Are you working on social skills and building appropriate conversation with children ages 4 and older? Are you looking for more playful and fun ways to teach pragmatic skills and engage a child’s attention during therapy sessions?
Mo Willems is one of my favorite children’s book authors. Some favorite titles of mine are Knuffle Bunny and That is Not A Good Idea, and of course the infamous Elephant and Piggie books, which include A Big Guy Took My Ball, Should I Share My Ice Cream? My Friend Is Sad and many more. Mo Willem’s collection of Elephant and Piggie books now numbers more than 20.
The Elephant and Piggie books are witty, silly and excellent for teaching some important social skills to children with delays or deficits with their pragmatic language skills. These books are also ideal to read in a classroom or with a small social skills group because they are naturally engaging and can facilitate language.
Elephant and Piggie are best friends and treat each other with love and respect, which is an excellent friendship model for any child. I’ve used Elephant and Piggie books to help teach the following pragmatic skills:
- Turn Taking in Conversation: Elephant and Piggie have simple and animated conversation with each other and in certain stories, other characters. The conversation flows naturally between the characters and is related to a specific topic (great for practicing maintaining conversation). Role play after reading the book! A role playing activity can be a fun activity in a social skills group.
- Interpreting Body Language: Elephant and Piggie are extremely animated and express themselves well through body language. When reading an Elephant and Piggie book, discuss how the character’s body language shows how he is feeling (e.g. Elephant is jumping up a down, he must be excited!, Piggie is crying, he must be sad) This is an ideal opportunity to ask questions and model language.
- When and why to use intonation in conversation: Mo Willems uses many explanation points, bold and italic wording to express the emotions and feelings of Elephant and Piggie. For example, in the book, “We Are In A Book,” Elephant jumps up and down and says “THAT IS SO COOL!” Ask your client, “Is Elephant whispering or shouting? How do you know?” Discuss when and where it is appropriate to use a soft or loud voice. When you are reading the book, make sure to use appropriate intonation as related to the text. I recently wrote an article about using intonation when reading to a child. Another great carryover book to teach punctuation and facilitate language would be with the picture book, “Exclamation Mark” by Amy Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.
- Discussing Emotions: Elephant and Piggie have intensive feelings and emotions in this series which makes it really conducive to discussion within a group. Ask your client how the characters are feeling and why. In Should I Share My Ice Cream? Elephant is confused about whether he wants to share his ice cream with Piggie. Discuss what “confusion” means and relate to an experience you or your client has had recently.
- Expanding and maintaining a topic within a conversation: Elephant and Piggie have extensive conversation in each of their books. Discuss how the characters extend conversation, maintain a topic and keep the dialog going. Determine if it’s by question, comment, etc. This can be a great exercise that can easily be carried over to other conversations with peers.
Other goals can include answering “wh” questions, building literacy skills, expanding vocabulary, describing, commenting, improving narrative skills and recalling information. This series of Elephant and Piggie books are also available at most libraries, which make them accessible.
More information about the Elephant and Piggie series is available online. If you have any comments, please comment below!
Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience . She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.