Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review + Giveaway: Wordless Story Cards: A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

I wonder what could be happening here?

WHAT:  My Trip to Mars and Underwater Adventure from Gryphon Design Collective
INVENTOR: Cat Addams
DOES: fall in love with storytelling, embrace unknown endings, improve writing skills without writing a single word, great way to celebrate Better Hearing and Speech Month
INVEST:  $19.95  (average wordless story book is $15-17 dollars  but story cards contain an infinite number of stories)
AGES: hmmmm. maybe 2-9 or more depending on a child's language skills
TOOLS: Foment Love of Language, Flexibility is My Superpower, More Make-Believe Please
EXPERT OPINION: Susan Schwartz, MAEd, Learning Specialist, Friends Seminary; John Ferrera, PhD, Child Psychologist, John Ferrera Ph.D. and Associates
GIVEAWAY:  Win My Trip to Mars and 25 % OFF COUPON CODE TOO- see below!

Your story could be told in three images or seventeen... it's up to you.

Storytelling: The Core Basics

Do you remember when you were in school and you would hand in a written essay and it would come back with all these red marks and many of those marks were question marks?

Where did this take place? at home or your grandmother's house?
Who was doing the talking? It's not clear.
I don't understand how Jimmy was able to escape. When did his happen?
and..... let's not forget the mark that said all hope was lost:  ????!!!???

Okay, so like only one thing happened here.  What more is there to say? Hmmm. How about explaining how the heck this happened???  Now that's a story I want to hear!  You can use this card to make a whole poem!

Fast forward thirty years to my son's 1st grade class. Now I'm sitting down with my son's teacher and she is telling me that my son has trouble writing and even talking about how something happened in a story.  I'm given cards with cute pictures that say words like WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW?  I am supposed to have him look at these cards whenever he's having trouble writing responses.

This was two years ago and I almost felt like tattooing these words on his arm or mine because he was having trouble all the time.  Additionally, reading was getting to be a problem too which was shocking to me because I thought he started reading at age 3 but I think he had just kind of memorized everything. Reading was getting harder and harder. 

Make your own comic book with post-it notes! Perfect size!

See What You're Saying to Understand and Remember

"Before students are able to read and understand what they are reading, they have to have the component skills of visualizing what they are reading first," said John Ferrara, a psychologist who has much experience in "homework therapy" where psychologists use a global understanding of children's skill sets to help them reach academic goals.  John said that when the minds of certain children have to decode a word and then understand the word and then understand whole sentences and then understand subsequent sentences...... it is just too much for them. Thus he likes to practice those skills in isolation.  Work on decoding separately, work on comprehending separately, work on formulating sentences separately.. etc.  This is why he really likes the Wordless Story cards.

"It's a great way to scaffold the task," John said referring to how this can help a child learn to tell a story.  "The child doesn’t have to generate it completely from scratch. They have the cards there to help them with their ideas, so they don’t have to think up the characters or even the setting." 

Pick a card... any card... and start your story.
See the "GRAVITY - ON/OFF" switch? Oh, I love these.  I'm giving away this set.

How To Be a Good Storyteller

Just because the wordless cards give you the characters and the setting, don't think things are easy as pie.  On the contrary, as John said, you are able to work on specific skills (vs. giving them a blank piece of paper with pencil asking them to write a story about a family = too many skills).  For example, you can have a child challenge himself to create increasingly rich and detailed descriptions of a picture.  To help my kids achieve this, sometimes I say, "pretend I can't see the card but you want to tell me everything."
Veteran learning specialist Susan Schwartz really knows how valuable these cards are as a teaching tool. "They’re so clever.  The artwork is really creative so it gives the kids really something to think about."

I had seen them at the NY Now, a gift fair that shows the most beautiful things from all over the world.  I remember spending tons of time in the Gryphon Design Collective's booth and being very rude as I continued to stare at these cards while shaking hands and saying goodbye to the nice people at Gryphon.  These cards are enchanting.

And there you have it.... she hit it right on the nail.  This set of cards really invites children to imagine and express what they've imagined because the artwork is so enchanting.

"There are secondary characters,"she continued noting that there were obvious characters in the story and that their sizes changed at times.  Sometimes the characters were the same size. "That really allows the story teller to be so creative."  Moreover, these story cards are NOT sequenced.  It's not a book without binding.  These cards are meant to be mixed up so that kids can express their creativity in not only making up their own sequence of events but by filling in all those details that you don't see but you know you have to talk about it otherwise you'll get those questions and question marks in red again.  (wish teachers would use purple... or maybe neon blue or something... red is so ominous)

Number 5's family tested My Trip to Mars.  Her mother thought these cards were so beautiful that she even suggested that these cards could be framed and hung up on a wall in a child's room. 
This could be on my kids' wall..... or on a get well soon card.  So silly! Number 5's mom has an eye for great design!

