Teaching with Picture Books

1st Edition: Little Excavator

Being quarantined for the past three months with my 5 year old and 3 year old has given me a lot of time to read the books we have at home. We read a lot of books each day and everytime we read one, I find myself thinking, “how could I use this book back in the classroom?” (Hopefully, I’ll be able to find out in the fall).

I strongly believe that picture books have a place in every single classroom….no matter the age of the students. In some cases, picture books are more complex than some novels. Everyone loves having a story read out loud to them, and there are so many picture books that out there that could be linked to any of the Common Core Standards. So…I’ve decided to start a new series on here….Teaching with Picture Books. I’m going to highlight different books and show some of the teaching points that you could use them with. Of course, I’m sure you could find additional things to teach with them, and I hope you do!

The first book is a big favorite in our house: The Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney. (You can click on any picture to purchase the book for yourself!)

One of the first things I would do is point out the author. She is the creator of the ever popular Llama, Llama series. For our older students, this would be a great opportunity for them to read one of the Llama books and then look for her specific author’s craft in both books. What does she do that has become her signature “author moves”?

I think you could easily use this book for two different purposes, depending on the age of your students. First, if you’re learning about the structure of a story and studying plot diagrams, this story offers a very simple plot that follows the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The events in the story remain simple enough where students could easily identify them, or track independently, on a plot diagram.

Alternatively, if you have older students, this book would do well teaching character development or mood. (Right?! In a simple picture book?!) The main character “Little E” experiences many different emotions as the story develops. Readers could use the picture clues and facial expressions to track how his mood changes and why they think it does.

Another favorite of mine is teaching figurative language; and is there anything more fun than teaching onomatopoeia?? (I had to double check that spelling about 8 times) Kids love saying that word and then trying to come up with their own onomatopoeia. This book is filled with different expressions and a conversation could happen about why we think the author included it and what value does it add to the story.

Another great teaching opportunity, that’s very “Common Core”, is comparing this story to another story. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think about The Little Engine that Could. The plot is similar and the main characters are very similar. Reading both stories and then engaging in a discussion while comparing and contrasting the two would cover many aspects of the standards. You could choose to use a traditional venn diagram or a t-chart to model how to organize their thinking when comparing two different things.

Lastly, picture books are amazing for working on making inferences. The illustrations are usually so rich and full of clues that readers can use to make an inference. In this specific case the text is saying “there’s one last job”. Readers need to look closely at the pictures and think about what they already know to figure out what that job would be.

I’m sure you would be able to find many other teaching opportunities in this specific book. My hope was that this was a start and it can show you the many different things you can teach with using a picture book. Stay tuned as I continue to raid my kids’ bookshelves and share my teaching ideas!


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