Monday, December 19, 2016

Write a wordless picture book

While doing an author visit at Renaissance Public School Academy in Mount Pleasant, MI, I came upon a project I feel is worth discussing, for two reasons.

The project: ask students to write a story for a picture book that has no words.

The reasons this is worth discussing:

1) it challenges students to use context clues and inference to unlock a story
2) the students doing this project are in middle school (grades 6-8)

In my school presentations, I routinely say that picture books are for all ages. I know a lot of adults—they all still like pictures and none (that I know of) require a minimum number of words before reading a book. A good story is a good story whether it's 500 or 100,000 words.

But some students feel picture books are for the littler kids (preschool to grade 1 or maybe 2). This is not the first time I've encountered middle (or high) school teachers who recognize the value of picture books for kids who can already read chapter books, but it is the first time I have heard of a project like this. It was initiated by teacher Therese Hubbell, who kindly explained the project and answered some questions.

The explanation:

We started by looking through the books and seeing if we could understand the story. I had them look through the book at least two times. Once they had a story in their minds, I had them write the story in their writer's notebook. To finish they read the story to our class.

Was this your idea, and if not, whose?

I am not sure if this is something out there but for the most part it was my idea. My students love picture books so I was looking for something to do that would be a little out of the box after we wrote our argument papers. This was having them take the love of picture books and add writing to it as well.

Are you wanting the students to decode the story as the author/illustrator intended or are they making up a story to go with the images regardless of the book's actual plot?

I allowed them to come up with their own. Each person interprets stories differently and this was interesting to see how different students came up with different stories for the same book.

What picture books did you use?


  • A Boy, a Dog, a Frog, and a Friend by Mercer and Marianna Mayer
  • Octopus Soup by Mercer Mayer
  • Journey by Aaron Becker
  • Quest by Arron Becker
  • Return by Aaron Becker
  • A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
  • Daisy Gets Lost by Chris Raschka
  • Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
  • Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle
  • The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett
  • The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett
  • The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
  • The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
  • The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang
  • Free Fall by David Wiesner
  • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola
  • The Land of Lines by Victor Hussenot
  • Oops by Arthur Geisert
  • Hunters of the Great Forest by Dennis Nolan
  • Pool by JiHyeon Lee
  • Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
  • Fish by Liam Francis Walsh

Do you assign the books or do kids choose?

I just handed each student a book.

Have many times have you done this?

This was the first time.

Do any kids this age resist working with picture books (perceiving them as book for younger children)?

My students love picture books. I read a picture book a day to my ELA class. One day, I forgot and the students took it over! They were excited to put their own spin on the books. Our librarian has shown them wordless picture books before so they were aware of them.

How do the kids react to this assignment in particular?

At first unsure but as they get into it they love it. I had full class participation and everyone read their story.

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