Use These Tools the Way the Pros Do

I can't tell you how amazing I feel that I found something that impresses these two educators that I admire!!!!  But.......... In case you have trouble extracting masterpiece theatre storytelling,  here are more tips:  (please note: there are suggested uses offered within the product too)

  • Tell a story to a child, then next, just start out the story and work with the child to finish the story.  Your end goal is to have him tell you a story on his own.
  • Do not correct the child. Believe me, I have made and continue to make such mistakes. The pros will tell you to guide the child instead.

  • Pick a card, then pick another card.  Tell what happened and figure out the link between the two.  Create, create, create!
  • Write it out for them if needed.  Have the child create a series of cards that tell a story that they want to tell.  Use a separate sheet of paper and caption it for them.  See if the child can remember the story a week later.
  • Use speech-to-text apps on your tablet/phone/computer to help them write out their story.
  • Start small if needed. Even if it has to be just one card. With three cards, you can have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Last tip: You might feel like there is a limit to how many stories you can get out of these sets.  Susan understands this however, she said, "Nevertheless, you can then delve into other aspects of creating a story...who is the narrator - someone in the picture or a third person narrator?" Susan also added, "Encourage the child not to tell the story but to do more describing or showing that leads a listener to know more."

Think..... how would this story change if the seahorse was the narrator? Number 1 said the seahorse was yelling at the two kids, "IT'S EMPTY!!!!!"
Number 5 made a lot of dialogue in this set of five.  I like how both Number1 and Number 5 focused on the dialogue between the two main characters.

Number 1 makes his own story cards for his grandmother's birthday. Thank you to Number 3 for all your help!

I know you can't touch these but hopefully this video will help.

For more Toys are Tools' take on wordless stories, check out the article about wordless books!

And now here's your chance to win your very own set of My Trip to Mars!  How cool is this???  Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to buy on Amazon right now? You can't!  But you can go to and use a discount code: toysaretools  to get 25% off your purchase.  EXP date unknown so maybe you want to use it now?  But if you like my comic cards idea... here are cutesy post-it notes that are prettier than mine.

When she was in high school, she trekked a far distance to receive very special babysitting training and even  became certified in CPR and First Aid.  How many teen or even college babysitters (tutors) have that?  She's awesome!

 This post is dedicated to Ms. Catalina Lopez as May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.  Ms. Catalina is currently in college but will someday be an AMAZING bilingual English-Spanish speech and language pathologist.  She started working with my kids when she was in middle school and her chief job was NOT babysitting, she was being a play coach, a mentor, a tutor... everything! She definitely knows how to use toys as tools!  She is looking for a job this summer and a part-time job the next school year.  If you are interested in working with her, send me an email!  Having a tutor/babysitter that was featured in the New York freakin' Times doesn't happen to everyone but it did happen to me. Yippee! I am the luckiest mom ever!  email me: toysaretools at gmail dot com   and I will forward it to her.

For more info about Better Hearing and Speech Month visit the ASHA website. SLPs Rock!  They help you with everything! Reading Comp, Writing, Swallowing, yes, Swallowing!!!, Social Skills, Listening Comp, Dealing with Vocal Cord Paralysis.... and of course... telling stories!

Disclosure: Toys are Tools testers and the experts were given review units of these products to facilitate a review.  No compensation was given.  Reviews are never promised. 


  1. My oldest would love the notebooks and the "save the birds" board game from Gryphon.
    Some wordless story ideas based upon bedtime stories that I used to tell my oldest would be a rocket into space, exploring the jungle, trip to the beach, or superhero in action. I think lots of his pictures would be great wordless stories although now that he can write more he has been putting words to them.

  2. I asked entrants to put their ideas in the wrong box so it was not
    viewable here but I have been able to extract them so here they are:
    These are the items that Toys are Tools readers want to see in upcoming
    • personalized books
    • I'm not a fan of personalized books, but loved What Barkley Saw - love the idea of a story about a child's pet.
    • Save The Birds" Board Game by Olivia Bouler.
    • the personalized books.
    • Save the Birds Board game.
    • Personalized Story books.
    • other speech/language material.
    • Save the Birds board game--love the colorful play area.
    • My first words game.
    • http://
    • First words game in French, spanish, and English.
    • I love the Save the Birds game. It is simple enough that I could modify
    it for speech and language therapy. I also love that it is printed on
    canvas instead of cardboard, which provides different sensory experience
    for children.
    • I think you found the best SLP options on their website.
    • I like the On the Farm learning game.
    • "Save The Birds" Game by Olivia Bouler.
    • the designer notebooks.
    • I love the art cards but I'm most interested in more story card sets!
    • designer notebooks are nice. a review would be nice.
    • I liked the Art Card collection.
    • Learning Game - What We Wear - English/Spanish.
    waiting for confirmation for the winner.....