BLOGS  >  MAY 1, 2019

How Picture Books Help Language Learners


Picture books benefit all learners at any age, but they are particularly crucial in aiding English Language Learner (ELL) students with bridging language, developing vocabulary and supporting academic standards and global concepts.

As a reading specialist who worked in a low-income district with many ELL and bilingual students, I would always help bridge the concepts and language my students were trying to develop with picture books. Picture books can be used with students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. However, when choosing a picture book to use, educators must be careful to select appropriate books for the concept and goals at hand.
Some considerations to make when choosing a picture book for your lesson are:

  • Considering stereotypes that may be depicted in the story
  • Choosing stories in which illustrations match the words in the text
  • Providing stories with authentic language
  • Picking stories that have appropriate vocabulary for the student
  • Checking the background of the author
  • Exposing students to a variety of multicultural texts
  • Introducing and explicitly teaching the standards

Picture books typically are a length that is manageable for instruction and practice for all students. Regardless of our background or cultures, we experience global and universal themes throughout our lives, and picture books are great way to explore these topics with students.
Picture books also let teachers model skills and strategies that all learners develop throughout their educational careers. An idea is to start with fairy tales, fables and myths as many of these stories have similarities across cultures and provide some background students from diverse cultures may already have. This allows those students to make quick connections and lessen their anxiety about being in a new place.
Picture books are rich in vocabulary and offer an array of new words from cover to cover. Tuning in to interesting words was one of the most engaging lessons my students were taught, as I was able to excite them about new and interesting words. Picture books provide visual representation for students and help them interact with a text in so many other ways than chapter books can.
The support of picture books helps build strong readers who can navigate more complex text with little to no visual representation. Try using wordless picture books with your students too!
Many of these books allow for multiple interpretations which provide great discussions with students. This also helps students develop their language skills as they talk through the story and their thinking. Most importantly, picture books should not stop with our young students. There are terrific, if not even more provoking, picture books out there for older students, which lend themselves to higher levels of critical thinking.
Explore the books teachers have read so far for #classroombookaday on Titlewave.  

Regional Office of Education, Lake County IL

With over 10 years of experience in education, Nicole Stroup has been instrumental in supporting staff development, leading teachers, and developing curriculum for districts throughout Lake County. She has rich experience as both an instructional coach and ELA Content Facilitator. She has enhanced the professional learning experience of teachers throughout our area and brings both enthusiasm and a passion for instructional coaching and literacy to her new role. With a Master’s Degree in both Reading Instruction and Educational Leadership, she is committed to serving Lake County schools and districts as a support for English Language Arts curriculum, school improvement, and professional development. Nicole’s broad experience includes teaching at the elementary level as well as supporting school library media staff on library improvements. She emphasizes flexible learning environments, passion for content, and a desire to support the professional learning needs of Lake County educators. Nicole resides in Volo, IL with her husband and young daughter. In her leisure, Nicole enjoys golfing and supports her local girl’s gymnastics team as a coach.  

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