Picture books offer certain unique advantages when we deliver instruction. Of all literature that lends itself to reading comprehension strategy instruction picture books top the list.

Stephanie Harvey & Anne Goudvis. Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension to Enhance Understanding. Stenhouse (2005)

We want our students to understand that readers are always thinking. When we share picture books with them we can also share the strategies we use as readers.

  • This reminds me of...

  • I know just how he feels here because...

  • I bet something is going to happen to her...

  • I never knew that...

  • I have to read this part again because I don’t understand...

  • When I read this part I can see it in my mind...

When we talk about our thinking, we make it visible to our students and this helps them understand the role the reader plays in the reading process. Here, we look at a few ideas for using picture books to support the development of strategic readers.


Picture books connect to the lives of their readers and to the themes and issues that matter to them. Making connections is one way to activate prior knowledge. The earliest connections are to the child’s personal life experience. Later students will begin to make connections from one text to another, possibly finding similarities in themes, genres, characters etc. Finally larger connections are made to the outside world. Teacher Cathy Goodwin provides the quotes for this page.


Although there are already visual cues in a picture book, the print often goes beyond what is seen in the illustrations. Does the author use words that paint vivid images in the reader’s mind? Are they filled with sensory images- feelings, sights, sounds and tastes? These are the books that can help students understand that visualization is an important reading strategy.


Authors and illustrators of picture books provide clues to help the reader "read between the lines." Readers must look for these clues both in the print and in the illustrations and make inferences in order to make sense of what they are reading.


Good readers are always asking questions. Picture books are excellent model texts for helping students understand how thoughtful questions can help them have a deeper understanding of the book. I wonder...? Why? Is this true? From the moment they look at the cover of a new book there are questions. Don’t forget the amazing nonfiction picture books when looking for texts that will spark curiosity and lead to questions.

In January’s Sparrow, Patricia Polacco writes about a family of runaway slaves. This beautifully illustrated book is a great text to use with older students to teach them how good readers ask questions to better understand what they are reading. Click here for ideas on how to use this book with your students.

Cycle One teacher, Barbara Kurtzman, engages her students in an I Wonder project to help them realize the importance of asking their own questions.

'I Wonder' Notebooks: A Search for Questions

Nonfiction begins with wondering. Put a basket of beautiful nonfiction picture books in front of your students and listen to them talk. To help my students realize how important their questions are to their enjoyment of the books they are reading as well as to their understanding of what they are reading I introduce the 'I Wonder' notebooks. The students keep these notebooks at hand all the time making them a part of their daily lives. This is where they can jot down the questions they have about the world around them. Nonfiction writers must be keen observers. In The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown the reader is invited to look at everyday things in new and interesting ways. This book, along with Why by Tony Ross and Lindsay Camp, become the springboard to the whole idea of asking questions.


There is probably no better resource than information-based picture books to help readers understand this strategy. When you are reading nonfiction, you are reading to learn and determining what is important to take away from the text, given that purpose is key to understanding. The structures and features of nonfiction picture books (contents, headings, photos, bolded words, glossary, maps etc.) provide additional support to the reader.

Students can explore information-based picture books to discover what text features are found in these books and how they help the reader. Have students produce their own nonfiction picture books. The reading-writing connection increases their understanding of the way these texts work.


When we ask students to synthesize we want them to do more than just summarize. They need to go beyond a literal retelling to include their own thinking about what is important. They might respond to the big ideas in the book, give their opinion, draw conclusions or tell how their thinking changed during the reading of the book. Their thinking, added to their own background knowledge, helps them come up with a unique synthesis of the text.


Watch as an elementary teacher guides her students to make meaning by talking and exchanging ideas about a wordless picture book. The pedagogical practices highlighted are effective and transferable to other grade levels and teaching contexts.


Teach With Picture Books


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