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.


  1. My favorite book this year! My students had similar reactions to Journey. It's just magical! I'm going to share Mr. Wuffles next week. I think my kids will love it. Flora and Flamingo is another gem of a wordless book! So many good ones this year.

  2. So excited to see your post about wordless books. I have used Good Dog, Carl and Chalk in the past. So great for inference and just plain telling stories-especially for my second graders. As I begin looking through my books to plan my Mock Caldecott I realized this year is filled with some awesome wordless books. I was just talking to a colleague about doing a short study of wordless books.

  3. I have never used wordless books in the classroom, but it sounds great. What other books would you recommend using?Thanks!


    Are We There Yet?

  4. One that I highly recommend is Shaun Tan's THE ARRIVAL. I've done a mini-unit on it every year since it came out with my 4th graders. Some older posts about this are here:

    This year I wanted to do something different so I asked the kids to collect words as they read the book. We did the first section together and then they did the rest independently. After that I put them in groups to come up with master lists of 20 words. Lastly, the created concrete poems using the words. We've a lovely big mural of these on our bulletin board. I need to take a photo of them to put on our public blog.

  5. I haven't but I sure am going to now!

  6. My favorite wordless book to share is The Boys, by Jeff Newman. It's quite complex and offers many opportunities for visual inferencing.

  7. Absolutely love hearing your students' observations. Beautiful book too!

  8. Watching the video I think The Red Balloon and watching it in elementary school. I hadn't thought of how of wordless books could promote conversation! Love looking at your class and trying to mirror your moves.