Picture Book Month: Reflections + Lesson Plans Blog Feature

By: Julia Cremin on December 2nd, 2014

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Picture Book Month: Reflections + Lesson Plans

Grade Level: Primary (PK-2) | Academic Subject: English Language Arts | Grade Level: Intermediate (3-6) | Featured Topics: Common Core | Featured Topics: Lessons and Activities | Featured Topics: Templates for FREE download

voices_in_the_parkI’ve been particularly drawn to picture books recently, and not just because it was just Picture Book Month. Children of all ages love listening to a story, which makes a read aloud an engaging way to introduce a new unit of study at any grade level.

As a language arts teacher, I frequently use mentor texts as a springboard for discussion about a topic, or to model reading and writing strategies I want students to emulate. Continue reading to learn how I incorporate picture book read alouds in my 6th grade Reading and Language Arts class.

Teaching Literary Terms: Perspective

When teaching about perspective to my middle school students, I use Voices in the Park, by Anthony Browne. In this book, four different voices tell the story of their visit to the same park on the same afternoon through entirely different perspectives.

I begin with a read aloud of the text; after finishing, I ask student: What do you notice about the structure graphic_organizerof this story? This sparks our discussion about how the author uses a variety of literary devices to develop the voice of each character.

I then distribute a graphic organizer (download here) for students to record how the author utilizes illustrations, tone and font style to help the reader understand the perspective through which each character tells the story. We read each section again, recording the differences we notice in each voice.

After the whole group discussion, students are divided into small groups and each group is given a copy of one “voice.” They work together to identify specific word choices that the author uses to express the perspective of the character, recording them on their graphic organizer. Students then jigsaw with other groups, sharing the strong word choices from their “voice” with the students in other groups.

As a final assessment, I have students re-write the story from the perspective of one of the family’s dogs. Students use descriptive language and intentional word choices to demonstrate the dog’s perspective of the trip to the park.

Unit of Study: Biographies

The implementation of the Common Core Standards for English language arts has led to a shift to focus on more non-fiction, or informational, texts. One of the units I’ve developed to meet the requirements set forth in these standards is centered around students reading biographical texts.

I begin by engaging students by reading a variety of short biographical texts about high interest subjects, such as Jackie Robinson, Selena, and Barack Obama. I typically use both the videos and texts found at http://www.biography.com. Students listen to and read the text multiple times, practicing the close reading and marking the text strategies they’ve learned. Find out more about close reading strategies here in the blog post I wrote last November.

In addition to using short biographies, I also incorporate other types of text such as picture books, short narratives and film. When studying Jackie Robinson this year, we read Teammates, by Peter Golenbock and also watched the biopic: 42 (with parent permission). These serve as mentor texts for students to “compare and contrast texts in different forms and genres in terms of their approach to similar themes and topics,” one of the Common Core Standards for reading literature.

From here I expand the selection of biographical mentor texts to look at people who are not as well-known, or are from other, more academic fields. This requires students to rely more on their reading skills to learn about the major events and accomplishments of the subject’s life, rather than their own background knowledge about that person.

This year we read about Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (among many, many other great titles).  The biography we read can be found here. After reading this short biography, I shared a few of Carle’s picture books with the class. This gave students the opportunity to interact with the distinct characteristics of the artwork (a mixture of collage and interactive elements) that has become Carle’s trademark style, leading to his popularity as a children’s book author.

eric_carle_graphic_organizer_poster_maker-848909-editedWe then used the AVID critical reading strategy, Charting the Text, to explore the structure of the short biography we read about Eric Carle. This strategy is a great tool to help students “write a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments,” which just happens to be one of the Common Core Standards for reading informational texts.

Prepare for the charting activity by enlarging the paragraph graphic organizer to poster size on your Perfecta® Poster Design System (download template here), or re-create the chart using chart paper. Make sure there is one row on your chart for each paragraph of the text.

Have students work in small groups to determine the main idea of one paragraph and write a sentence that summarizes this idea. From here, each group sends one student up to record the group’s sentence in the right column of the graphic organizer. Students can then use these sentences to write a summary of the short biography.

These are just a few examples of how I integrate picture books into my daily instruction.

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Julia_New_HeadshotJulia Cremin is a 6th grade Reading, Language Arts and Math teacher at O'Keeffe Middle School in Madison, WI. She is certified in Elementary Education (grades 1-9) with a minor in Mathematics. This is her fourth year teaching middle school.