Today 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.
Rosanne 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.
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