephants. What does that mean? That means elephants are not allowed inside."

Picture from the story Strictly No Elephants. Page shows a sign on a door saying strictly no elephants.

In the picture below from the story "How to Catch a Monster" you could say "He's practicing his roar. Can you show me where it says roar?"

Page from the story How to Catch a Monster. Picture shows a boy ninja and a green monster roaring.

Alphabet Knowledge

If you'd like to incorporate some alphabet knowledge, which is great for articulation students, you can point to their target sound in a word. For example, if you're working on /k/ in the medial position, you can say "I see your sound in this word. This word says taco. Do you see the letter that makes your sound?" Once you've identified the letter, name it and then you can trace it with your finger, You can also find other words in the story that make a /k/ sound but use different letters - "ck" in lock, "k" in look, "ke" in poke.

More ideas for alphabet knowledge:

  • Mention how the letters are little or big (capitalized) - "The author's name starts with a big 'S.' The 's' is big because it spells a person's name."

  • Find other words on the page with that letter - "The word 'dragon' starts with the letter 'd.' Let's see if we can find more d's on this page."

  • Connect a letter in the text with a letter in the student's name

  • If they're in kindergarten and their teacher is teaching a letter of the week, then find the letter in your story every now and again and ask "Do you know what letter this is? It's the letter of the week in your classroom!"

I hope that helps! If you have even more great ideas, please let me know in a comment below!

Happy reading! 💛

Three grey mountains with some white snow on to. A small heart in a speech bubble. Four boot prints underneath the mountain. The name Sarah in pink, blue, peach, green, and purple colors.


Justice, L.M. & Ezell, H. K. (2004). Print Referencing: An Emergent Literacy Enhancement Strategy and its Clinical Applications. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools.

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