using The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read in speech therapy
Frequent Speech Sounds:

/r/ initial
/m/ initial
/l/ initial
/er/ medial
/air/ medial


Black History Month
Women’s History Month
learning a new skill

Book Details:
Diverse Characters: Yes
Age Recommendation: Elementary, Late Elementary, Middle School

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

By Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Imagine learning to read at the age of 116! Discover the true story of Mary Walker, the nation’s oldest student who did just that, in this picture book from a Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator and a rising star author. In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. And at 116, she learned to read. From Rita Lorraine Hubbard and rising star Oge More comes the inspirational story of Mary Walker, a woman whose long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who–with perseverance and dedication–proved that you’re never too old to learn.

This remarkable Black History and Women’s History Month book can be used in speech therapy to address social/emotional issues like survival, slavery, freedom, learning and persistence. It is also great for character analysis, sequencing, illustration study and for targeting verbs (mental state) and sounds including: /r/ initial, /m/ initial, /l/ initial, /er/ and /air/! Discover more of the speech and language teaching concepts for using The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read in speech therapy below: 

Key Teaching Concepts

Narrative Structure:

complete episode
expository text

Narrative Concepts:

character analysis
figurative language
complex sentence structure
verbs (mental state)
verbs (present progressive)
verbs (regular past tense)
text features
illustration study


order of events in Mary’s life that led her to learn how to read


shield, plantation, toting, Emancipation Proclamation, tattered, garments, surged, organization, bureau, Confederate, outhouse, evangelists, civil rights, vow, marveled, maid, nanny, decade, congregation, preacher, recognize, accomplishment

Character Analysis:

Mary worked her way towards being free and was never afraid to learn something new.



Figurative Language:

simile (surged like waves crashing hard to shore)


complex sentence structure
verbs (mental state)
verbs (present progressive)
verbs (regular past tense)

Text Features:

large font
exclamation marks


Why do you think Mary was thinking about the birds being free?
How do you think they felt once they were free?
Why do you think she would give the only quarter she had earned to her mother?
How do you think she felt about not being able to read?
How do you think Mary felt as she outlived her family?
Why did she grip her cane and lift her chin as she walked straight towards the class?
How do you think she felt on her first plane ride?
How did she compare reading to flying?
How did others feel about Mary and her accomplishments?