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Resource File: Early Childhood -- Picture Symbol

Tips for Creating Picture Symbol Boards for Reading Interactions

From an emergent literacy perspective, picture symbol boards that are customized for specific reading activities enable children to interact with teachers and other classmates in meaningful ways that are consistent with traditional book reading experiences. Several levels of communication boards can be constructed to help children pariticipate in story readings.

For example, young children often read books containing repeated lines (e.g., The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, The Gingerbread Man). The following steps illustrate four levels of communication boards.

Board with  - Run, run as fast  as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!

1. While reading, the teacher will pause at the repeated line and the children will fill in the line, thus helping the teacher read the book. One communication board then might consist of a single picture representing that line and the text. When the teacher comes to the repeated line, the child uses his or her communication board to say that line.



Board with  -Now I can eat you!

2. A second communication board might include two symbols, perhaps representing the repeated line and the character's response. This communication board allows for greater participation in the story than the board described above, but is still restricted to content specific interaction.



Board with  - character and line

3. A third communication board could include each of the characters and the repeated line so that the children could start chaining together which character said the repeated line. Now children can say the repeated line, follow the sequence of the story, say different lines of the story, predict which characters might come next, and talk about their favorite characters.



Board with  - questions and answers

4. Finally, another communication board could include questions and responses children might have concerning the book. This board enables children to interact with students and teachers by making comments about the book and the reading experience. In this way they can let their partners know that they'd like a page to be read again, they'd like to turn the page, or at least signal that it's time to do that. They can also indicate that they would like to ask a question or express their enjoyment of the story.


It is important to sequence the communication board in a left to right top to bottom fashion that corresponds with the sequence of activities in the book. Conceptualizing communication boards in this way helps teachers adjust the book reading experience for individual children by using one book for all students yet individualizing the communication expectations for each child.

Teachers may find it helpful to use a photocopier to reduce the symbols so that they can be glued directly on the pages of the books the class is reading. This will allow children to engage in such conventional book reading behaviors as labeling content, retelling bits of the story, or asking questions.

See Chapter 8 of Baby Power for "Great Strategies to Try: INTERACTIVE STORYBOOK READING."

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP)  in collaboration with the Center for Literacy and Disabilities (CLD)  at Duke University.   NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by CLD, NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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