Opening a New Chapter: Getting the context of curriculum chapter books - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Opening a New Chapter: Strategies for getting the context of curriculum chapter books!

by Sean Sweeney February 09, 2016 4 min read

As the MindWing blog has been focusing on using chapter books for older students, in conjunction with narrative and expository development tools, this Tech Tuesday post will also! In this post, we’ll take a look at technology resources that facilitate your access to chapter books. These strategies will enable you to use chapter books more easily as contexts when developing students’ sense of story and informational text structures with MindWing’s Story Grammar Marker® and Expository maps.

Naturally, we’d be conducting educationally relevant interventions even if we selected our own texts for lessons. For example, take this Common Core Standard for 5th Grade Reading:


Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

The skills of describing how characters respond to challenges and summarizing a text are supported by the Critical Thinking Triangle® (see Critical Thinking Poster here) and use of a Complete Episode Poster or map, respectively, and can be addressed with texts of our own selection. However, isn’t it even more relevant if we can go the extra mile and use chapter books and texts that students are grappling with in their classroom, even if we don’t do so in their entirety?

The practice of aligning with both the necessary skill sets and the context of the classroom is not always an easy one. However, I am often inspired by the work in our field on contextually driven therapy by mavens of this topic such as Geraldine Wallach and Barbara Ehren:

“Strategies and linguistic skills that are part of a student's language intervention goals and objectives should be connected to content-area subjects. For example, if intervention included working on expository text, using familiar and high-interest topics (e.g., having students compare and contrast the articles written by two sports writers from different cities), we need to connect the compare/contrast activity from sports to a compare and contrast activity that involves two versions of a historical event (e.g., the American and British renditions of the American Revolution).Wallach, 2014

“Where do SLPs fit into the content/process picture? For years, I have been advocating that SLPs engage in “curriculum-relevant therapy” that is, that they use curriculum as context for language therapy but not try to teach curriculum per se. In this approach, an SLP would focus on language processes, or “underpinnings.”Ehren, 2009

Using actual curriculum texts in intervention, while avoiding the responsibility of “teaching” those particular texts, logically facilitates our students’ access to the content of the classroom while increasing the likelihood that they will generalize skills back there as well.

However, when it comes to chapter books that students may be reading (or the teacher reading to all) within the classroom, there are a few challenges. One of these is access: there may not be an extra copy available! The bigger challenge is time; chapter books are of course longer than picture books, and it is difficult for us to make the time to read them. What follows are a few tech tips to make this process easier, even if you just pick and choose a book or two for your students!

  1. Utilize the power of your public library: The Overdrive app (free for virtually any type of device) gives you access to borrow e-books and audiobooks for free from your public library. All you need is your library card number and PIN (obtained from your library) and you will have access to all of their offerings. Granted, you are at the mercy of availability, so think ahead or put yourself on hold lists to select a few chapter books you might “follow along with” for a given group of students, even if you only do so for a few chapters. Once you have the context, however, constructing lessons in narrative and expository mapping is a snap.
  2. Audiobooks, mentioned above, are a really great way to become better-versed in classroom contexts such as picture books. An advantage of these is that you can often get the information you need (plot, characters, story and information structures) while multitasking. Reclaim your long commute time or even time spent working out by listening to a book at the same time. A disadvantage is the high cost of audiobooks. Books on iTunes, for example, tend to run in excess of $10. Again, your library can help through the use of Overdrive, and some libraries also allow you to sign in and borrow books through Hoopla (with free apps for iOS and Android), which tends to have greater availability. In a pinch, you can also find many chapter books read aloud on YouTube.

Hoopla Screen Image

Apps such as Overdrive and Hoopla allow you to sign in with your public library account and access e-books and audiobooks. 

  1. Inquire with your instructional technology specialist if your school has an administrative account to Bookshare, a service with access to countless trade books. If so, apps such as Voice Dream Reader (free lite version, $9.99 for full on both iOS and Android) allow Bookshare sign-in and importing of books, and the app will read the book aloud for you via Text-to-Speech.
  2. I have found it handy to take some digital notes on passages that have potential for narrative or expository text mapping. You can do this via the annotation features of many e-readers (e.g. iBooks, Kindle) if you are reading the book, or just switch to your Notes app and write or dictate a quick note if you are listening to the book.
  3. Resources such as Shmoop, though a bit reminiscent of “reading the Cliff’s Notes instead of the book,” can come in handy in this process of obtaining context, for example, if you definitely don’t have time to read the whole book. Shmoop provides an overall book summary, chapter summary, and pages on themes, analysis, and character description. The “Shmoop TV” feature can make a motivating lesson in itself, and also consider looking for student-created “book trailers” on YouTube. Book trailers are a popular type of ELA project that can also serve as a context for previewing or reviewing a chapter book’s characters and structure.

Ehren, B. (2009). Looking through an adolescent literacy lens at the narrow view of reading. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 192-195.

Wallach, G. (2014). Improving clinical practice: A school-age and school-based perspective. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 127-136.

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and as a clinical supervisor at Boston University. He consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (, looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at

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