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Multi-sensory Storytelling in Speech Therapy

Text reads "dialogic reading during shared storybook reading"

Hi friends!

Have you heard of multi-sensory storytelling? It's a fun way to support engagement and interactions with the story you're reading, as well as vocabulary development!

Sensory Experiences and Vocabulary

"The cross-study results are clear: a greater number of sensory experiences support early lexical acquisition and recognition" (Seidl et al., 2023).

Seidl et al. wanted to know whether and how the acquisition and understanding of words may be influenced by the number of sensory experiences associated with linked objects.

They conducted three experiments and found:

  • Children acquire words earlier in development when they are linked with objects that provide sensory experiences

  • Children recognized words more easily when they had more senses linked with their meaning (e.g. lemons have a taste, you can touch them, you can smell them, they make a squirting sound, looks yellow vs the sky can only be seen)

  • Toddler's learned new words more easily when they got to touch objects as opposed to just seeing them

Cool, right? So now that we know multi-sensory experiences support vocabulary development, let's take a look at how we can integrate that knowledge with storytelling!

Sensory Stories

A sensory story is a story with simple lines of text that usually have an accompanying sensory experience. An effective story includes elements that target a variety of the students' senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell).

Sensory stories were originally created to support students with profound and multiple learning disabilities. They can also be "effective in individual or group treatment and with clients of all ages (from preschoolers to adults) with a wide range of disabilities" (Patterson, 2016).

Practical Ideas for Multi-sensory Storytelling

Creating sensory stories does involve creativity and imagination, and most busy SLP's don't have time to create their own sensory stories. Don't worry - here are some practical ideas that you can use to increase sensory experiences for your students.

Grab a shoebox or container of similar size to get started. You can label them by theme or by specific book. One advantage of using themes, is that your sensory materials can possibly be used across a variety of books. For example, if you're doing a beach/ocean theme, you could get a spray bottle with water, jar of sand, seashells, beach toys, fish dog treats (for the smell!), and smooth cloth to represent the skin of dolphins, seals, sharks, etc. These objects can then be paired with stories like Commotion in the Ocean, Day at the Beach, Pete at the Beach, etc.

Here are some ideas for the story 🍁 We're Going on a Leaf Hunt:

👀 Sight

  • Fall colored paper (colorful leaves)

  • One short lego block tower and one tall one (tall mountain)

  • Dim the lights and turn a flashlight on (dark forest)

✋🏽 Touch

  • Orange/yellow/brown/red leaves

  • Spray bottle with water (wet waterfall)

  • Rocks

  • Ice (cold lake)

  • Life jacket

  • Stuffed animal (soft fur of the skunk)

👃🏽 Smell

  • Fall candle

  • Fall essential oils

  • Fall perfume

  • Pumpkin pie spice

  • Cinnamon sticks

👂🏽 Sound

  • Crinkly baby toy (sound of crunchy leaves)

  • YouTube video of a waterfall or the sound here

  • Bowl of water to drop small pebbles in (plip, plop sound), bowl of water to tap fingers or hands in (splish, splash)

  • Children laughing sound

  • Footsteps sound

  • Forest sounds

👅 Taste

  • Sandwich or piece of bread and apple slices (picnic under the read oak tree)

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.

References (4)

Ganz, K. (2022). Using Sensory Stories to Engage Young Students in Sessions and the Classroom. The ASHA LeaderLive. Link

Patterson, K. (2016). Sensory Stories for People With Multiple Disabilities. The ASHA LeaderLive.

Seidl, A. H., Indarjit, M., & Borovsky, A. (2023). Touch to learn: Multisensory input supports word learning and processing. Developmental Science. [open access]

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