Every year thousands of high-quality children’s picturebooks are published in English. They offer a rich, but often under-used, flexible and motivating resource for primary English language teaching (PELT). The fusion of the best in trade publishing combined with effective PELT pedagogy makes picturebooks an innovative and enriching experience in the classroom.
What is a picturebook?
A picturebook generates meaning through both pictures and words – the pictures show and the words tell – and children create meaning through these two modes of communication.
Why use picturebooks in the PELT classroom?
Picturebooks expose children to rich, authentic language in a natural way, as the language has not been sequenced or graded. They also contain high quality illustrations which expose children to different styles or art work and broaden children’s visual experiences. When carefully selected, picturebooks can also bring diversity themes into the primary classroom such as age, gender, race or ethnicity, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation as well as promote values such as kindness, tolerance, openness and friendship.
There is a long history of using carefully selected picturebooks in PELT to introduce and develop language related to themes and topics commonly taught to children of this age e.g. colours, clothes, parts of the body. However, picturebooks can take learners beyond core linguistic goals to contribute to their progression in a more holistic way by:
It is sometimes difficult to be specific about age-level suitability as picturebooks operate on many levels and can satisfy children of different ages.
Children may have limited English, but their ideas, understanding of concepts and aspirations will be relevant to their development age. This results in a common criticism that the language may be too complex and the content too simplistic.
Real success depends on:
When to use picturebooks
Picturebooks can be used as follows:
When using this latter approach, picturebooks need to be selected carefully to cover a range of genres, topics and settings or else there is a risk of children developing highly specialised, low frequency vocabulary, leaving gaps in their basic vocabulary. It is also beneficial to encourage home involvement to maximise learning and to make it collaborative and meaningful. Used in this way, picturebooks can contribute to a whole-school approach to learning and general education by linking with other subjects across the curriculum.
The teacher plays a key role in mediating picturebooks by helping children to construct meaning, and to use English as much as possible to talk about what they see in the illustrations, what they understand from hearing or reading the words and seeing the images together, and to make links to their own lived experiences.
Planning concrete outcomes
If using picturebooks as the principal teaching material, it is important that children know where all their learning in leading. Informing children at the beginning of a scheme of work of the planned outcomes will make their learning more meaningful, purposeful and motivating and will provide them with a strong incentive. Many outcomes are possible so choices can be offered to children or they can make their own suggestions for outcomes depending on their interests. Outcomes can include:
An online resource
PEPELT stands for Picturebooks in European Primary English Language Teaching. It was co-founded by four colleagues committed to the value of picturebooks in language education.
The PEPELT Facebook page, website and YouTube channel, aim to help teachers better understand, critically examine, select and diversify their use of picturebooks, as well as address topics rarely included in mainstream teaching materials, so they can embrace their wider educational remit by going beyond the teaching of language alone.
Using videos to present a picturebook of the month from four different perspectives:
PEPELT provides teachers with practical ideas, tips and useful information, which cover many of the areas mentioned in this blog.
The themes and picturebook choices made by the PEPELT team reflect PEPELT’s drive to discuss picturebooks that challenge and address current and topical issues. The themes covered in 2018/2019 were Friendship, Bullying, Love and Care, Celebrating Inclusion, Remembering John Burningham, Pancakes, Earth Day, Love is in the Air – Unusual Friendships and Celebrating the World of Eric Carle.
For the academic year 2019/2020, we have focused on the following themes so far:
The theme for January 2020 is celebrating diversity, and the book of the month is Amazing by Steve Antony.
The Facebook page, YouTube channel and website are all open access, so you are invited to join us and help create an engaged and sharing community of teachers, teacher educators, researchers and librarians using picturebooks in PELT.