Teaching Language to Pre-K–12 ELs Through Picture Books

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.

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.

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.


About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Teaching Language to Pre-K–12 ELs Through Picture Books

  1. Judie Haynes Judie Haynes says:

    Hi! We’ve repaired the link and you will be able to use it now. Let me know if you have any problems with it.

    Thanks for letter me know.

    Judie Haynes

  2. Celina says:

    Dear Judie,

    I am trying to design our English curriculum for the next year and I love the idea of using wordless picture-books. I’m trying to access your “Wonderful world of wordless books” link where you provide sample lessons with wordless books, but the link doesn’t work! Is there any way you could send me a link to this?

    Thank you so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.