being a teacher, collaboration, global, Literacy, MIEExpert15, picture books, projects, Reading, skype, student choice

Our Epic Nonfiction Picture Book Project Take 2

For the past few years, my students have written nonfiction picture books for younger audiences around the world.  Last year, I decided to share the lesson plan to serve as inspiration for those who wanted it, and this year I thought I would do the same.  While the foundation is the same, the process has been tweaked a bit for a more meaningful experience for the students.

The goal of the project is rather simple; create a 15 to 25 slide/page nonfiction picture book meant for a 2nd or 3rd grade audience on anything you wish to write about.  Throughout this project we have been able to successfully marry tech tools with writing, as well as use Skype, Padlet, Twitter and other interactive tools.

Why this project?  Because within it we have been able to work on:

  • How to take organized notes in a way that works for them.
  • How to write a paragraph and all of the myriads of lessons that are attached to that.
  • Grammar!  Spelling!  Punctuation!
  • How to find legal images.
  • How to cite sources, including images, books, and websites.
  • How to uncover reliable sources (yes, there is a place for Wikipedia in our research).
  • How to search the internet better.
  • How to conduct market research using Skype to ask 2nd or 3rd graders what they want to read and how they want to read it.
  • How to rewrite information in our own words.
  • How to do design and layout on a page to make it inviting.
  • How to create good questions.
  • Exploring our own interests.
  • How to write assessment rubrics.
  • How to work as a peer mentor group.
  • How to monitor self-engagement.

So a few details about the project:

  • This is a 3-week long project, anchored by a 10 or so minute mini-lessons every day and then work time the rest of class.
  • Mini-lessons have centered around how to take notes ( I showed them 3 different ways), how to research well, how to write paragraphs, how to rewrite information, and anything else we have had to address.
  • Students were able to ask questions to 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms via Skype to do market research, and incorporate that feedback into their project.
  • I am using this blog and Facebook to find classrooms that will assess the final product.  If you would like to be one, please fill out the form at the end of the post.  Those that sign up to give us feedback, fill out this Google form.
  • Students create their books in Google Slides for easy access for all (we check out Chromebooks), as well as easy design and layout.

Major Changes for this year:

The addition of Google Classroom.

This year we have been using Google Classroom to post tools, create the project, as well as use as a gathering point.  This addition has made it much more manageable as far as giving students the information they need, as well as seeing where students are.  If you have not looked into Google Classroom, this is a great project to use it for.

The Peer Mentor Group.

Students are in peer mentor groups as of today.  These groups are meant to be support groups that also help hold each other accountable.  Students gave me three names; a friend they know well, someone they kind of know, and a name for someone they would like to know.  I then made the groups puzzling out their requests.  Groups are between 2 and 4 people are will be used almost every day as an informal check-in.

The shortened timeline.

Last year we did this project for 6 weeks and although the students stayed fully engaged, we shortened it to 3 because we realized we could achieve the same deep engagement with a shortened product.  It also means the students are using their time better because they know every minute counts.

The actual lesson plan:


  • Finished product should be a 15 to 25 page book, created in Google Slides,  that not only includes 4-5 or so “chapters/sub-topics” but also has a glossary, table of contents, works cited, front and back cover, as well as an about the author.
  • Font size of text should be at least 20.
  • Students will use at least one print research material and supplement with reliable internet sources.
  • We will use the website to cite all of our sources which will be done in conjunction with tech tools.  Cross collaboration is a great idea here.
  • We will spend time in class researching, writing, as well as sharing our work.  Students should be able to finish this in class if time is spent wisely.  

Sample:  Will be shown in class and linked to here.

Modifications/Support provided:

  • Some students will be invited to work in small groups with me and/or support teachers.
  • Graphic organizers and templates can be provided for those who need to follow a format.  To access them, please go to this Google presentation and make a copy as needed.

