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Using Picture Books to Inspire Writing Ideas

By Rhonda Stewart on November 15, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

At first glance, looking at a picture book you might think, “Why should I use this text in middle school?” It’s not your typical mentor text. However, one of the ways in which we find our voice is through photographs. The expression, "a picture is worth a thousand words," rings true with A Cool Drink of Water by Barbara Kerley. Simply put, this book expresses how water is used and consumed around the world.

Our current writing unit study that we are now embarking on is the persuasive essay. Take a journey with my students and me, as we travel around the world exploring the text from A Cool Drink of Water. Our task is to gather entries for our essay writing in our writer’s notebooks.

Teaching Point: Persuasive essay writers examine issues in the world that are important, develop ideas around this issue, list them, choose one, and gather an entry.
Essential Question: What is the message that we as writers/essayists are trying to get across to our readers? What do we want the reader to take away from our writing?
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) W.6.1, W.6.10

Duration: two writing periods (forty minutes each)


Copies of  A Cool Drink of Water (or place book on document camera and project on whiteboard if student copies are not available)

Chart paper


Writer’s notebooks


Sound effect for water (play this while the students are jotting thoughts on the chart paper. A good one is "Relaxing Sound of Water Stream — Nature Forest" found on YouTube


Procedure for Immersion:

Please note, for the first part of this activity, the students are working with their writing partners. 


1. Using chart paper, place copies of the photographs from the book around the classroom. Each pair of students should be positioned at a photograph (you can have duplicates of the photos). Remember to have the sound effects playing in the background as the students are moving from one photograph to the next.


2. Each pair is to answer the question, “What do you think the photograph is trying to tell you?” and write their response on the chart paper. They should place their initials after their response.



3. After about three minutes, rotate the students to the next photograph. (Use a quiet signal such as turning off one light to get their attention to move.) My photographs are numbered to avoid confusion as to how the students are to move. Another option is to have the pair select which photograph to respond to.

4. Repeat. Each pair should be able to respond for at least a minimum of two rounds depending upon the length of your writing period.

5. Call the class to share out what they noticed about the photographs and their response. Create an anchor chart:

What We Noticed About The Photographs

What Do You Think The Photograph Is Trying To Tell You

6.After discussing and charting the anchor chart, distribute the books for the students to read silently. This will be an extremely quick read.

7. Have the students turn and talk to discuss the text. Share out.

8. Shared Reading Activity — Make copies of “A note on water CONSERVATION” found in the last pages of the book. Distribute the copies and have the students re-read. Ask the students why the title is written the way it is and for what purpose?


Procedure for Gathering an Entry

  1. Call the students to the meeting area to revisit, "A note on water CONSERVATION.” Review the thinking from the previous lesson.

  2. Create and chart a list of possible entries that, as writers, the students would be able to choose from to write.

  3. Students create their list of entries by either borrowing from the class list or creating their own. (I demo this using my writer’s notebook.)

  4. Students then select an entry and begin writing thoughts around that entry. During this time, release the students back to their desks as you see them writing. For those students who are having struggles, create a small group for you to coach towards releasing them to write.



5. Students should have about 25 minutes to write. Leave enough time for students to share their writing.

Pearls of Wisdom — Some students will run out of steam and say, “I’m finished!” Remind them to choose another entry to write to develop their ideas about the topic. Have them rank their list with 1 being their most favorite, 2 being the next and so on.  Have them list no more than four. 

Comments (6)

I'm lovin this idea! I want to do this very soon!

I think this is a wonderful idea and can be used for any age group. Im excited to encourage my son to expolor his own thoughts about pictures. Who knows he may become a great writer.

Wonderful way to meet all of the different types of learning styles!!

Thanks Cara - It's the journey of trying to reach all types of learners.

Hi There,

This is an excellent idea indeed. I am a Mathematics teacher and the owner of a teaching blog: www.ipracticemath.com

Currently I am teaching the students of grade 4-5, and for them it will be an absolutely fun idea to practice their exercises on a picture book. Thanks for this post :)

Have a good day.

Thank you. I am thrilled to see another content area use this lesson.

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