Teaching the elderly through children’s picture books

Zane Ritchie, Ritsumeikan University


Quick guide

  • Keywords:older learners, guided-reading, folk-stories, independent reading
  • Learner-level:False beginner to lower intermediate
  • Number of students: Small groups; can be adapted for larger groups
  • Learner maturity:Older learners; can be adapted to other ages
  • Preparation time:About an hour, depending on the complexity of the book
  • Activity time:At least two 60-minute classes
  • Materials:A large children’s picture book (large print) and a vocabulary sheet


Teaching groups of older false-beginner learners of English can be challenging, but with perseverance and imagination it can be quite rewarding. Over the years, I have discovered that it is possible to motivate older learners using children’s picture booksfor guided-reading exercises. Originally developed for younger learners, guided-reading involves a simple format: an introduction, supported reading, and a follow up activity, with learners “guided” through the story (Smith & Elley, 1997). The following is loosely based upon the principles of guided reading, with particular reference to the Grimm Brothers’ folk-story, The Three Little Pigs.


Step 1:Choose a story appropriate for your learners. Many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are ideal, but other choices might be Hans Christian Anderson, Aesop’s fables, etc. For false-beginners, choose a story with a lot of repetition and simple vocabulary. Ideally, the print should be large enough for learners to see the words as you read to the class.

Step 2:Decide in advance which words and vocabulary you need to focus on and prepare a vocabulary list.


Step 1:In class, refer to the vocabulary list and explain meanings or give examples as appropriate. Introduce the core concepts of the story to stimulate background knowledge. For The Three Little Pigs, you might talk about straw, sticks, and bricks, or you might wish to practice superlative forms.

Step 2:Read the book. The point is to engage in meaningful conversations with your learners while you are reading. You might ask them to predict outcomes, to discuss the personalities certain characters might have, or what certain pictures represent. Read the book several times until you are sure they feel comfortable with it. This might take as long as 60 minutes. Take your time!

Step 3:Have the learners read the book as a group. (If you have a lot of learners, you will need to form several groups, which will require several copies of the book). It is important that there belittle or no teacher input at this stage, so that learners are encouraged to pool their knowledge to complete the text on their own.

Step 4:Cover the words of the story and have the learners retell it, keeping as close to the original as possible while using just the pictures as a guide. Just how they go about re-creating the story should be left up to them, but encourage all members to participate. If they are unable to remember parts of the story, provide hints as appropriate. For more advanced students,have them try without looking at the pictures.

Step 5: Havelearners create their own ending. For example, in the Three Little Pigs, the wolf might be eaten by the pig, he might escape, he might apologize, etc.

Extra Toppings

If you have a few minutes left at the end of the lesson, you might want to have students make a summary of just the main points of the story, in a few short sentences. You could also ask the class to act out the content with the aid of a narrator. Recordings are also possible.


Although guided-reading was originally designed to be used with younger learners, it can also be successfully adapted for the elderly. Older learners enjoy a good yarn and since they are often interested in folktales in their own language, they usually express interest in English ones too. The point of the exercise is to make learning English “fun” and to give learners the satisfaction of retelling the story in English at the end ofthe lesson. Finally, although the teacher provides support, the eventual goal is to encourage independent reading.


Smith J., & Elley, W. (1997). How Children Learn to Read. Auckland: Addison Wesley Longman Ltd.