Monday, July 27, 2020

"What Do You DO with Picture Books in Middle School?"

Every year I have people--especially administrators--ask me, "What exactly do you DO with picture books in middle school?" 

The bold, moody colors of these illustrations just make my heart swoon! It's a terrific biography to share with students, too. It does take a couple of days to read, however.

That's a fair question, and I have to say there's no one right answer. Depending on the year, the grade, and the curriculum I'm dealing with, I have changed my routine over the years. But if you're looking to implement picture books in your class, I'm happy to share some ideas.

One Book in One Week Plan

Last year, I had a very strictly enforced scripted curriculum. (Boo!) Because my schedule was so rigid, I found I could only effectively do a book a week. It was what it was, and there was no sense fighting it, so I developed a weekly plan. 

During the last fifteen minutes of our ELA block, we would do our picture book as soon as everyone had their desks cleared off. (This is great motivation for dawdlers!)

I would put the picture book under the document camera so everyone could see the pictures and the words. 

Note: If you have a projector but not a document camera, you might want to check out Vooks ( or Epic (

Students learned what a postmark was called when we read this book, and we also reviewed the parts of a friendly letter.

Here's a rough schedule for the week:

Monday: Read book aloud to class (we might have to continue on Tuesday for a longer book)

Talk about it Tuesday: Discuss plot, characters, and setting (or finish reading longer book)

Word Wednesday: Look back at the text. Have students point out examples of imagery, figurative language, dialect, new vocabulary, etc.

Think about it Thursday: As a class, determine possible themes, author's purpose, illustration critique, character development, etc.

Favorite/Fix-It Friday: Have students discuss their favorite part of the book OR if there was an aspect of the book they didn't like, how would they fix it?

Now, even though we spent a week on each book, we certainly didn't discuss every single one of those literary topics. I would choose ahead of time which points I felt matched the book well, and we would go from there. 

Please note: The fastest way to kill the love of any book is to beat it into the ground. Seriously! I have taught with people who had to examine every nuance a book could possibly have, and their students ended up despising some great books because of it. Please just pick a point or two each day and let students savor those little nuggets. 

This is one of my all-time favorite books to review imagery!

One Book Each Day (More or Less) Plan

While we definitely went in more depth with the book-a-week plan, we covered far more books with the book-a-day method. Both ideas have their pros and cons. And don't let the name fool you--sometimes it takes a couple of days to get through some of the longer books. The main idea with either of these plans is that as a class, we read and learn from a picture book each day. Students learn a great deal about fluency and reading with expression by having a more experienced reader model it on a consistent basis. Plus, it's something they look forward to and can count on every day!

Again, I  choose the concepts I feel a book highlights especially well and use those as discussion topics each day. I try to pair it with what we learned in class that day, but that doesn't always happen. 

Here are some of the topics I like to cover with my kiddos after we've read a picture book together:  (Again, I choose one or two to discuss)

-Plot development
-Character development
-Word choice, figurative language, vocabulary
-Dialect, dialogue
-Author's purpose
-Point of view
-Vivid verbs
-Rhythm, repetition
-Sentence structure 
-Context clues
-Types of conflict
-Illustration /Elements of art
-Parts of a book (cover, title page, end papers, etc.)
-Dedication page
-Author / illustrator information

....just to name a few!

Once you start collecting picture books, your classroom library will grow by leaps and bounds!

For those of you wanting to incorporate picture books into your middle school classrooms, I hope these ideas help. My list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will be a useful starting point for your own picture book program.

Happy reading, friends!

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