How many times have we heard that? Imagery tells stories and explains things without words. Photographs, maps, and illustrations are images that freeze a moment in time: when your Mom held your new baby the first time, when your son held up the "big catch," or the kids waving to a train going by. Each of those images reveals a story, or at least part of one.
Images can be writing prompts, too. When I was in school, our teacher would present an image and ask us to tell her/him about it - describe what we see, what we think we see, or create a story, depending on the assignment. Some would be fictional/creative writing, others would be more factual.
I have become fascinated with stories presented completely without words. One of the "hot" genres for children's books is the wordless book ... and they're not just for little kids. One of the most popular picture books last year was Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott winning book The Lion and the Mouse. It is the folktale we all grew up with, told only in imagery. The story we remember may be "simple," but the illustrations are far from it!
For children who struggle with reading or writing, sharing and creating stories with just pictures may be just the thing to get them excited about literacy. First, they let kids stretch their imaginations. It also gives them a chance to tell a story in their own words ... the way they see it, without feeling hemmed in, overwhelmed, or intimidated by the actual text. There is a list of wordless and near-wordless books at the end of this post that may help you find books of interest.
Younger children draw "simple" pictures that tell very complex stories. Sometimes they'll launch into stories that would rival Tolstoy's War and Peace. But if they don't, ask them questions: Is that a tree? Does anyone live there? Do they have a name? Asking them to tell you about their picture today can encourage their long-term interest in stories and reading.
Older children may enjoy making cartoons. Because they are telling a complete (albeit short) story in 3 to 5 "boxes," they have to think carefully about what details they want to show and also how to organize their thoughts.
For kids who don't like to draw, grab some magazines. Let them cut out images and put them together in a single "picture" or sequence them to create a book. If writing practice is important, ask the artist annotate the images as the text of the story.
Pictures, maps, charts, and drawings can be great literacy props. We use them for everything from teaching kids colors to helping adults put together a bike. [I can't remember the last time I actually looked past the illustrations to read the instructions on how to put something together!]
In creating and telling their stories, kids are practicing their vocabulary, sequencing (putting events in order), and communication skills. Images help us get kids excited about reading, and ultimately writing ... without reading a word!
Prompt Ideas for March
Each month I'll close the column with some starter ideas. This month, I'm building on the theme of wordless writing and including a few "traditional" prompts, too. For kids who aren't ready to write, you can talk about them as conversations.
For Celebrate Your Name Week (March 7)
For each letter in your name, pick something you like that starts with that letter. Now do the dislikes. (This can be pictures, drawings, or words)
When you think of your name, what color do you see? Why?
If your name were a food, what would it be? This can be pictures, drawings, or words)
For Genealogy Day (March 13)
Pull out some old photographs and create a book about someone's life.
Work together to create a short interview with an older family member. Start with "What would you like to know about from the time [person] grew up?"
For St. Patrick's Day (March 17)
The pot of gold is gone. What would you find at the end of the rainbow? Who/What would protect it? (This can be words or pictures)
Wordless Picture Book Resources
Wordless and Almost Wordless Picture Books List Reading is Fundamental
Wordless Book Reviews Children's Literature (online journal)
Wordless Picture Book List, Weber County (Utah) Public Library
Booklist - Wordless Picture Books Louisville (Kentucky) Free Public Library
Wonderful Wordless Picture Books Ann M. Neely, on Booklights
Boy and Fish Image - Morgue File - http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-the-boys-the-fish-image12217640
Child holding Crayon - Morgue File - http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-drawings-as-a-child-image912268
Little girls holding up pictures - Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/tigerlillyshop/2691767702/
Book title links to Cybils affiliate account with Amazon. Purchases made through that link may earn income for the Cybils and help fund this literary awards program.