GUEST BLOG: Education Professor and Children’s Author Rosanne Kurstedt Chats about Teaching Writing to Kids Using Picture Books

ImageToday I’m delighted to have Rosanne Kurstedt as my guest. I met Rosanne at last November’s NJSCBWI Writing Retreat and was struck immediately by her passion for picture books. She not only writes them, she also encourages teachers to use them as models for teaching writing.  Today she’ll be chatting about how educators can use picture books to support students’ writing. Take it away, Rosanne!

I write picture books. I am also a teacher. When I taught elementary aged students in grades 3-6 (depending on the year) I infused our reading and writing curriculum with picture books. My classroom was overflowing. I read picture books as read-alouds to model reading strategies, discuss big ideas, and to study author’s craft. In addition, students read picture books independently, with partners and in groups. Students used the picture books for inspiration and models for their own writing. We relished in the beautiful language, the well-crafted stories, the perfect word choice, and the enchanting illustrations. Since picture books are more inline with the types of texts students write in the elementary grades they are perfect models, mentors, and inspiration. There are countless ways to use picture books to support students’ writing, but today I will highlight two.

Structure: The structure of a story is extremely important because the structure can both support the writer as she writes her piece, as well as support the writer’s intent. Exposing students to different structures unlocks some of the mystery of what makes a story what it is, and provides multiple access points for students to see themselves as writers – writers who can emulate the structures found in a favorite book or used by a favorite author. In addition, introducing students to and studying different structures can provide organizational support for students’ stories and ideas. For example, the alphabet book structure (see Laura’s review of different alphabet books) can support students who have a lot to say about one particular topic. Other structures like Circular (stories that begin and end at the same place or with the same line) and See-Saw (the text goes “back and forth” on each page) provide different yet powerful organizational support, as well. Studying picture books, as way to illustrate (no pun intended) the various structures, helps students envision themselves writing similar stories.  And of course, the classic story arc of beginning, middle, and end can be mapped out easily because the events are succinct and the structure is compact. Here are some favorite picture books you can use to demonstrate the abovementioned structures.

See-Saw: Fortunately, Unfortunately by Michael Foreman and And I Thought About You by Rosanne Kurstedt

Circular: My Momma Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray and Dot by Peter Reynolds.

Traditional Story Structure (Beginning/Middle/End with a conflict and resolution): Most Patricia Palacco books

Big Idea: The “big idea” is the theme or underlying message of a story.  While many teachers might use picture books to model different levels of comprehension: main idea (the events of a story), as well as “big idea” (the message or theme of a story) you also can use picture books to teach students how to make their stories special by adding a layer of meaning- a “big idea”. Sharing picture books and discussing “big idea” with students reveals that truly great stories are those that have more than just events. The stories that stay with us – in our hearts and minds – are those that address big ideas: like friendship, family, honesty, integrity, or loneliness.  So when students are writing their own stories, ask them to think about what they want the reader to get out of the piece.  What do they want the reader to feel? What is the “big idea”?  Highlighting the “big idea” through the use of picture books and bringing the notion to the forefront buttresses students’ understanding that they have important things to say and that writing is about connecting with readers.  Here are some favorite picture books you can use to demonstrate big idea:

Oliver by Birgitta Sif

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman

Thanks again to Laura for providing me with this great opportunity.  I’d love to hear how you’ve used picture books to support students’ writing development or how you might do so in the future – so leave a comment below.  I assure you, you’ll be amazed at what students will be able to notice and then emulate if given the freedom and opportunity to do so.

ImageRosanne Kurstedt is a former elementary school teacher, and is currently an Adjunct Professor of Education at Fordham University.  She’s the author of a professional book, “Teaching Writing with Picture Books as Models” (Scholastic, 2000), as well as many professional development guides that support teachers’ continuing growth.  In addition she is the author of the award winning picture book, And I Thought About You.  A simple, yet poignant, story about a daily-welcome-home routine shared by a working mother and her son.

Rosanne was on the leadership team that started Hong Kong Academy International School in Hong Kong, where she was the Director of Curriculum, and is the founder of Writers Experience, a summer writing workshop for children ages 7-11.

Visit her at;




Twitter: @rlkurstedt


20 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Education Professor and Children’s Author Rosanne Kurstedt Chats about Teaching Writing to Kids Using Picture Books

  1. Thanks for this guest post, Laura and Rosanne! I do agree, with the variety of pbs, they can be used for all classes and subjects! A few yrs ago I wrote a proposal for using pbs in the social studies classroom, but it ended up being rejected as the editor wanted it for middle school, in which I don’t have much experience. So I didn’t go through with it. I like reading Keith Schoch’s blog, Teach with Picture Books. Have you seen this?

  2. Oh my gosh…great post! So well explained that I know I could step into a classroom and start doing this right now. I work primarily with 4 and 5 year olds and can exactly how I could use your ideas. Thank you!

  3. Tina,
    That is too bad your proposal was rejected – it’s an important topic for Elementary and Middle school students. Also, thanks for the link to Keith’s blog. I don’t think I’ve seen it. Will check it out now.

  4. Excellent guest post! Picture books were front and center in my 3rd grade classroom. They were a quick and easy way to demonstrate a writing strategy (first lines that grab the reader, varied sentence length, surprise ending, etc.) or just to get an idea across subject-matter-wise.

  5. Nice post. Than you. BTW-are you familiar with Barbara Kanninen’s A Story With Pictures? It’s a wonderful PB about how PB are made, just as good for writers as for kid-readers.

    • I’m not familiar with that, but will investigate. Right now my daughter and I have been enjoying THE PLOT CHICKENS which depicts in an hilarious way how a good story is constructed.

  6. Great guest post! It’s a wonderful idea to teach by example as many kids learn visually and can really wrap their minds around a concept when it’s presented in a tangible form. Love this idea!

  7. I really like the “big idea” term. For some reason the word theme intimidates me (I am very chicken,) but big idea seems so straight forward. Plus, it just rolls right into writing your pitch.

  8. Thank you, Roseanne! I, too, am passionate about picture books – I think all of us here are 🙂 – and I love that you encourage the use of picture books for older kids. When I taught kindergarten back in the day, picture books were given the respect they deserved…these days, many parents and teachers often pass over them, encouraging kids to read ‘more difficult’ books. But you are so right about picture books being awesome mentor texts for elementary school kids (as well as for picture book writers).

    I do school story and craft programs in the kindergartens – I read a classic picture book…then there is a discussion where we talk about the beginning, the middle and the end, as well as how what you call ‘the big idea’ relates to their lives. And then the children create their own 3-panel story boards – from either the story we read or from a story they think of on the spot. THEY LOVE IT! Many kindergarteners these days are starved for storybook and art time…there is, sadly, so much emphasis on ‘testing’ and ‘learning’…as if they are not ‘learning’ every time they open a picture book or put crayon to paper. 😦 Kudos to you, Roseanne! You are doing a great thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s