Recent Posts

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Five Ways to Share Picture Books More Effectively

In my workshops, teachers often express the desire to use picture books in their classroom but wonder how to do it most effectively. The answer to that question depends entirely upon what we want to accomplish.

Below I've provided a few thoughts on this topic, as well as some recommendations.

1) Teacher to Class Sharing

This strategy is probably as old as reading itself, and most closely mimics the read-together experiences shared by many children at home with family. The close proximity, the intimacy of this approach, explains why reading picture books online or on a tablet feels so much less satisfying. I would recommend this approach the majority of the time, no matter what the age group. When I read a picture book to my sixth graders, I still ask them to "come join me on the rug."

Before you choose this method, however, you might want to define your purpose. Why this picture book, and why now? Below are some thoughts which might help you clarify or find a purpose for sharing a picture book aloud.

  • Picture books activate not only prior knowledge, but also attitudes, beliefs, and misconceptions. Picture books create a bridge between the student’s prior knowledge and newly introduced learning. In a Social Studies lesson, for example, you might read aloud the picture book The Honest to Goodness Truth (see summary and lesson suggestions). After reading, you say, “I thought we all agreed yesterday in our discussion about elections that ‘Honesty is the best policy.’ Yet this book seems to say almost the exact opposite! So who’s right? Is there a time when honesty isn't the best policy?”
  • Pictures books construct schema. A teacher wishing to introduce a fantasy genre might share a picture book which exemplifies six traits of that genre. Upon completion of the reading, the teacher asks her students to list the traits they noticed. How best to confirm or disqualify these traits? Have the students read additional fairy tales in small groups or stations (see below). Discovering the critical attributes of any genre could be done in this same way (see ideas on exploring Fables)
  • Picture books create common ground. Before reading a novel set in the Depression, you might read aloud or show images from several picture books which deal with that topic. One might be illustrated with photographs and eyewitness reports, one with period art works sponsored by the WPA, and one with illustrations and a narrative by a contemporary author. In just a few minutes time, students would construct a shared set of images, feelings, and understandings on a single topic. Recently, my own students were challenged to address the topic "Is Winning Everything?" in an argumentative essay. In addition to a number of videos and discussions, our principal visited as a guest reader and shared :Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven and Chris Ellison (see summary). When finished, he asked, "What would these boys have to say about winning? Was that all they wanted?" (See the video prompts at my How to Teach a Novel blog).
  • Picture books can make abstract concepts (such as life skills) concrete. As teachers we are often expected to teach “fuzzy” character concepts such as cooperation, responsibility, and integrity. Where are those lessons in our textbooks? Here is where picture books can play a large role. Through picture books, universal themes such as patience, empathy, teamwork, cooperation, forgiveness, fairness, and responsibility are captured in just sixteen or twenty-four pages, creating a memorable model for children who still think and generalize in very concrete terms. An idea such as integrity becomes very real to students through a shared reading and discussion of a book such as Demi's The Empty Pot.
2) Paired Readings

This type of reading usually occurs with a specific outcome in mind. In lower grades, paired readings allow readers to practice fluency and clarity. It also demands that readers are “attentive” at least 50% of the time. However, many students suffer in comprehension when required to read aloud. They are so concerned with the demands of meeting the needs of an audience that they “check out” from comprehending. It’s not uncommon for a student to read aloud an entire paragraph or page, and then have no clue what was read. 

Possible solutions? You might provide students with assigned portions and require that they silently read their selections first, seek help with unknown words, and then read aloud only after they've previewed the text in this way. You might also create “checkpoints” for discussion, which require reading pairs to stop and discuss what they've read, and only continue if they've understood the text.
3) Group Readings or Station Readings

In this format, students are grouped in threes or fours, and rotate to various stations. At each station is a single title (perhaps multiple copies of that title), and students read together with a set purpose. One purpose, for example, might be to establish common knowledge about a topic through its presentation in a number of diverse picture books. Students might read from a number of baseball picture books, for example, and then report back to the group on the author's purpose in each. Then, the teacher might read a newer title from that same topic, such as Matt Tavares' Becoming Babe Ruth, and ask students to discuss how this author's purpose may compare and contrast with those of other authors they had experienced. (See the cover image at the top of the post, and see an inside image here).

In order to ensure attentiveness to specific ideas from books within a theme, teachers might provide handouts with questions for each title. An essential question might be repeatedly asked of each and every book in the stations to gauge awareness of the "big idea," with a more title-specific question included to assess reading comprehension of each text. I've done this in the past with Holocaust Picture Books such as Irena's Jars of Secrets with great success; key to the success of this experience, however, is having many diverse titles and plenty of copies, since some picture books are much longer than others. Students might also read a number of picture books containing the same print content (The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere) with different visual interpretations by the various illustrators.

4) Independent Reading

Students read independently for a number of reasons, pleasure being the foremost. But as students mature, they should also read picture books as models for their own writing. This makes perfect sense, as picture books are typically the length of student stories in the upper elementary and middle grades, and the length of writing tasks expected on standardized tests. Sixth grade students such as my own might be seeking creative ways to include opposing viewpoints in their argumentative writing. A book like George Bellows: Painter with a Punch does that masterfully. 

Students may also read picture books as sources of reference. A student seeking background on the Sioux tribe, for example, might express reluctance to wade through a difficult nonfiction text, encyclopedia entry, or web site meant for more mature readers. This same student, however, could access similar information through three or four picture books whose illustrations would aid in deciphering and extending difficult terms and concepts. Now armed with a general understanding of the topic, he might now be more willing to check out that difficult nonfiction text, encyclopedia entry, or web site which seemed so onerous earlier. 

When my students were researching predators for their HOWL Museum essays, many chose to use trade books versus the Internet to gather facts and supporting details to prove that their creature was a predator worthy of the Hunters of the Wild Lands Museum (see Peerless Predators at my Animal Attraction post).

5. Independent Choice Reading

This one I can't emphasize enough. Having a library full of enticing titles, attractively displayed, is one of the best methods for getting students to read. And I'm not asking you to break the bank and spend all of your personal money on books! 

When I started out as a teacher a million years ago, I tried to build my classroom library as quickly as possible through garage sales, thrift shops, and Scholastic Book Club bonus points. But additionally, I would visit my public library and sign out twenty-five to fifty different picture books each week. These rotating titles offered my students plenty of variety and in turn encouraged them to visit the public library as well (our small private school didn't have a library). I continued to do this even when I began teaching at a public school, and in 25 years of teaching, only two books ever went missing. A small price to pay for encouraging the love of reading!

How do you share picture books in your classroom? We'd love to hear from you in the Comments section below.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

I'm no longer teaching, but I loved using picture books in my middle-school social studies classroom. Like you, I agree they're a concise, fun way to introduce new subjects or to review ideas, eras, people, and places.

Keith Schoch said...

I wish I could convince all teachers how important and effective picture books could be in the middle grades. Hope you enjoyed teaching! I'm sure you made a profound impact on some lives.