Narrarive Writing with Picture Books Without Words

Even though I'm an upper grade teacher, not a single day goes by that I don't read a picture book to my class. I love using picture books to teach a wide range of reading and writing skills. Even though they are older, my kiddos still love to come down to our rug to hear a great story.

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Some of my favorite picture books are those WITHOUT WORDS!! In these books, THE ILLUSTRATIONS TELL THE STORIES!! These books are perfect for helping students to write narratives. The pictures help to spark their imagination, and provide details to get their ideas flowing.

One of my favorites is the book Journey by Aaron Becker. This book includes beautiful illustrations that tell a story about a young girl on a journey. One thing leads to another through the detailed illustrations, making this a great book to explore sequencing.

The Lesson
1. To start I bring my students down to our rug and show them the cover. I ask them to predict what they think the story will be about. After they share their predictions, I open up the book and flip through it, so that they see that there are no words on any of the pages. They all gasp and start whispering: What kind of book is this?!?!

2. Then I explain that this is a book without words, and that the pictures tell the story. We flip through each page, and I ask questions along the way to get them thinking about the story.... What do you notice? What stands out to you? How is this character feeling? What do you think is happening? And, so on!!

3. Next, I explain that we are going to go through the book one more time, and that this time they get to write the story!! I give them a list of sequencing words and a page to record their stories.

{Click the pics to download!}

4. I display the book using my document camera and projector, and flip from one page to the next. As we go through the pages, my students write the story in their own words with their own ideas. Each student connects to this story in their own way. I give them about 2 to 3 minutes per page to jot down a few sentences. We continue through the end of the book until they have complete story, from beginning to end!! (It's a bit lengthy, so it may need to be done in two parts). 

5. When we have gotten through the whole book, my students go back to their tables to share their stories. It's amazing how different their stories are!!

6. Finally, I give them a chance to revise, edit, and write a final draft.

My students love this activity!! They love how they get to use the details from the illustrations with their own imaginations to craft beautiful stories!! 

If your students are like mine, then they will be begging for more! Luckily, this wonderful story continues in the book Quest, and Aaron Becker has another masterpiece, Return, coming out at the beginning of August.

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Another one of my favorite (almost) wordless picture books is the Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. This is a book I have been using in my classroom since my very first year of teaching. 
The Mystery
The idea behind this book is that a man named Harris Burdick brought to a publisher a collection of illustrations that he drew for 14 different stories. Burdick promised to return the next day with those stories. However, he never returned and was never heard from again! The book contains his 14 illustrations, and a title and caption to go with each. The mystery... What were the stories behind the stunning illustrations?!?!

The Lesson
1.  I turn the lights down real low, bring my kiddos down to the rug, and quietly share with them the mystery behind Harris Burdick.

2.  Then I share each illustration one-by-one. As we go through each illustration I first ask students: "What do you notice in this picture?" As they point out the different details, they begin to piece together a story for each illustration.

3.  Finally, I allow each student to choose one illustration. I give them a copy and they get to take it back to their seats to write their very own story. It's interesting, because each student connects to a different illustration, and they are almost compelled to tell the story of that illustration.

4.  Afterwards, I have students share their stories with their classmates, either to the whole class, or in small groups. They love to hear each and every one!!

In recent years, a collection of stories, inspired by the illustrations, was actually published. The book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick includes stories by other famous authors including Kate DiCamillo, Stephen King, and Louis Sachar. I will usually read one or two of the stories aloud to the class, and then leave the book available for some of my more serious readers!!

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The possibilities are endless with wordless picture books!! They encourage students to use their imagination, and to look for clues to figure out the story. They are great mentor texts for narrative writing, teaching sequencing, and even, drawing inferences!!