Picturebooks are powerful tools for language learners. They tell stories through words and pictures, which are both essential to the understanding of the text. While these kinds of books have many different labels (storybook, realbook, etc.), currently the most prevalent is the use of the compound noun ‘picturebook’ as it reflects the compound nature of words and pictures coming together to create meaning (Mourão, 2016). Picturebooks are a source of authentic language, motivation, and foundational literacy skills but once the story is told and the book is closed, there are still opportunities for meaningful learning to take place.
This article will explore a variety of post-reading activities for young learners, including retellings of famous stories, books made by students about themselves, and illustrated predictions of story resolutions. It will focus on creative art projects that allow children to engage with and personalize the themes, messages, and questions of a variety of picturebook styles, such as wordless books, open-ended stories, and concept books. Key principles for choosing books and designing activities will also be discussed.
Introduction and Background
I am an English teacher and curriculum designer at a small private preschool, working with children aged 0 to 5. Since joining in 2018, I have focused on an approach that draws on communicative language teaching with an emphasis on interaction through songs, games, and picturebooks. My goals are to introduce learners to English through methods that are both motivating and memorable, while also incorporating opportunities for intercultural understanding and development of social skills, such as sharing, turn-taking, and teamwork. I have a particular interest in picturebooks and the ways that learners can interact with and learn from them beyond what is printed on the pages.
I believe that in the young learner classroom, picturebooks can be a compelling resource, often forming the foundations of lesson plans along with songs and games. By linking words with pictures, they can tell engaging stories and fulfill a number of important roles for language learning. Picturebooks are authentic materials, made for all children and not only those in an EFL or ESL context. They are motivational, and create opportunities for discussion, prediction, and reflection. Finally, they can help to build foundational literacy skills such as phonological awareness (e.g., syllables, alliteration, and rhyming) and phonemic awareness (e.g., segmenting and blending).
However, picturebooks can offer further chances for meaningful learning even after the story is finished. Post-reading activities allow learners to connect with and personalize a number of picturebook elements, including themes, messages, and visual design. This article will introduce a variety of post-reading activities for young learners, while answering three main questions: What are post-reading activities? Why use post-reading activities? How should we choose books and design activities from them?
What Are Post-reading Activities?
Post-reading activities are small-scale projects carried out with learners after reading picturebooks, for the purpose of reflecting on the story. Many of these activities are art-based, using crayons, pens, scissors, paper, and other media, to extend the experience of the picturebook beyond the initial reading. Picturebooks often have specific themes and perspectives that are of value to young learners, and by carefully planning out these projects, teachers can create a space for their students to explore these elements.
Why Use Post-reading Activities?
There are a number of benefits to using post-reading activities in the young learner classroom. They can be useful for checking comprehension, as well as focusing on and creating a deeper understanding of a picturebook’s core theme or message. Many young learners are still developing in their first language, and artistic post-reading activities can allow learners to reflect on their reading experience in a non-linguistic medium. Beyond reading and language skills, post-reading activities can be useful for developing important social skills such as sharing, turn-taking, and collaboration, as learners may need to work together on projects or share materials. After completing the activities, learners’ works can be displayed at school and discussed in later lessons, then subsequently taken home. This is a good opportunity for learners to share both their creations and their thoughts about the stories with their families, linking language learning at school with their home life. The key to successful post-reading activities for younger learners is to connect language use to creative and memorable experiences.
When choosing books to share with learners and use in post-reading activities, the age level and maturity of the learners must be considered. For young learners, short and simple books are often best, emphasizing pictures over text. Picturebooks with a clear theme, visuals, and/or interactive aspects, such as cut-out or pop-up elements, lend themselves well to engaging projects. Additionally, a variety of picturebook types should be introduced to learners, including concept books, wordless books, and non-fiction, to show them the wide range of books available and stimulate their imagination.
After a picturebook is chosen, there are a number of questions to consider in the planning process of a post-reading activity. What is the central theme or element of the book? Is there a unique character or perspective that learners can explore? What is the most important message from the book that you want learners to reflect on? Is there an art or design style that would be interesting for learners to experiment with? By asking questions like these, teachers can focus on the key parts of each book and design activities that will allow their learners to effectively connect with the books.
Examples of Post-reading Activities
Retelling a Story
Retelling a story can be good practice for learners to break down a picturebook’s plot into more manageable and comprehensible chunks. For this activity, a story should be told to learners verbally, without the use of the book’s illustrations, over the course of several lessons or days. After each part, learners draw a picture to show that scene. Once the story is completed, one picture can be chosen from the learners’ work for each page (Figure 1) and bound into a book, so that all learners have their artwork represented in this collaborative project. Short and simple stories work well for this activity, such as The Hare and the Tortoise by Brian Wildsmith (2007).
