Saturday, January 5, 2013

Picture books are not just for primary grades!

"I used to know an old man who could walk by any cornfield and hear the corn singing."..."Long ago a river ran through a land of towering forests."..."In a warm and sultry forest far, far away, there once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby."...Gerald was a tall giraffe whose neck was long and slim."..."Art class was over, but Vashti sat glued to her chair. Her paper was empty."... In just the opening lines of these picture books your mind is immediately filled with wonder, questions,  and beginning visions of what is to come. Who is this man that can hear corn sing? What animals once drank from the river that ran through the tall trees? Why was Vashti's paper empty and will it ever be filled? Picture books are not just for the Primary grades!

Some of the most detailed and moving stories are told within the the thirty-two pages of a picture book. These authors are charged with the challenging task of completely developing a story from grabbing your attention, to telling the problem, taking you through the solution, and tying it all up in the end.  To think all of this must be done within a very short amount of time!  If anything, picture books should be especially used in the intermediate grades.  Students in the upper grades can be taught to understand story elements in ways that go beyond just knowing the characters, setting, and problem.  They can begin to develop an understanding of "writers' craft" and how to study picture books, find elements of writers' craft and then incorporate those elements into their own writing.

Picture books are fantastic for small group/center activities.  Try this: Place 5-10 picture books from the same author in a center.  Have students read the books and complete a mini author study.  What do the books from this author have in common? What are their differences?  An activity like this can meet all the different learning levels of your class. Students that need more assistance may notice similarities or differences in characters or settings where the more advanced learner may find commonalities in plot development.  In the end, all students will learn from exploring picture books.

Picture books are perfect for improving the quality of students own writing. If you are working on teaching students how to write better leads that will grab the reader's attention then consider this. Place a basket of picture books in the middle of a group of students. Have students read as many opening paragraphs (only the beginning paragraph) from as many picture books as they can in a set amount of time. As you being the discussion, ask students what they remember about the leads they read. Which openings made you wonder? laugh? think "who cares"? Chart their answers and have them practice just writing leads to stories. Make sure they refer back to the chart and include only quality elements of an opening. Using picture books as quality models of writing will improve how students write.

I absolutely LOVE to read picture books when introducing a new unit, topic, or writing theme. Not only can they model the great quality of writing you are looking for, but they really get children motivated! To introduce a writing piece about focusing on a moment in time try The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins by Lester Laminack. Want to illustrate how non-fiction writing can have a fiction like flow and feel? Read Bat Loves The Night or One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies. Want to keep your kids guessing til the last page? Dive into books by Eve Bunting such as, The Wednesday Surprise or Someday a Tree. Patricia Polacco, author of dozens of books, celebrates the beauty of family, culture, and heritage in books such as The Keeping Quilt and Thunder Cake. She also addresses emotional times in history like in the book The Butterfly. There is a picture book out there to address every aspect of your classroom.

Remember, whether you are a primary or intermediate teacher, as you are sitting down to plan your lessons for next week, fit in as many read alouds or explorations of pictures books as you can. Your students will appreciate this time and it will motivate them to be better readers and writers.

What is your favorite picture book that you remember as a child or that your children like to read?

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