The use of picture books to teach ELs has been in decline since the advent of the Common Core and high stakes testing. The purpose of this blog is to support the use of both picture books with words and those that are wordless when teaching language to ELs in grades Pre-K–12. In a recent #ELLCHAT Twitter discussion, teachers expressed the thought that we need to get away from the idea that picture books are just for young children or beginning ELs. (#ELLCHAT is a Twitter chat for teachers of ELs that takes place on Monday nights at 9 pm ET. The schedule of topics can be found on the #ELLCHAT Facebook page.)
Teachers also shared their rationales for picking picture books for their students. Here are some of the criteria for the picture books that they chose:
- The book contains a high quality story that makes sense and allows opportunities for vocabulary development.
- The language used in the picture book is authentic.
- Content information is related to the standards being taught.
- Texts in the book matches the pictures.
- Most participants preferred illustrations that are not too busy.
- Story and illustrations are free of stereotypes.
- Illustrations are not “flashcard types” but elicit discussion and interpretation by students.
- Stories and characters have depth and lend themselves to retelling by students.
Here are some resources on using picture books with Pre-K–12 students that include strategies mentioned by #ELLCHAT teachers. In general, they also supported the use of picture books at all grade levels especially for beginning ELs.
- Picture books to help ELLs Access Common Core Anchor Reading Standards is an excellent overview by Judy O’Loughlin for using picture books to teach Common Core Reading Standards.
- The Power of Picture Books v. High Stakes Testing and Common Core by Nancy Bailey cites how picture books are coming back into favor but they are now aligned to the Common Core.
- Using Picture Books with English Language Learners is a comprehensive article on how to teach language to ELLs through picture books.
- Wordless Books: So Much to Say!, edited by Gilda Martinez-Alba and Judith Cruzado-Guerrero (and published by TESOL Press) includes lesson ideas aligned with the Common Core and the TESOL PreK–12 English Language Proficiency Standards. Two free activities are available online here and here.
- The Use of Picture books in the High School Classroom by Melissa Reiker is a comprehensive case study of how picture books can be used in the high school classroom with all students. The information would also apply to upper elementary/middle school students.
Teachers of ELs participating in #ELLCHAT also like to use wordless picture books with their young or beginning ELs. Wordless picture books are an excellent way to help ELs build vocabulary and talk about what is happening in the pictures. Wordless books spark the imagination of your students as they invent text to match the illustrations. You can have ELs write simple text on Post-It notes to go with the pictures. Here are also some resources on using wordless picture books.
- Using wordless picture books is a good resource for strategies when teaching elementary age children to use wordless books.
- Talking About Wordless Picture Books to teach ELs is an excellent resource for parents and tutors who work with ELs.
- Wordless books resource from Colorin Colorado provides a recommended selection of wordless books.
- Wonderful world of wordless books provides sample lessons using wordless books.
I urge all teachers of ELs to introduce picture books into your curriculum no matter what grade level you teach. I think you’ll find it very rewarding and your students will love it. If you have ideas on how to use picture books when teaching language to ELs, please share them in the “Comments” section. In my next blog, I will write about teaching social studies to ELs and show examples of using wordless picture books.