Picture Books in the Middle School

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I feel like a broken record lately.  Always replying with the same answer as if I cannot think of anything else to say.  Yet it is not because my brain is broken or because I do not know enough about teaching English.  The truth is that when most people ask me how to teach something in reading or writing, my answer continues to be, “Have you tried a picture book?”

Picture books have become the foundation of the 7th grade English classroom that I am a part of.  They are the ice breakers that provide us with the sense of belonging, the sense of community, the sense of wonder that should always surround books and literacy.

They are the life lines I give to students when their day is on the wrong track or they simply need a break.

They are the tool I use to teach close reading, to work through Notice and Note.  They are our mentor texts for writing, for how to capture  fickle audience and keep their attention while still going deep.   They are the springboard into longer texts, the spark that gets us going.

They are the texts I reach for when I do intervention, allowing a child to not fear the text we will discuss  so we can focus on the skills we need to work on.  They are the texts that surround us when our brains are overwhelmed and we need to just take a moment to get into the groove of learning.

When a child speaks limited English, we reach for wordless books where they can practice inferring without being stumped by the language they are learning.

When a child does not understand what it means to analyze, we reach for familiar texts so we can get to the heart of the story.

Picture books disarm.

Picture books charm.

Picture books teach students that they can be successful readers with meaningful texts.  That they can write serious pieces in short bursts.  That there is no such thing as too old for a book.  That the skills they need to develop can be found within the pages of something that looks like it is just for little kids but clearly is for all.

So when you enter our classroom you will see them beckoning to be read, to be shared, to be contemplated and to be used.  You will feel the pull of the books as they call to you, begging you to be read.  And so we do, and we grow, and we laugh, and we share these stories that mirror our own or bring us into a new world.

So why picture books?  Because they have made the single biggest difference in the life of this teacher.  Because my students no longer fear reading, nor can they hate it nearly as much.  Because without them I would be constantly scrambling for a short text that we could read in our limited time together and still leave time for discussion.

Who would have thought that all of these things could be taught through the pages of a picture book?

To see which picture books we love, go here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

9 thoughts on “Picture Books in the Middle School

  1. You really have me thinking about picture books. Not for English, but science. I wonder if I should have my students create picture books to represent the concepts we cover in physics. I have a wide variety of ability levels in the class and would like to challenge them with a twist: representing their current understanding with the algorithms as well as sketches of how they understand the ideas they cover. Not sure about this, just a thought looking for feedback.

    • I think it is a fantastic idea, especially if you have them share their picture books with younger children so that they have a true audience. I think asking students to research and then synthesize the information they have gathered in a succinct way can be a most powerful lesson.

  2. As a fellow middle school teacher and ardent follower of your blog, I am so very grateful for your rally call to picture books. I shared all of your Notice and Note picture book recommendations with our librarian so she can pull together a collection for our team. I am planning a picture book day to launch the next quarter. I’ll have my students partner up and read to one another. Once kids arrive in middle school, the joy of being read aloud to at home has usually disappeared. Thanks for celebrating the importance of pictures books in all classroom.

  3. Pingback: How We Created A Community of Readers |

  4. I completely agree! I have used picture books with middle schoolers and can’t imagine trying to teach writing without them. Interestingly, they would have to be ordered from the elementary school nearby because they were not a part of the library’s selection at the middle school. They certainly should be.

  5. Pingback: Picture Books in the Middle School | Reading an...

  6. This was a great read! I think picture books would be great for all subjects, and all grades. As a college student who reads nothing but tiny text constantly, I could use a picture book every now and then. There is something about pictures in books that make us feel comfortable, they almost make us take reading so seriously. Reading should be enjoyable for students, not frown upon! As readers, we can analyze the pictures in books and gain better understanding of the text on the page. I am an early childhood education major, so picture books will soon take over my life – and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

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