Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


How to Use a Picture Book in WL Class When the Text is Too Difficult for Your Students

PICTURE BOOKS ARE AN AMAZING WAY TO BRING LANGUAGE LEARNING AND LITERATURE together in class, but many contain text that is too challenging for the proficiency level our students are at. What happens when we find an absolutely BEAUTIFUL book, with tremendous illustrations, and even better, one that is authentic to the native culture....but the language is far too difficult? (Disclaimer: I'm a sucker for gorgeous illustrations! I collect picture books as much for the pictures as for the story-I bet a bunch of you do, too!). Below is one way to help you bridge the gap between an incomprehensible storyline and your classes:

How to Use a Picture Book in World Language Classes

DO A PICTURE WALK: this is one of my favorite ways to incorporate picture books without having to worry AT ALL about the text. In the gen ed classroom, doing a picture walk is common practice when introducing a picture book. The method entails "walking" through the book without reading it, merely looking at the pictures, making observations about what is transpiring, and in many cases, making predictions about what will happen next. Sometimes a teacher won't show the final page(s) in order to maintain a surprise ending. We can harness this idea with a little modification in the FOREIGN LANGUAGE classroom! Here's how:

*CHOOSE A PICTURE BOOK with a good set of illustrations that provide enough detail and interest for your students, and do a good job of "spelling out" the story without reading the text. The alternative could be to choose a book which has beautiful representations of the target culture, much like the one above, 'Sube y baja por los Andes' by Laurie Krebs from Barefoot Books. (Link here!).

*USING THE ILLUSTRATIONS MUCH LIKE A PICTURE PROMPT, only with far more visual input to work with!, share the first illustration and have your students provide vocabulary/sentences describing what they see. Ask them questions about what is in the picture to broaden and extend the conversation (this is a great way to SPIRAL old vocabulary back into the mix!). The simple version of this method is to just keep doing this throughout the book, generating more and more vocabulary and reaction from your students. Your novices can create word lists or answer yes/no, either/or questions about the pictures, and answer Do you like? type prompts.

How to Use A Picture Book in Foreign Language Classes

*USE CULTURAL ILLUSTRATIONS as prompts to compare and contrast life in the target culture and the one shared by your students. What is the same/different? Make a Venn Diagram or a T chart to record answers. For example, in the above picture, the boy is wearing traditional Peruvian clothing, including a poncho/ ruana, and un chullo. With little students, you could do an easy compare and contrast activity by sharing photos gleaned from the internet or your own experience of these articles of clothing and typical coats/ winter hats in the US.

*HAVE OLDER STUDENTS/ ONES WITH A HIGHER PROFICIENCY LEVEL? (yes, picture books are great with high school students, too!) Go beyond the description conversation to encourage your students to start "writing" the storyline themselves, either by sharing orally, or writing in a journal or on individual whiteboards. You can record their sentences in Google drive so they can be shared out, or so you can go back and use them in a variety of additional activities such as making sentence strips to cut up so partners can put them together and order them, make color copies of the pages and have kids match the sentence strips to the illustrations, or have them write an alternate ending.

*PREDICTING IS A GREAT WAY to incorporate the future tense- before turning the page, have students predict what will happen next. When you turn the page, see if their predictions were correct! How or how not? Then continue with the storyline, predicting once again before turning the next page.

*USE SOCIAL MEDIA SITES LIKE SNAPCHAT AND INSTAGRAM with your older students-have them take a photo of one page, upload it to Snapchat or Instagram and create a #booksnap (where they write a quick blurb or description of the picture) to share with the rest of the class-super fun!

*SCAVENGER HUNT ACTIVITIES: If students have 1:1 devices, they can use them to take photos of items on a list you provide, either by looking through books themselves, or you can set up a “still life” with a book and other related cultural items. For example, setting up a variety of these as stations allows students to move around the room (a great way to incorporate purposeful movement!)

Prompts can be as simple or as complex as you like, dependent on proficiency level. For my upper elementary kids I like to have a mix of prompts, some very easy and a few that require more thought. So, for example, ‘something blue’, ‘something red’, ‘something small’, ‘something that makes me happy’, ‘something to drink’, ‘something I really like’ etc. Or you can have specific things like 'a setting sun', 'corn', 'a person flying a kite', and so on-the sky's the limit! You can create a file in your online platform for students to ‘record’ their finds (aka their fotos). This is a great ‘evergreen’ activity, meaning you can do it multiple times, just changing out the books and/or prompts-and makes a great Centers or Choice Board Activity, too!

HAVE A FAVORITE PICTURE BOOK you've been wanting to use in class? Let us know which it is in the comments!

Have fun!


  1. What is the book used in image that says "la ruina de Machu Picchu'

    1. It is 'Sube y baja por los Andes' by Laurie Krebs. You can find it on Amazon :)

  2. great ideas, thanks! I have a shelf full of books I never use because they are too hard for them to understand. I have new lesson ideas!!! mil gracias

    1. Yay! I am so happy this gives new life to your books! :)

  3. Maravillosas ideas!! Como siempre julie!
    Gracias, gracias, gracias!