Monday, September 21, 2009

Building Background Knowledge with the Use of Picture Books

Do your students have that "deer in the headlights" look, lost because they haven't a hook to hang this new content chapter in history, science or social studies? We've probably all been there at one time or another. You feel for them but when you read the content with them or ask them questions, you just get a blank stare. Most often, the real reason behind that is that the student has no place to begin, no frame of reference to connect to. They have no "background knowledge" or "schema". Without a place to start ("oh, I know this information already, so I can understand the new information better"), students may not be able to make sense of it.

Think of what would happen if you were thrown into the middle of an engineering project with no training in that area. It would be impossible to be successful or to learn more without a foundation. It's the same when it comes to understanding writing, historical events and times, science, math, music, art, most anything -- we all need a starting place.

To find that starting place, enter the world of today's picture books. They are more colorful than ever with exquisite art created by true talents such as Jerry Pinkney and Jan Brett. They sometimes contain complex ideas in a simple format (like Patricia McKissack's Goin' Someplace Special).

Want to find more treasures to help your students learn content-related facts and information? Start with my Amazon List to find more suggested titles that all teach music concepts (from Native American and African roots to classical and jazz legends). Share this with your music teacher if you have one. also gives you some tips for using picture books to teach standards.

Because I recognize this is an issue that impacts comprehension (and we know how important comprehension is; it is the reason we read in the first placle), I've created a new environmentally friendly resource to help you find even more fantastic subject-matter picture books (the new e-book is entitled Powerful Picture Books: 180 Ideas for Promoting Content Learning available at Inspiring Teachers. Nearly half of the picture books listed can be used with middle and high school students as an introduction to more complex text. Powerful Picture Books will soon be featured at Cool Book of the Day where you can find a new cool book for you posted there every day.

Maybe you have other content areas you need help with. My friend, Vicki Cobb and a group of over 25 of her fellow nonfiction writers have started a new blog at I.N.K.. It highlights interesting Non-fiction for Kids and is a fantastic source for finding even more great non-fiction books for kids of all ages. Non-fiction is the heart of fact-finding and most reading beyond 3rd grade is content area or nonfiction reading. Whether you are looking for science books, books about famous people, language, painting or whatever, you're likely to find a sampling there.

With these tools, you have an easy way to support your students' learning. Tap into the world of picture books (fiction and non-fiction) to use as a fun, interactive way to help your child gain the basics. You'll help them gain a position where they can soar. The great news is that picture books, chosen carefully, can even be used with students who are in middle and high school.

Even if you have students who are doing well in school, search out a picture book or two that relates to a time in history or a subject that they may not study very much in school. Put those picture books in your classroom library for those students who finish their work early or those students in your class who have been identified as gifted. The more your students grow their background knowledge, the better prepared they will be to succeed in school, on standardized tests and in life.

Happy Reading!

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