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Using Picture Books in Elementary School Teaching

Outside the Box Teaching Ideas

using picture books in elementary school teachingI love books of all shapes and sizes. I also love sharing this great passion with my students as much as possible. Although my fourth graders are independently reading chapter books such as 39 Clues and the ever popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I  try to supply them with various picture books relating to the units we are studying. I then display these books in the front of the class, on side tables, on top of shelves, and other noticeable areas for students to peruse during our weekly SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) period.

Since it is impossible for me to just have these books available and not read aloud, I will select a few to share and create an activity or lesson for the students to complete. Presently, I have books on simple machines in which the students take turns reading aloud and then create a table based on the machines listed in the story. I have a small desk with books about the digestive system as well as a model of the digestive system with removable body parts. One of our favorites is a book about what happens when you eat a hamburger.  Picture books are all over the room!

Some of my absolute favorite books are Christmas and winter stories. I found reading aloud is a calming affect in an absolutely crazy season!  Let's admit it- December is a rough month. Students are full of excitement, attention is limited, and teachers are counting the days until Christmas break. (Have I mentioned we only have 15 days until our vacation?). It can be challenging getting students to focus on pronouns, simple machines, or the concept of two digit multiplication  when visions of sugar plums (and Xbox) are dancing in their heads.  To keep them somewhat focused and add a little fun to the class, I purposely select and display Christmas, holiday, and winter books to share.

Ten of my favorite picture books

  • There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow by Lucille Colandro. I love this edition of the familiar story. This is great for sequencing, rhyming patterns, searching and locating pronouns (or other parts of speech), sentence types, descriptive writing, digestion process, and predictions. Students love creating their own “lady” (or man) with an oversized stomach and a snowman inside.
  • Snow by Cynthia Rylant. I discovered so many wonderful writing lessons inside this beautifully illustrated book. To name a few, descriptive writing, figurative writing, parts of speech, and listing activities students can do in the snow. 
  • Golden Snowflake by Francoise and Frederic Joos. I love this story. I read it recently before introducing storytelling and first, second, and third person writing. It is also a great lesson on cooperation, planning, and lessons on accepting others.
  • Snowbear's Christmas Countdown by Theresa Smythe. We are currently reading this book. I read one page a day as our countdown. Perfect for calendar skills, counting up, and ordinal numbers. Each day Snowbear does something in preparation for Christmas. We do the same. For example, on day four, Snowbear arranged snow globes on his mantle. Students designed their own snow globe using a winter scene and then wrote a story based on the picture they drew. Writing and art- two of their favorite things!
  • Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore. A classic. No classroom or home is complete without this wonderful story. Perfect for rhyming patterns, special sounds, grammar lessons, sequencing, and creative writing. I like to have my students write their own version of the night before Christmas.
  • When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan. Living in Connecticut, winter and snow often comes early. Students are able to compare and contrast the seasons after reading. A great introduction to weather or hibernation unit.
  • Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner. Who doesn't love snowmen who teach about rhyming patterns and fantasy writing?
  • Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray. I just discovered this adorable book while on the book mobile last week.  Beautifully illustrated, this is a tale of a woman who decides to plant seedlings with her five year-old neighbor. Together they care for the trees which eventually turn into tall Christmas trees. A little adding, subtracting, sequencing, measuring, and tree growth facts go along with this story. I also enjoy the note from the author in the back. Another lesson about the history of Christmas trees.
  • The Mitten by Jan Brett. This book is a classic. I remember reading to my son's kindergarten class as a volunteer.  An Ukrainian Folktale tells of a little boy who drops his mitten in the snow and winter animals try to snuggle inside to keep warm stretching the well-stitched mitten. Another great story for sequencing, talking about elasticity (science), sharing, and prediction.
  • Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz. This is a must read. Before I read this, I post the following question on the board: “What is the true meaning of Christmas?” I give my students a few minutes to think about it and then read the story aloud. Then I place students in small groups and use this as an exercise in play writing. Students work together creating a play based on the story.

All the stories above can be used to incorporate some form of writing lesson, however; I don't always assign creative writing. I like to post a page from the story on the board (using a projector) and have students pick out parts of speech, singular/plurals, sentence types, suffixes/prefixes, and many other grammar components.  I also like to use corrective tape to cover descriptive words and have students come up with alternative words (sort of like a mad lib). Students tend to be more engaged in these types of activities when reading familiar texts.

Normally, I try to keep the reading and activities to thirty minutes once a week so not to take away from the other lessons I need to cover. Sometimes the picture book will serve as an introduction or a closing to a unit. During the month of December, I do admit I read aloud more and do more book activities to keep students on track. This means more trips to the library, but I really don't mind- there are books there!

What ideas do you have for using picture books in the classroom?            

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