Wordless picture books are on the list of topics I love this February. I continue my focus on wordless picture books this month by exploring possibilities for incorporating these books into writing instruction. Although often overlooked, wordless picture books can be powerful mentors to motivate children to write and to teach the qualities of good writing.
We can motivate children to write and establish a strong literacy connection with wordless picture books when we encourage them to write about their thinking from pictures. Considering the fact that we process visual information much faster and easier than print, starting with pictures as a springboard for writing seems to make sense, especially for early readers and writers. Thinking about the images seen on the page strengthens understanding and allows children to process the story deeply by making connections, asking questions, and drawing conclusions. Once the child has processed these visual images, the writing becomes an expression of thinking. See, Think, Wonder is one of my favorite visible thinking routines and transfers easily to writing from wordless picture books. Children observe the picture on a page and write in response to the questions… What do you see? What do you think about that? What does it make you wonder?
When children read independently or listen to stories read aloud, we encourage them to create mental images as a strategy to improve comprehension. What if we consider the opposite approach to this strategy as a way to motivate children to write after an experience with a wordless picture book? For example, what if we ask children to visualize the missing words on the page, to think about what those words might say, and then invite them to compose words that match the pictures? This would be a perfect opportunity to incorporate a shared or interactive writing experience by inviting children to compose the story together.
Three goals come to mind when thinking about teaching the qualities of good writing through wordless picture books. Finding focus in writing is an important goal we teach our young writers. We teach them strategies for identifying a small moment or finding the part of the story that is most interesting and telling about just that part. When using a wordless picture book as a mentor text, one strategy to support this goal would be to ask children to zoom in on a detail or event in the picture and then to write about just that part of the story. Word choice is another goal that can be supported with wordless picture books. When matching words to pictures, children can label images and make decisions about words that work best to describe, create sensory details, and convey meaning. Strong word choice gives writing voice, which is another important goal for writers. Giving voice to a character is a simple strategy that can extend wordless picture books to writing. Ask children to write from the character’s perspective, describing how they think the character feels, and as a result, what the character might say at a given point in the story.
Wordless picture books offer many possibilities for developing thoughtful readers and writers. The illustrations in these books powerfully convey meaning in ways that words often cannot. But, if we find ourselves missing the words, it’s good to know that we can craft them from pictures along the way.