When I think about my time as a child, some of my closest memories are with picture books. I can still remember the thrill of the welcome invitation to jump into Mom’s bed and how fun it was to get tangled in her soft sheets. But mostly, I remember when she finally got my brother and I to be still, and listen to a story. It was magical; it didn’t matter that my brother had picked Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel for the tenth night in a row, because each time she read it I could live in the story and be amazed at Mike’s bravery and strength.
While I have kept these memories close to my heart, I haven’t really used picture books in my teaching. Sure, I’ve used them a few times— Who doesn’t want to read The Lorax during a propaganda unit? And Three Nasty Gnarlies is my favorite book to read them at the end of the year . . . but during my time at Columbia’s Reading Institute I was reminded not only of the magic behind these books, but of their power in a reading classroom (even an 8th grade language arts room like my own).
Reading a picture book that’s written for slightly older kids lends itself to instruction beautifully. First, with an interactive read aloud students can easily practice the skills from the minilesson within the context of a whole story. Picture books that are aligned with your unit of study, done once or twice a week, with a consistent structure provides your kids a wealth of opportunity to practice, without a major loss of time. During your interactive read aloud get kids to turn and talk using prompts like: discover, categorize, question, teach, wonder, compare & contrast. Get them thinking, get them talking, get them to remember the magic too.
The other big bonus of using picture books in your classroom is their ability to be used as a teaching tool in small skill based groups and independent reading conferences. When you see that your kids are struggling with a skill, you can think back to these books and teach from there. It’s so much easier because you already know the text and they do too. This way, let say if you haven’t read the independent reading book they’re reading, you can still teach a skill for them to use within their book. At Columbia they recommended that you actually carry the book with you to your conferences, just in case, and believe me, I’ll be doing just that— hopefully it will work like magic.