Tips for Using Picture Books with Intermediate Students
By Mary Montero
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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Picture books are one of the greatest tools we can use to teach our students. There are so many different layers and components to each book. Each book has its purpose (or multiple purposes), and sometimes you have to dig and find it – that’s the fun part! Over the years, I’ve learned to incorporate a wide variety of picture books into my core instruction as well as into my Morning Meeting time. However, that doesn’t come without question! I have had many adults, parents, and even students who do not understand why an intermediate-aged student would like a picture book.
Many adults feel confined to only giving their children chapter books because of the age on the jacket cover. This is a bit of a hot take, but I do not think books should have a specific age posted on them. If we worried less about finding the right age or level for a book and just letting our kids read what they enjoy, it would open up a world of stories for children, no matter their age! Here are some reasons why I believe using picture books with intermediate students is extremely useful.
Relatable Situations and Characters
Many picture books have plots that are extremely relatable for older kids. Sometimes even finding one that has a parallel to something that is going on in their life without coming out and saying it is something kids can ponder on and infer as they are reading it. At an older age sometimes kids have difficulty verbalizing or confronting their feelings. This way if a character is struggling or going through an awkward situation, a child doesn’t have to feel alone. At the end of most stories, there is a resolution. If a child is going through something similar maybe they will follow suit and resolve their problem however the character did!
Read aloud time is so important in the classroom. When I taught fourth grade, we would have it every single day using picture books. If there was a day or time we missed, it would definitely be noticed! Some kids relied on it daily to calm themselves down during a transition. This could be after recess or even specials. It gave them time just to relax and listen to a story. Some said it brought them back to when they were even younger. It gives them comfort, a break, and time to think internally and practice mindfulness. I always had one read aloud that just allowed kids to enjoy the beauty of the book, and another read aloud with a learning point to it. I know we don’t have enough time in the day as teachers, but we all know there is that awkward transition time when things can get chaotic! Make this the time to relax and enjoy a book!
Builds Classroom Community
I always loved the discussions that came from using picture books with intermediate students. With older students, comprehension questions always turned into student-led discussions. I would kick off a question asking if a student could relate to a situation in the story. This always led to them wanting to share their own experiences. It brought our class closer together. I would see kids empathizing and sharing their own stories with the other students. Also, each student’s different interpretations of the story was very interesting. It opened my eyes to something that might be going on in their life outside of the classroom. It allowed my relationship with my students to grow closer.
When you are reading a book, it leads you to new places you have never been! That is the magic of reading. A lot of students learn about different cultures, perspectives, families, and characters’ personalities who are different from theirs! I know that’s why I love to read. It allows me to learn and grow about other people. It makes me empathetic toward what someone might be going through. Students don’t even realize how much they are learning through the perspective of a different person. I emphasize this and be a role model explaining what I learned from reading the story.
There are a lot of things going on in the world today. There is a lot to unpack, from school shootings to hurricanes to others not being treated fairly. Our students will hear these things on social media, the news, at home, and hear these things at school from other kids. I always turn to books when I don’t know how to verbalize or explain some of these tougher topics. Picture books address hard topics but can soften their complexity in a special way.
There are so many standards to hit and things to be taught as a teacher. A picture book is a simplistic tool covering many different standards and topics. It’s a great cross-curricular tool that can be used! Not only can ELA standards be addressed but so can math topics, science and social studies! Social-emotional learning using picture books is a great way to address your needs in your classroom. The only prep you need is to read it ahead of time!
I could go on about how wonderful using picture books with intermediate students is. I have had many adults tell me how they learn from them when they read them too! Picture books are truly magical in every way.
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.