Monday, September 21, 2020

Picture Books for Older Chldren? Of Course

One of the ways that teachers are meeting the challenge of online instruction is through picture books and the read aloud. This is a good idea in many ways, but are picture books appropriate for older students, say fifth grade and up? The answer is YES, OF COURSE. The reasons are many, but I wish to highlight just one of those reasons today. Picture books make a great introduction to many, many complex ideas. They can help to build needed background knowledge for new topics, introduce content specific vocabulary with illustrations to assist the learning, and may serve to engage students in a topic of study that they may not have even known they were interested in prior to the picture book read aloud.

Year ago I noticed my colleague, Peggy Burke, had a copy of a comic book titled, Your Brain and You on her desk. I asked her why she had a comic on her desk and she told me that she was reading it because she had signed up for a seminar titled something like, New Discoveries about the Functions of the Brain for Educators, at Harvard University. Peggy said she really didn't have much current background knowledge on the brain, so before attending the seminar she thought that this picture book could give her some the of the basic anatomy and vocabulary related to the topic. 

And so it is with many picture books, they provide outstanding introductions to a wide variety of topics. I have found Gail Gibbons books particularly effective for just this purpose. Her book, The Monarch Butterfly, for example introduces children to the life cycle of the butterfly, the incredible story of monarch migration, and even some of the cultural celebrations that have grown up to celebrate this wonder of nature. Along the way children are also introduced to the structure of the butterfly as well as key terms like metamorphosis, chrysalis, molting, and larva. Reading this book aloud provides excellent background for a broader study of insects in a middle grades classroom. There is a Gail Gibbons book for almost every conceivable science topic you might want to explore in your curriculum.

Speaking of the brain, Seymour Simon has a wonderful picture book on that topic. Simon is the master of explaining complex topics to children through text and illustration. His books are beautiful, informative, and accurate and make ideal introductions to a wide variety of topics. Among my favorites are Weather, Our Solar System, and the very timely, Wildfires. All of these books contain  glossaries and indexes for easy use.

The more background knowledge readers have on a topic, the better their comprehension of the text will be. The more background knowledge a reader has on a topic the better their engagement in the reading is likely to be. Reading pictures books aloud to older children to help them prepare for study in any topic is a "no brainer." 😏

For some more of the many reasons to read picture books to older children, I recommend this video from literacy champion, Colby Sharp.

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