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Why Wordless Picture Books Work

By Brian Smith on March 2, 2015
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

They say silence is golden. I say wordless picture books are priceless. A good wordless picture book is worth a thousand words. When used with thoughtfulness and intention, wordless picture books are powerful tools that can teach skills that are more difficult to teach with standard literature. Plus, students love them! These are just some of the many reasons why wordless picture books should be highlighted in your classroom library. 

Hug CoverI always introduce wordless picture books by “reading” Hug by Jez Alborough. Using only the words "hug," "Mommy," and "Bobo," Alborough weaves a wonderful story that the kids adore. Even better, it gives me a chance to say the word "hug" using all kinds of voices and inflections. I make sure that I use lots of facial expressions when the pages show Bobo (the main character) becoming happy or sad.

Before reading this book, I tell my class that while I will read them every word, I will not show them the pictures, because I want them to imagine the story in their heads while I’m reading. Every year they get frustrated quite quickly. I continue to read Hug and they start saying, “We want to see the pictures!” That's when I know I have them hooked.

Other picture books that my students love include:

Wordless Picture Book Cover Collage

Float CoverThere is a new picture book coming out by Daniel Miyares called Float that I have to tell you about. The book will be available in June 2105 and it is a must-have for any wordless picture book library. The story is one that students will want to revisit repeatedly. A young boy makes a boat out of a piece of newspaper on a rainy day. The boy’s yellow raincoat, hat, and boots represent happiness in a charcoal world of gray and black. After a sad series of events and cup of hot chocolate, the boy sets out with a renewed sense of wonder and excitement about the world waiting just outside his front door.

Reasons why you need wordless picture books in your library:

  • Students who struggle with reading feel successful after reading one. You will able to determine where they are at  in terms of being able to retell a story’s beginning, middle, and end.

  • With no words to naturally signal that it’s time to turn the page, students take more time to study the pictures, and are able to gain insight into the wordless stories through the details that the illustrator includes.

  • After having taught the the roles of, as well as the differences between authors and illustrators, have your students think about whether wordless picture books are created by authors or illustrators. This type of question takes your student’s knowledge and has them dig deeper into what they already know to create new definitions of previously defined roles.

  • Teachers often struggle with getting students to reread texts to gather details, but wordless picture books provide a great resource for students to get into the habit of going back and finding key details that they may have missed on the first reading.

  • Use them to ask deeper questions. There are no words for the students to rely on when answering questions like:

    • What is the character feeling now?

    • Why is the character making this choice?

    • What do you think will happen next and why?

    • If you were the character, what would you be thinking?

    • If this character were going to say something right now, what would it be?

  • Wordless picture books allow students to connect to their prior knowledge without boundaries that other stories place on students making connections to text.

  • They are easy to differentiate for different levels of students in your class. The great thing about using these books to differentiate is that you aren’t differentiating based on reading ability but on a students level of comprehension. A book like Welcome to the Zoo is great for early English language learners, whereas the number of pictures and story lines in David Wiesner books are great for more advanced comprehenders.

If you want to group your wordless picture books together in your classroom library, print a great label with the great Word Workshop tool that Scholastic just released. It’s free and fellow blogger, Genia Connell, created a great how-to-use-it post.

Find me, dad2ella, on Pinterest and Twitter.

I can’t wait to see you next week.

Comments (1)

The books "Chalk" and "Fossil" are two more wonderful wordless books that lead to great discussions.

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