I love incorporating picture books into my language classes, which is why I usually start my lessons with a story. But since finding suitable picture books can sometimes be a bit hard, I came up with a list of 5 books that are perfect for teaching.
1. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
One of the things I like about the book is the repetitive structure. Each “letter” always starts the same way and it ends with “I sent him back”. So the kids can help you read the story by completing your sentences.
There is also enough room for activities. Your pupils can guess the animals (a perfect way to repeat vocabulary) and if they’re a bit more advance, they might even tell you why the narrator will probably send the animal back.
If you want to take it even farther, you could continue the story with other animals and let the kids draw a picture. Why not make your own picture book based on the structure of the story?
I read Dear Zoo to my second graders and they loved it. They’d only known English for about half a year so their understanding was very basic. But with the help of the picture and the occasional explanation, they managed to follow the story and they loved it.
2. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
I’m a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers book and feel like they’re even fun to read for us adults.
The reason I put Stuck on this list is again the fact that the structure is repetitive. Floyd tries to solve his original problem by throwing things at it. It starts with little things, but in the end the entire tree is full of objects that are all stuck in that tree. I’m sure that the kids will love the humour in the story. I certainly did. 🙂
Given that the action of throwing things at a tree is repeated throughout the entire story, it is again very suitable for revising vocabulary. You can go with the objects mentioned in the book, or you can come up with your own words.
If I were to use this story in class, I’d draw a big tree on the blackboard and let the pupils “throw” their words up there. Or I’d let each kid draw their own tree and use it as a way to train vocabulary. The words that still need to be learnt are stuck to the tree and the others can come down.
Oliver Jeffers has written many other picture books so make sure to check them out.
3. I Know It’s Autumn by Eileen Spinelli
Maybe you’ve caught on already, but I feel like the best picture books for beginners are the ones that are repetitive. They help the kids get used to a certain sentence structure, which in turns should make it easier for them to remember in the long run.
I’ll be teaching 3rd graders for the next couple of weeks, which is why I order this book. We’ll be talking about the different seasons and I felt like I Know It’s Autumn would be a nice one to start us off.
On the one hand there is the repetitive structure of “I know it’s autumn when…” and on the other hand, the book is a great way of introducing the season. You can show the pictures first and talk about what the people are doing. (Do it in the mother tongue if English is too difficult.) Or you can use the book as a conversation starter to talk about all the things that are happening when autumn comes.
What I also like is, again, the fact that you could adapt the book to any other season and create your own picture book. I did that once with 2nd graders and they loved having the final product in their hands.
4. The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo
Such a cute book and such a good message. I feel like this one is a must have in your classroom library.
As for teaching English to non-english speakers… The book might be a bit harder to understand, but I feel like you can still break it down in a way that non-native speakers can understand it too.
The reason I originally bought it, was that I needed a book to repeat colours. And for that it is perfect as Zot brings back colour after colour. As with the other three books, you could easily extend the story and add different colours. If you print out a picture of grey Zot, the kids could add every colour you’ve discussed to their picture and in the end Zot would be incredibly colourful.
The book is also great if you want to use it in other subjects. Back when I was in primary school, we had to mix different colours in art class and colour Elmer from David McKee’s Elmer books. I loved it! And you could do the same thing with Zot here.
5. The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas
Another great book with yet another great message. It reminded me a lot of the Disney Pixar Movie Inside Out. Do you know which one? It’s probably because both the movie and the book associate feelings with colours.
So The Colour Monster can do two things for your students: It can tell them all about colours and it can discuss feelings. If you are teaching non-native English speakers, you would probably have to do the second one in a broken down way. Instead of discussing what feelings we have and how we act when we have them, you could just focus on how the feelings are called in English and maybe associate each feelings with a few adjectives.
If you are only focussing on the colours, you could try and associate them with things besides feelings. Because I feel like there are a lot of things that we associate with certain colours and it sure would make for an interesting discussion.
Do you use picture books for your classes as well? If yes, what are your favourites? And if you’re not a teacher, how about your favourite picture book? I’m always looking for new picture or middle grade books to buy and would happily check out your recommendations. 🙂