Why Picture Books

why-picture-booksWhy should we use picture books at grades 4 – 8? Shouldn’t these students be reading chapter books?

Yes. For reading, they should be reading chapter books, but for the writing process the picture book is a terrific tool. Here are 5 reasons to select great picture books and use them in your class.

The Right Length to Imitate

Lots of picture books are from 275 –words to, well, thousands actually. It is often the shorter ones, or a small part of a longer one, that is the right length to ask young writers to imitate the length or style of.

For example, an ABC book like K is for Kick by Melanie Herzog is an ABC of soccer terminology. Each entry is about 150 words, and contains the soccer term repeated about 4 times. It isn’t a definition; it’s an interesting set of “factoids” about the term. So…it is perfect to show for length. “ Class, please do it like this.”

Provides a Model

Picture books that use the model of a diary, or a mock fairy tale, or a set of letters, and so on, provide excellent models for students to imitate. It is not as intimidating as “try to write in the style of Stephen Leacock” might be.

Get You Interested in the Topic

If students are going to research and write on a specific topic, an interesting or vivid picture book can often stimulate their interest so that they are “ready to go.”

Provide and Experience or Vocabulary

We can only write from what we know. But a student in grade 4 has only about 6 years of memory to draw on (assuming they don’t remember much before age 4). So they have limited experience to draw from, and a more limited vocabulary to use it with. Sometimes, a picture book can be chosen because it can lead into an exploration of a vocabulary theme, such as exploring 25 different names for hats and their individual uses by starting with Bridget’s Beret by Tom Lichtenheld.

Inspire a Personal Response

Sometimes a picture book can just be used as a lead in to personal writing, journaling, (or extreme writing as I prefer to call it.). Just make up three possible response prompts, and “let your students loose.”

seratoninThose 5 reasons might be really great, but I love picture books because they settle down the class.

Yes they do, don’t they?

Being read to produces serotonin. It calms and quiets the entire class so that they are ready to learn.

What is serotonin? It is a neurotransmitter your body releases. It creates a comfortable easy feeling. You feel good, not great; you feel happy, not ecstatic.

When does your body release serotonin? When you feel safe…and what is safer than being read to? When something is happening that you have good associations with and it is familiar. We hope all our children have the happy experience of being read to. And, you have positive social status in this environment…that is, it’s not in any way threatening.

So, the picture book does wonderful things for your class…and is a great lead in to progress in writing.


One thought on “Why Picture Books

  1. What a wonderful blog! I’m so happy to have discovered your site. I love this post on “why picturebooks” – so very true. I’m getting invaluable inspiration and help for teaching epistolary fiction at bookcamp next week. many thanks, Cynthia

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