Literacy and The Power of Wordless Books

Wordless books are such a powerful source of inspiration in my classroom. As an immersion teacher, one of my primary concerns for students is always in building their vocabulary (it’s pretty hard to read, write, listen and speak without words), and increasingly, my immersion classroom is also a learning space for ELL students. As a budget concious teacher, I love that wordless books serve my classroom in both English and French.

I find that there is something magical about a book printed on paper and shared with a group of students sitting near enough to see the images. When sharing a book with my class I ask them to be patient as there are sometimes small enough details that it takes a minute for me to show the book around to the entire group.

For very young students, wordless books allow children to demonstrate reading behaviour as they develop the literacy skills to make sense of text.

But wordless books aren’t limited to only very young students. I have used wordless books with every level from Grade 1 to Grade 8.


Use them to talk

Wordless books are an excellent source of vocabulary. One of the activities we do is a PWIM (picture word induction method) type activity where students look through the book and “shake out” as much vocabulary as they can find. Students write this vocabulary on sticky notes, which we post in the classroom and use for writing later.

Use them to tell
Wordless books are a great way to take away the intimidation factor in getting students to use second-language vocabulary. As we read, I often ask students to turn and talk to a neighbour about the action occurring on the page. The key to success with talk time is to keep it short! 30-45 seconds max! After that, students tend to get into off-task discussions. This is a one sentence discussion. I will often ask students to make connections or predictions as we read. This is a structured response (In the book when ________ happened, I made a connection to ________ in my own life when______). I don’t use a “fill-in-the-blank” format, but I want students to use a formal structure for responding or predicting and to think critically about their reading.


Use them to write 

Asking students to write using wordless books is a great way to take out the intimidation factor of not knowing where to start. There are lots of ways to have students write:

1. Each student write a one-paragraph part of the story. In the end you have one coherent story to publish as a class.


2. Each student write the entire story. Each page can be one or two interesting sentences.


3. Each student write a well-developed short story about a single image and the class publish a collection of short stories at the end.



The Book With No Pictures 

Now for the complete opposite! The Book With No Pictures is an awesome way to illustrate the power of interesting language and effective punctuation for students. It’s funny and students love to play with the voice of the author.
  
After reading a book with students I will leave it out as a highlighted book in the classroom library for about a week or so. The highlighted book of the week becomes a hot commodity for a while and then I usually put it away to help it maintain its magic. When I put it back out again months later, students are delighted to “rediscover a book”.

Wordless books are an excellent way to integrate technology into the classroom, too. For me, there is something very visceral about opening the pages of a physical book and I think for children that turning the pages of a physical book is important, too. A good way to integrate technology at this point would be to use an iPad as a part of publishing student work. I have used book creator to photograph each page from the book and add student text directly onto the original author’s page. I have alternated pages (one from the author, one by a student author). This app also allows students to record their voices as they tell the story (good way to integrate speaking as story telling).

I think that wordless books really support the multi-literacies required of children in today’s classrooms. Today’s child is exposed to many types of text where not only the words on the page are important to understanding the message but where images have an equal importance in helping the reader understand.

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