Saturday, March 10, 2012

Using WORDLESS Picture Books

We talk a lot about using picture books in our teaching.  I am wondering though if you are using wordless picture books in your lessons.  If not, you are missing out on a great teaching resource.  I try to incorporate wordless picture book in my lessons for a variety of lessons.

Well, besides the fact that a picture is worth a thousand words, there are plenty of other great reasons to incorporate wordless picture books in your teaching:

-They lend themselves to any lesson you could think to teach.
-They level the playing field in the class.  Without text to contend with, you can still teach reading and writing skills/strategies to the whole class or mixed ability groups without needing to level.  This is great for your lower performing students and your ELL friends.  In fact, I find that my high ability students are often the ones that don't so as well with wordless book activities.  They often like to stick to the text and want it to be "right."  With wordless picture books, you have a lot of wiggle room which can make them uncomfortable.  My lower performing students are often able to take the lead in these types of activities.
-It sparks your friends imagination.  Without text, you will be amazed at what they read into what they see.
-You can use the same books across many grade levels depending on what you ask your friends to do with them.  They aren't just for little kids!
-A lot of the ways I use these books require my kids to be up and moving or working on the floor in small, cooperative groups. Anything different from seat work is always welcome! 
-These lessons also often require collaboration, conversation, and decision making as a class. 

I thought I would share with you some of the ways in which I have used wordless picture books in my classroom.  Now, for each of the skills/strategies I list below, I have given an example of how you can teach it.  However, there are a bazillion other ways you could teach these lessons.  These are just some examples.  You could expand the lesson or simplify it as you see fit or maybe you have your own idea on how to do it.  Do what works for you!

-Copy all the pages of your book.  Divide the pages into three parts; beginning, middle, and end.  Give it to three groups.  Each group sequences their pages.  Then, bring the three groups together to decide the sequence of the three sections.  Once they have decided, I tape the pages in order up around the room and we view the story from beginning to end.  As a groups, they can make any last minute changes at this point.  We then read the actual book and see if we sequenced the same way the author did.  This is where the real lesson comes in.  If there were no changes, you can discuss how they determined sequence.  It's important for them to verbally justify their reasoning.  If their sequence doesn't agree with the book, they have to defend their reasoning.  I find that there are times when the sequencing my friends do really does make more sense than what is done in the actual book.  It is in the discussions where I hear how my friends are applying sequencing skills.  This is great for your ELL friends as it puts them on an equal playing field to the rest of the class as there is no text to struggle with, and still teaches them the skill.  Many of the lessons that follow are great for your ELL friends for the same reason.  This is also great for the lower grades if you use a simple book.  They can organize simply for beginning, middle, and end.

Inferencing & Predictions
Without words, you must really analyze the story story through the illustrations.  When reading the book with your friends, have them make predictions before the next page. Without text to cite, they really must apply some good inference reasoning. When you do this as you read the book, they are always in anticipation of turning the page to see if they were correct.

Dialog & Mood
Select a page or two that has two characters.  What would those characters be saying in this situation?  How do I write that dialog?  Using just one page for this makes it a good quick hit for a mini-lesson.  You can then give your friends another page to write the dialog in independent practice.  This is a great way to have them practice crafting power sentences  as it forces them to incorporate mood, which they must determine from what is happening in the illustration.  You can also just use the illustrations to determine mood without having to write the sentences.  In this case, the dconversation you have with your friends is critical.  They need to explain how they determined mood.  What in the picture gave you that idea?  What are the characters doing?  What is the setting?  Did the illustrator use darker, moodier colors or brighter, happier colors?

I find this same technique an excellent way to teach internal monologue.  After reading the book with the class, I focus on a page that comes later in the story.  At this point, there is something going on in the story, some conflict, so my friends have something to work with.  We then focus on one character in the illustration.  I ask my friends what this character might be thinking.  What would his thought bubble say?  We go on to discuss how internal monologue gives us insight to the characters, their feelings, motivations, etc.  and how it can give us additonal information that we may not otherwise know.  My friends then work in pairs to come up with internal monologue for different characters in the book or for the same character in different parts of the book.  Without fail, I find after I do this lesson, my friends begin to incorporate internal monologue in their own writing.

Character Analysis
After reading the book, what do you know about the main character/protagonist?  This really focuses your friends on a characters actions.  Create a list of character traits with your friends.  The lesson comes, again, in having your friends justify their choices.  What makes them say the character is kind or frustrated or loving?  You get the idea!

Narrative Writing
Obviously, there is no text in a wordless picture book.  Have your friends write the story guided by the illustrations.  This is a good way to teach or review narrative writing.  You can write the story on chart paper as a shared writing activity.  This way you can be sure to guide them in incorporating the required narrative elements.  Or, you can always do this as a small group or independent writing assignment.  I like doing it in small groups at the end of the narrative writing unit.  I can see my friends applying what we have learned.  Also, it is really a lot of fun when we read the stories from the different groups.  While we all had the same illustrations to follow, the stories are always different.  The plots vary, some go for humor while other groups are more serious.  Some groups embellish beyond the pictures, while others pretty much stick to the pictures.

