Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why Would You Ever Use Picture Books with Older Students?

I am a big fan of picture books! My students always loved it when I used a picture book to start any lesson. There are SO many great picture books for math, social studies...all of the subjects. But why are picture books important for students in fourth, fifth and other upper grades so very important? Check out the reasons below....and go find your favorite picture book to read to your students. You'll be glad you did!

1. Picture books (even in high school) help students consider self image, peer pressure, conformity, and identity (Matthews, et al, 1999) in a non-threatening way.

2. Cognative thinking requires imagination. This is easily done with picture books. (Rosenblatt, "The Literary Transaction")

3. Picture books use rich vocabulary and well-crafted sentences. They are perfect to use as a writing model.

4. Picture books increase motivation, understanding of concepts and aesthetic appreciation.

5. Picture books are perfect for illustrating the literary elements.

6. Picture books often introduce complex ideas in a concrete way. This allows a teaching pathway into teaching complex ideas.

7. Picture books often introduce cultural viewpoint or moral issues. This makes them a perfect tool for discussion of complex issues.

8. Picture books serve as a terrific model for student writing.

9. Wordless books are very good as story starters. Many wordless books address the ideas of right and wrong in a very interesting way, leading to terrific discussions.

10.  Students find picture books more interesting than text books. If you have a reluctant learner, jolt them to life with a great picture book of the subject matter.

11. Many picture books tackle very advanced ideas. For example, "Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War" by Tsuchiya is about the starvation of elephants in Tokyo during WW II. This was done because officials were afraid of the harm to the population if they should escape during a bombing raid. The discussion after this book would be very advanced and need true critical thinking. It's only one of many that offer students an opportunity to discuss very "adult" ideas.

12. Students who are reluctant readers can tackle a picture book they liked after it is read aloud. It brings the "chore" of reading down to size for them.

Don't overlook picture books. The teaching opportunities are endless!

Here are just a few picture books that will really get your kids thinking!

In this book two friends, one black and one white, imagine what the fields near their new homes were like in 1862, during the Civil War. 

If you need to address the problem of stealing in your classroom, don't miss this one. It's fun, but really confronts the problem!

You can't do better than this classic to teach point of view!

Are your students working on writing a story with a good plot? Don't miss this one!

That's just the tip of the iceberg! There are hundreds (thousands) of great picture books out there to make any lesson more fun, more understandable, and to get kids to really think!


  1. Do you have any resources that has a decent list of recommended books "suitable" for junior high kids? I'd like to eventually start building my collection to include picture books which are great for reading comprehension studies as well as those moments teachers want to open with the lesson with a picture book (or just because).
    Thank you,

  2. Oh my goodness! The list of picturebooks that would be great for jr. high is endless! Just pick the concept you want to work on, put it in google with the word "Picturebook" and you will get at least one that works. As far as reading comprehension I like to use the wordless book called "Tuesday" by David Wiesner. Students discuss how the author is able to get the point across without words (I think there is one or two words used, but that's all). Discuss how the pictures must be looked at closely to comprehend what is going on, just as students must read carefully to comprehend the story in text. From there, you can discuss how books with text only make those same pictures in our mind. This would be a good time to discuss word choice. I have students take either a book they have read, or one they have written and turn it into a wordless book. They must make sure complete comprehension is possible by looking at the pictures. This is harder than it sounds. Kids REALLY have to understand a story to do this. For jr. high kids I would start with a picturebook that uses a more mature theme, such as "The Blue and the Gray" (see above). From there you can discuss how picturebooks often help students understand complex themes in a more accessible manner. The discussions I get from using picturebooks are often much deeper than those books that use text. I think that is because they are so accessable to kids and less intimidating. From there, anytime you pull out a picturebook, students will know something good is coming. I could go on and on, but I think you get the "picture". I know that once you include picturebooks into your teaching, you won't go back!!

  3. I find this post very interesting! My greatest appreciations! After finding an article accessible at, I totally changed my mind towards this!

  4. Paul, you have totally made my day! It's amazing what adding picture books into an upper elementary classroom can do! Enjoy!!!