How I Use Picture Books in Our Middle School Classroom

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Wherever I go I seem to bring the love of picture books with me.  In fact, whenever I travel, I try to pick up at least one new picture book from wherever I am as a way to remember the adventure.   I have lost count of the picture books in my own house.  In fact, we have long ago run out of shelf space at home and some now reside to my dismay in boxes instead of out in the open.  Our picture book collection in our classroom has surpassed 200, with displays wherever there is a ledge, with piles on the tables, and special books waiting to be shared. Being a picture book aficionado comes at a wonderful, cluttered, price.

I have written before of why I use picture books with my middle school students, the changes it has created for us as we build our community of readers.  I have shared lists upon lists of our favorite books as well, hoping to help others find the very best value in the books they bring in, hoping to inspire others to make them an integral part of their classroom.  This is not a post on the why, but instead on the how.

I often get asked how I use picture books as a teaching tool.  What does that actual process look like, so hopefully this will clear up some of those questions.

Which book I choose to share depends on the lesson.  I treat it much like a short story in what I want students to get out of it so it has to suit the very purpose we are trying to understand. I introduce the concept by sharing a story  and then I ask my students to come as close as they can to the rocking chair in our corner.  Once settled, whether on the floor, on balls or on chairs, I  read it aloud.  We stop and talk throughout as needed but not on every page, it should not take more than 10 minutes at most to get through an average size picture book.  If it is a brand new concept I may just have students listen, while other times they might engage in a turn-and-talk.   I have an easel right next to me and at times we write our thoughts on that.  Sometimes we make an anchor chart, it really just depends on the purpose of the lesson.  Often a picture book is used as one type of media on a topic and we can then branch into excepts from text, video, or audio that relates to the topic.

Because I teach the same class 5 times in a row, I often switch out the picture books I use with the different classes.  There are some that you can still love reading after 4 times, while others get to be a bit tedious, so I adjust as needed.  This is why having a lot of great picture books to choose from is something I am committed to.

I do not have multiple copies of really any picture books, I don’t see it as needed.  Instead, I pick the picture book to read aloud and then find “companion books,” other picture books that share the same concept, for example easily identifiable themes. These are spread out on tables, waiting for the students to select them. This way, when I ask students to work with them they are truly testing out the skill and not just whether they can spot the same things that we just practiced together.  Often times, students can choose to work with a partner as they explore their self-selected books.

Some times students write after reading the picture books, other times they do not.  Sometimes we use them as mentor texts where we mimic the way language is used or how a story is set up.  I use them a lot as a way to do a quick check-in to see if students need re-teaching or are on the right path.  If students write about them it tends to be just one paragraph or so.

We do use some of the same picture books again and again as a way to practice close reading but also as a way to see different aspects of the same story. Once students have heard or read it to discover the story, we can focus on other things  such  as language use or author’s craft as we rediscover it.

Picture books tend to stay in the classroom because they get lost really easily, however, students may ask if they can borrow one to take home.  Usually I say yes as long as they bring it back the very next day.

Picture books are shelved together in our classroom but not organized by theme or author.  I simply do not have room for splitting up the groups, so I try to display the picture books by theme in our classroom instead.  For example, whenever it is a new month or after a break, our display is always changed out.  I want students to want to read them as much as possible and a fresh new display helps entice them.

When a new picture book enters our classroom, it has already been read by me and I may even book talk it to students.  I should keep a list of which picture books would be great for what, I guess my lists of picture books to use kind of counts as that, but I do not have a personal list.  This is on purpose because it offers me chance to reread books I may have forgotten and browse my own collection with fresh eyes when I search for that perfect book.

I am amazed at the sheer usage I get out of the picture books in our room from a teaching stand point, but also so  grateful for the reading experience they provide for my students.  Picture books may just be a key to helping students fall in love with reading again.

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.

 

5 thoughts on “How I Use Picture Books in Our Middle School Classroom

  1. I teach high school English (9th & 11th) and I have found incorporating picture books is a sure fire way to energize my students either as an intro to another text or as an extension after reading an assigned text.

  2. Have been an admirer of some picture books for eons- almost as long as I have been an Educator; they are particularly great for showing story curve, and reminding older students about rhythm and flow even with prose (not restricted to poetry) and have taken High School students to the Library to self select then read aloud and share with one another what drew them to the story, and what Literary techniq

  3. Have been an admirer of some picture books for eons- almost as long as I have been an Educator; they are particularly great for showing story curve, and reminding older students about rhythm and flow even with prose (not restricted to poetry) and have taken High School students to the Library to self select then read aloud and share with one another what drew them to the story, and what Literary techniques they noticed; the read alouds fit into a Drama workshop as well…

  4. Thanks for this Pernille. Appreciate your post which has answered all my questions re how you use picture books in your classroom. It also amazes me how captivated my students are with picture books. Love the idea of using a range of books with a common message, theme, writing style etc…Also like how you challenge and extend your students’ thinking through other forms of media that link to the main idea of the picture book.

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