Mini-Lesson Materials:

Every day, we will focus on a mini-lesson meant to bolster the skills and needs of the students.  The following mini-lessons will be taught (in order):

  1. Exploring NF picture books; what are their text features and why are they important?  Template for this discovery can be found here.
  2. What do you want to teach the world?  Narrowing down topic and finding research materials.  Brainstorming research questions to guide their reading.  
  3. Who is your audience?  What do we know about 2nd and 3rd graders? Preparing for our market research Skype call.  Creating a Padlet with what we think we know about 2nd and 3rd graders reading preferences.  An example can be seen here.  Students also meet in their peer mentor groups to share their topics, their questions and what they are excited about.  
  4. Skype call to classrooms, during the call students will take notes for themselves and afterwards we will update our Padlet with what we know now.  Research time reading their books.
  5. Taking 3 column notes in notebook or Google docs.  Example template can be found here.  More information on this type of note-taking can be seen here
  6. Taking notes on notecards and providing graphic organizers for the notes.  (I glued 6 envelopes into Manilla folders and then laminated them many years ago.  These work well for students because they can use them to organize their notes in sub-topics and can write on the folders using dry erase markers.)  Here is what I share with them as an example.
  7. Using Diigo as a way to take notes (refresher from Tech tools).
  8. Unscrambling a paragraph – parts of a paragraph  (example taken from here)
  9. Fill in the main idea and conclusion – found here
  10. Informal to formal paragraph – found here Alternate is writing a sample paragraph
  11. Teach to your partner, checklist can be found here
  12. Table of contents – what does it do, what does it need?
  13. Glossary – what does it do, what does it need?
  14. Self-assessment, peer edit if they want to and review, checklist can be found here
  15. Turn in 

That’s it, pretty much.  Feel free to modify/adapt/share.

If you would like to receive some of our finished picture books to give feedback on and your teach 4th grade or younger, please fill out the form.  Picture books will be shared at the end of December and you will have until mid-January to provide the feedback.


17 thoughts on “Our Epic Nonfiction Picture Book Project Take 2”

  1. Pernille, I’d love to have my 4th grade reading students partake in reading some books. We begin our informational unit and this would be very authentic. I found the form to comment but not sign up to read. If I missed something let me know! Michele Knott

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. What a wonderful project! Your students are lucky to have you. Will they be posted somewhere for viewing? I’m not a teacher, but I write both fiction and nonfiction picture books, and would love to see what they do!

    Thanks for sharing!!

  3. I am so excited to read about your Epic Picture Book lesson and would like to try it in VA. We are fortunate to have an elementary school campus within walking distance so no need do Skype Market Research. I even thought how fun it would be to culminate on Read Across America Day and come back to share our stories. A couple questions for you…
    1. Do you account for higher and lower reading levels within a 2nd grade classroom? What guidance did you offer your students for writing to younger readers? target word? word length?
    2. How far beyond “Tell me about your interests” did your market research go?
    Just trying to wrap my mind around some details before planning a calendar.

    1. Students decide what their target 2nd or 3rd grader looks like to account for their wide spread in ability. They can write up a profile of this reader if they would like. I actually don’t think anyone asked that questions, they had very specific questions and they were all different. Examples were: Do you like a lot of facts or a few facts. What draws you to a book. What should a cover look like. How large should the font be, and others like this. They really wanted to get to the heart of what the book should look like and be about.

      1. This is very helpful, Permille, thank you. Is the subject of the book the independent choice of the author or is it chosen based on conversations with the younger students?

      2. They choose themselves and then cater to fit their audience better, so a few students decided to change their topic after they had spoken to their target audience.

      3. Okay, I’m getting ready to launch an epic NF project of my own this week. Feeling nervous. What do you make available for students as far as NF picture book resources for text feature analysis and research? Do you check out a cart from your school library or take students there? Do you try and find books on any/all obscure topics or say “this is what we have available to consult”?

  4. I passed this on to my sister-in-law in NH who teaches 4th grade as well as my neighbor’s daughter who’s student teaching for 5th grade. It sounds like such an amazing project. I’d love to be able to take a peek even though I’m not a teacher. Would that be possible?

  5. I had a few nf picture books at the chosen age group ready for the students to read and explore, they could choose whatever topic we had books on in our school library. I didn’t feel the need to limit their choice because that is what hooks them into this project even more

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s