2006 Conference General Sessions

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Roxanne Butterfield
Slater Software, Inc.
351 Badger Lane
Guffey CO 80820
Day Phone: 719 479-2255
Fax: 719 479-2254
Email: roxanne@slatersoftware.com

How we use picture symbols for communication or for literacy requires consideration.  Compare symbol usage as it relates to picture recognition, literacy and concept mastery.

It has been well documented that picture symbols help increase communication and improve literacy skills.  Giordano and Stuart (l994) said, “Pictorially based instruction can be viewed as an alternative pathway to speech.   Detheridge (l996) believed symbols are a vital tool for developing literacy because they act as a bridge between the concrete (pictures) and the abstract (print).

In recent years, there has been the increased awareness and effort on the part of teachers to teach reading to their students with significant delays.  Symbols can be an effective avenue for helping the student understand print.  As Detheridge stated, the symbols help the student understand that the printed word has meaning.

The question of which symbol set is appropriate to use often arises.  Many factors influence a teacher’s choice:  what the child is used to, how the people are depicted, whether black-and-white or color images are preferable, how large the symbols must be.  They have not generally considered how the symbols are used within a literacy teaching environment.

This presentation will focus on the use of symbols relating to (1)  the purpose of the use,  (2)  comparing symbols appropriate for communication and symbols appropriate for reading, and  (3)  literacy learning lessons vs. concept mastery lessons.  This interactive session will involve participants while they learn to make judgments of symbol meaning and use.

Looking at symbols in communication boards, the discussion will focus on using graphics for communication.  A picture can represent a complete thought or concept.  As examples, a picture of a person scratching his head may mean the entire thought, “I don’t know.”  Or a graphic of storm clouds and lightning can convey the concept of “thunderstorm.”  Since communication boards (no voice, low-tech) are by definition telegraphic, the symbols serve the purpose of  giving the communication partner the necessary information so the student can be understood.  A beginning communicator may, for instance, select “put on” (as in “get dressed”) when getting ready for school.  The symbol carries the meaning--not the text.

Using symbols when teaching reading must be approached from a literacy standpoint, not from a communication standpoint.  Since the goal is to make meaning from the text, the symbols must only be clues to the words,.  Beginning with the premise that the symbols are a bridge to learning print, it is vital that there is a one-to-one correspondence to graphics to text wherever possible.  Looking at the following sentence, it is evident that each “important” word does not have a picture paired with it.  The symbols serve only to illustrate the concepts within in a sentence.
Now look at the same sentence with more symbols matching the words:


Except for the sight words “to” and “about,” all words have pictures.  Now a student can understand “wordness”, can look at the beginning and endings of words, and can read a sentence rather than guess at the words.  

This session will discuss whether or not it is necessary to have pictures over every word, text arrangement in both communication and reading environments, and symbols which convey concepts rather than individual words.  

At the completion of the session, attendees will be able to:

1.  identify symbol selection which match their instructional goals.
2.  understand the importance of graphics plus text in beginning
    reading success.
3.  discuss how symbol usage can apply to several issues--picture
    recognition, text learning, and concept mastery.


Cunningham, James and Erickson, Karen.  “Assessment to Help Us Teach Them to Read and Write.” presented at the 5th Annual Symposium on Literacy and Disabilities, Chapel Hill, NC. l996.

Detheridge, Tina.  “Developing Literacy Through Symbols.”  Closing the Gap 15:1. Apr/May, l996.  pp 12-14.

Dziwulski, Margery.  “Developing Literacy Skills for Persons with Deevelopmental Disabilities:  Some Considerations: Chapel Hill, NC.  l994.

Giordano, Gerard and Stuart, Sheela.  “Pictorial Literacy Activities for Young Children with Disabilities.”  DayCare and Early Education.  Spring. 1994.  pp 44-46.

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