Some picturebooks lend themselves well to activities in which learners can follow a theme and create their own original books. Matt Lamothe’s (2017) This Is How We Do It illustrates the daily lives of seven children from seven different countries, with each double-page spread focusing on one aspect such as breakfast, the classroom, how they play with friends, or how they help their families at home. Looking at one topic at a time, learners can be encouraged to observe and comment on both the differences and similarities between their own lives and those of the children in the book. Then they can create a page on the same topic with drawings of their own, before putting them all together in a folder (Figure 2) to share with each other and their own families. This can be a powerful tool for introducing cultural literacy to young learners by giving them opportunities to view and reflect on the lives of children from a variety of countries and cultures through the window of the picturebook.
Guessing outcomes and thinking creatively are vital skills for young learners to develop, and there are many picturebooks that feature open-ended conclusions, inviting readers to finish the story themselves. After reading a book like Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (2015), learners can be given paper and asked to imagine their own ending (Figure 3). Picturebooks that are not open-ended can also be used, by stopping the read-aloud at a chosen point, asking learners to create their original conclusions, and then comparing their ideas with the ending in the book. Jon Klassen’s (2011) I Want My Hat Back is an example of a picturebook that might be used in this way, pausing before the final reveal of the hat to speculate on the fate of the rabbit.
Exploring a Central Theme
Many picturebooks feature a central element that the entirety of the story is based around. These elements are often well-suited to post-reading activities as they offer a clear visual theme to build around. Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter (2013) teases readers with the mysterious eponymous button and the unpredictable results from pushing it. Learners can be encouraged to draw their own button and illustrate what happens when it gets pushed (Figure 4). Similarly, Eiko Konishi’s (2020) Sandwich! Sandwich! follows a simple theme of what goes into making a sandwich. For post-reading, learners might use paper, felt, and other materials to create the ingredients that they would put into their own sandwich.
Beyond a core theme, some picturebooks focus on physical alterations to the page, such as pop-up elements or cut-out shapes, to progress the story. These can be very interesting for learners to experiment with in their own artwork. Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2012) and The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle (1986) both use novel cut-out shapes and patterns to explore color and movement. After reading, learners can be presented with paper that has various cut-out parts (e.g., a circle, a square, a zig-zag line) and asked to draw and color around these shapes, using their imagination to form the surroundings (Figure 5). The papers can be collected, arranged, and bound to create a class book, with learners discussing and deciding on their own story to go along with it.
Sequential narrative is a style of storytelling employed by some picturebooks, using frames to separate scenes and create specific moments. These types of books are effective for children learning the flow of a narrative, how to understand and talk about events that have happened, are happening, and that may happen in the future. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (1978) is one such picturebook, and learners can follow the reading with a paper split into several frames, inviting them to imagine the further adventures of the snowman and create their own scenes with a beginning, a middle, and an end (Figure 6).
Linking to Other Subjects
Picturebooks can be wonderful sources for learning about a variety of topics, such as culture, geography, and natural science. With carefully planned post-reading activities, learners can be introduced to these subjects in meaningful ways. Eric Carle’s (1991) Papa, please get the moon for me features depictions of the moon in Eric Carle’s signature style, and can be followed up with an opportunity for learners to paint their own moons with different materials to create texture (Figure 7), leading into discussions about the moon’s surface and craters. Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers (2017) presents itself as an illustrated manual for living on Earth, with plenty of prompts for rich discussion. Post-reading, learners might imagine they are aliens visiting Earth for the first time and think of questions they would have about this planet, which could then be answered visually on paper (Figure 8).
As discussed above, picturebooks offer a variety of opportunities for compelling post-reading activities. Learners can retell classic stories with their own artwork, create books about themselves, make predictions about a story’s end, explore a picturebook’s theme, reimagine cut-out shapes and patterns, learn about sequencing and story flow, and connect with topics beyond language skills. Letting learners focus their full creativity on projects like these can deepen their engagement with and enjoyment of the picturebook experience.
Briggs, R. (1978). The snowman. Random House Books for Young Readers.
Carle, E. (1986). The secret birthday message. HarperCollins.
Carle, E. (1991). Papa, please get the moon for me. Picture Book Studio.
Cotter, B. (2013). Don’t push the button. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
Haughton, C. (2015). Shh! We have a plan. Candlewick.
Jeffers, O. (2017). Here we are. Philomel Books.
Klassen, J. (2011). I want my hat back. Candlewick.
Konishi, E. (2020). Sandwich! Sandwich! Fukuinkanshoten.
Lamothe, M. (2017). This is how we do it: One day in the lives of seven kids from around the world. Chronicle Books.
Mourão, S. J. (2016). Picturebooks in the primary EFL classroom: Authentic literature for an authentic response. Children’s Literature in English Language Education Journal, 4(1), 25–43.
Seeger, L. V. (2012). Green. Roaring Book Press.
Wildsmith, B. (2007). The hare and the tortoise. Oxford University Press.
Martin Sedaghat is an English instructor and curriculum designer at the Niigata University of Health and Welfare International Preschool. He is currently studying for his TESOL MA through Birmingham University. His research interests include young learners, picturebook usage in the classroom, and game design for young learners.