Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wordless Picture Books for Mini-lessons

I mentioned last year that one of my best mini-lesson discussions was over Bob Staake’s beautiful book, Bluebird. We had been working on the skill of conversations in our mini-lesson discussions and it seems that wordless picture books lend themselves wonderfully to that concept. I pulled Bluebird out again this year as we began our Mock Caldecott unit yesterday and the conversation unfolded just as it had last spring. Curious about why this book evoked such fabulous discussion with my students, I shared Journey by Aaron Becker today. Unreal.

If you are unfamiliar with Aaron’s amazing book, let me pause and share this book trailer with you:

I assure you, this picture book is every bit as amazing as the trailer portrays.

When I first considered using a wordless picture book in my classroom I wondered how I would “read” the book to the students. After reading two wordless picture books two days in a row, I am now convinced that the authentic conversations I witnessed as a result of Bluebird are because the book was wordless, not in spite of that.

Today we gathered on the carpet to read Journey. I shared a little on the background of the book and author and then opened the book up. Looking at the endpapers, the students began immediately talking without any prompting:

- Wow, it’s all red.

- I wonder if red is important.

- All those items are about transportation.

- Transportation, hmm – the title is Journey

Opening the book to each page I would say something like, “What is happening here…” I loved hearing kids comment things like –

- Gasps as I turned to the forest the girl has entered along with the comment, “Now this is a journey I’d like to take.”

- Predictions like, “I wonder if she’ll meet someone else with a crayon. Harold, maybe?” Whispers from those who remember that book.

- Hands were raised to ask if they could borrow the book later to examine the castle closely.

- “Draw a parachute!” when the girl was falling, right before the hot air balloon was drawn.

- Shouts came out when the purple bird was captured.

- Comments on the purple and red colors brightening the background once the bird and girl were together.

- Shouts in recognition when they saw the door for the bird.

A quiet comment from a boy when we finished mentioning he had seen the boy with the purple crayon on the first page. We flipped back and YES, he was there! The kids asked with awe how he saw it, and then someone shouted that the purple bird was flying away. The kids were in amazed that Becker had given them clues from the beginning.

And this continued in Every. Single. Class.

As the mini-lesson wrapped up, the conversations continued. I loved listening to the kids talk about their reactions to the book. I loved hearing them extend their thinking without my prompting. I firmly believe that this is possible because with a wordless picture book, they are in charge of the story.

Have you shared a wordless picture book with your students? I’d be interested to see if you have had the same reaction. We have a few more in store for us next week. I’m anxious to see if we have similar results.