Identify Plot Structure, Story Climax
For this, I usually have my friends sequence the story first. Then, we discuss the story plot.  Once we know what is happening in the story, my friends identify the story page that shows the climax of the story.  We can then look at the pages before and after.  If you have taped your story along the wall as we do, you can then move the pictures to show the plot mountain. 

When you tape the pictures in a visual display on the wall, they can then use sentence strips to label the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.  It is a very concrete, visual way to teach these elements.

Main Idea & Supporting Detail
If you've done either the sequencing or plot structure lessons above where you ordered the pages on the wall, you should try this lesson.  Have your friends identify the page that essentially shows the maid idea.  Once you are all in agreement, have them take down any pictures that don't support that main idea.  You will be left with only pages that show events which support the main idea.  Again, a very visual and concrete way to teach this skill.  I would chart this with words.  Write the main idea and then, looking at the pages, come up with a sentence for each supporting detail.  I would also just suggest being particular about what book you use.  Some wordless picture books tend to be very fanciful and imaginative.  This works best with a book that follows a less imaginative, "real" story.

Those are just some ideas for lessons you can teach with wordless picture books. Depending on your learning goal and what you require of your friends, I find them to be excellent books to use across all grade levels. In particular, your older students will really get a kick out of using them because it is so different from their norm.

So, let's talk books.  Wordless picture books can be hard to find if you don't know what you are looking for.  In my public library, the wordless picture books are mixed in with all the other picture books.  You could spend forever looking for one without words.  With a simple Google search, I was able to find a few different lists.  Below are two links I think might be helpful in getting you started.   I selected these list because they both have books I have used with great success.  I'll tell you a little more about two of my favorites that are on the lists.

  • The Louisville Free Public Library also has an online list.  A few of the books on their list are the same as on the Carnegie list, but there are some different ones.  One I like and have used is You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Weitzman.  Being just a quick train ride away from New York City, my friends can always make connections to this book as many have been to large museums in the city.  What I really like about this book is that there are multiple illustrations on each page.  There is usually a larger, main illustration with smaller ones around it.  It is like having supporting details on the page for the main picture and is very helpful for your students that need more information or visual clues.

Between these lists, you should have a good starting point.  There are a lot of great wordless books out there, and these are just a small sample.  There are so many others I could go on about.  Talk to your school media specialist, and see what they recommend.  It would be nice if they had a special section just for these types of books.  However, don't be discouraged if you can't get your hands on any wordless picture books or don't have the time to go looking. It is easily solved. Grab your favorite picture book and some Post-It notes. Simply cut the Post-Its to cover up the text. Voila! You can turn any picture book into a wordless picture book.

So, is any of this helpful or have I just rambled on?  :-)  How are you using wordless picture books?  Do you have a favorite to share?


  1. Oh my gosh, I LOVED this!! Thank you for all of the wonderful ideas--I feel so inspired right now!

  2. Thanks for this post! There are so many great wordless books! My FAVORITE is Time Flies by Eric Rohmann

    Chickadee Jubilee
    The Best Endings

  3. Oh! New to your blog but I'll be back. Suggestions? David Wiesner (Flotsam is my favorite but he has a lot). Where's Walrus? (Stephen Savage). Chalk (Bill Thomson). Will keep thinking.

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    Confessions of a Fourth Grade Teacher

  5. Excellent ideas...saw this on Pinterest, glad I checked it out.

  6. I just picked up a great wordless picture book at my local book store. The book is called "The Bored Book" by David Michael Slater. The story follows two children who are bored at their grandfathers house. They stumble into a dusty room and run into some amazing adventures. They travel to a pirates ship, meet the abominal snowman in the snowy mountains and swim with sharks. Readers realize at the end of the story that the children are experiencing these grand adventures through reading. I am excited to read this with my friends and try a couple of your suggestions.

  7. When you write "friends" were you referring to students? I am new to the field and never heard students referred to this way. Just wondering...

  8. Thank you so very much for this thorough look at ways to enjoy wordless picture books with children. One of my favourite wordless picture books is Chicken and Cat Clean Up.

  9. I've used wordless books in my elementary and middle school ESL classes, with great among the books I like to work with are Mercer Meyer's The Boy, the Dog and The Frog series. Great fun, and very adaptable. the Japanese storytelling tradition of Kamishibai is adaptable to this and gives a good oral presentation format. Have fun!

  10. Thanks for sharing those two books. I can't wait to check them out today! As for wordless picture books go, 'The Snowman' by Raymond Briggs and 'Welcome to the Zoo' by Alison Jay comes to mind.

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  12. Very interesting , good job and thanks for sharing such a good blog.
    Thanx For Sharing

  13. Excellent ideas...saw this on Pinterest, glad I checked it out.
    Thanx For Sharing

  14. Thank you so very much for this thorough look at ways to enjoy wordless picture books with children. One of my favourite wordless picture books is Chicken and Cat Clean Up.
    Thanx For Sharing