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This weird season of remote learning is the perfect time to try something new and make a bit of a fool of yourself if it will get your students’ attention and keep it while also providing a meaningful learning experience.

One of our writers’ favorite things to do when teaching literary point of view to high school students is to pull out his copy of Grover’s The Monster at the End of This Book and start doing a VERY dramatic reading. They don’t know whether to laugh or be embarrassed for him. They assume it’s just a gimmick that he will drop after a page or two. Nope! He reads the whole book in that ridiculous voice.

You do want to avoid sounding patronizing. You have to find a balance between taking yourself too seriously and talking to them like they are children. Make it fun, and let them know that you are in on the joke. Make your goal two-fold: bring a smile, and teach something in a non-threatening way.

Picture books could also be a great tool in a remote art class by engaging students with elements of art and principles of design found in the illustrations. The books could serve as a platform from which to learn each of the elements or principles. 

Students could complete formative assessments by adding illustrations, focusing on a specific element or principle, to an existing picture book. Ultimately, students could complete a performance assessment integrating literacy by writing and illustrating their own short picture book showcasing effective use of combined elements and principles as they develop their own style as an artist. 

Books to Use in the English Classroom

An obvious place picture books can be found is in the English classroom. As mentioned, they can be used to teach, exemplify, or illustrate anything from plot to character development.

Children’s books can also be used as writing prompts. Many children’s books take difficult topics and attempt to make them understandable and relatable on an appropriate level for children. Others use beautiful illustrations to inspire the reader.

A fun way for students to show their understanding of a longer piece of fiction is to create a children’s picture book version. This is particularly challenging when it is a book with mature subject matter that must be adjusted or tailored for a younger audience.

You could teach style by reading a children’s book and have students create their own story written with a similar style.

The Farmer by Mark Ludy

This story of hardship, loss, and sacrifice is a great tool for covering character, conflict, and the Golden Rule. It is especially poignant in this time when people around the world are facing financial calamity.

Love by Matt de la Peña

Matt de la Peña is a renowned author in his own right - his words combined with these stunning and detailed illustrations are quite inspiring. This book challenges us to realize that love has many faces and looks different for everyone. Again, during this particularly trying time, it is important for students to explore where and how they can find love and strength.

Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth

We could all use a little more zen right now! In this lovely book, three children find a Giant Panda in their backyard. He tells each child a different zen story. These stories are sure to inspire ideas in your students.

Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat

In this picture book, a Vietnamese-American child struggles to communicate with his grandfather due to a language barrier and struggles to appreciate him due to cultural barriers, but they find that they can communicate once they start drawing and coloring. This is a powerful illustration of crossing barriers through finding common ground.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

Every student can relate to being different and not fitting in (and many pieces of literature studied cover this theme). This book is all about learning the importance of sharing your unique story.

Notes From Our Colleagues in Elementary Education

Obviously, our colleagues teaching elementary-ages students use these sorts of books frequently, and here are some of their best pointers. 

Pre-Read and Make Notes

Go through the book you plan to teach, and create notes for yourself on what points to elaborate throughout your read-aloud. Then, as you use that page, hold the sticky note, and place it back on that page when you leave so you can use it again for the next class (or even the next year).

No One Reads Well Upside-Down and Backward

Many try to read while simultaneously showing the pictures. When you do that, you sacrifice clarity and understandability, and you lose your student’s concentration. 

While reading upside down will come in very handy if your second career is as a spy, but don’t torture yourself or your students. Don’t try to be a hero. Read the page, then show the pictures, or read while displaying the book overhead using a document camera. 

Build Anticipation

Don’t read the whole book at once. Read part of it, do an activity, read more, do another activity, and save the ending for the last few minutes of class. It’s remarkably useful to build that anticipation for a conclusion, even though your students may already know how the book ends, or be “entirely too mature” for picture books. It’s really satisfying to prolong the gratification of that happy ending so students really savor the conclusion.

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