The Three-Stage Literacy Program: A Picture Book Based Unit for Young Children

Mari Nakamura

Hello, colleagues! In the previous issue, I described the overview of and the rationale behind Stage 1 of the Three-Stage Literacy Program at my school, English Square. I am now very excited to share with you a sample unit from this picture book-based pre-literacy program. 

Unit Overview

  • Age Group: K-G1
  • Goal: to learn about wild animals and their habitats while appreciating a story and developing oral language 
  • Focus Topics: animals, animal sounds, animal habitats, actions
  • Content Areas: biology, geography
  • Picture Book: Walking Through the Jungle (Debbie Harter)
  • Duration: four 45-minute sessions

About the Book

Walking Through the Jungle (1997, Harter) is a story of an adventure where a girl travels around the world and makes friends with wild animals. The text consists of rhythmic and repetitive refrains with rhymes that encourage young EFL learners to join in by reading aloud and singing the story-based song. With the vibrant illustrations of animals and their habitats, this book makes an attractive biology and geography resource as well. The book is accompanied by an enhanced CD that includes a story song and video.

You can watch the story video at <>

Session 1


  • to establish interests in wild animals 
  • to understand the overall meaning of the story 
  • to join in the story song in ways that each student feels comfortable 


  • Video with a jungle theme, picture book, flashcards of animals 

Activity 1: Tone Setting

Welcome children while playing a video that shows a jungle to set the tone for the rest of the lesson. Once they have settled down, stop the video and discuss what a jungle is like using simple language. 

Activity 2: Introduction of the Book

Show the book cover to children, and elicit some animal words while pointing at the pictures on the cover and talking about them. 

Activity 3: Shared Reading

Read the story. Use the tones of your voice, facial expressions and body language to aid children’s comprehension. Keep the level of children’s interactive engagement high by encouraging them to join in the story whenever possible. 

Activity 4: Animal Vocabulary Practice

Show the flashcards of animal vocabulary one by one. Elicit the words from students as much as possible. Introduce and practice animal sounds along with the words to make the experience fun for children. 

Activity 5: Animal Quiz

Spread out the animal flashcards, and give them an oral quiz. For example, say, “I see an animal that is big and strong. It has sharp teeth, and it goes snap, snap, snap”, and imitate the way a crocodile bites on prey using your arms. Children point to the crocodile flashcard. 

Activity 6: Closure 

Play the story song and sing along while showing the book. Prompt children to join in if they can. 

Session 2


  • to participate in read-aloud
  • to practice animal vocabulary, animal sounds, and their habitats


  • Picture book, flashcards of animals and animal habitats

Activity 1: Story Review 

Start singing aloud the story song slowly and softly to generate children’s interest. Once a few children join in the singing, open the book and sing aloud the whole story while encouraging all the children to join in. 

Activity 2: Animals and the Sounds They Make

With the book closed, ask children what animals they met in the story. Show the animal flashcards, and practice the words while miming the movement of animals. Open the book and read aloud the text, highlighting the sounds that each animal makes and prompting children to mimic them. 

Activity 3: Animal Habitats

Introduce the concept of animal habitats using the illustrations of the book. For example, point to the illustration of the lion on page 4 and ask where the lion lives. Draw children’s attention to the background picture and help them say, “In a jungle”. Discuss what the habitat is like using simple language. For example, “Is it hot or cold in a jungle?” “What animals live there?” “Some of the animals in a jungle are very colorful.” Do the same with the rest of the habitats presented in the story. 

Activity 4: Matching of Animals and Their Habitats 

Practice the habitat vocabulary using the habitat flashcards. Then, show one of the animal flashcards to children and ask, “What is this animal?” “Where does it live?” Put the animal flashcard next to the matching habitat flashcard. Do the same with the rest of the animal flashcards. 

Activity 5: Read-Aloud Practice 

Read aloud the story while pointing at the text or illustrations depending on children’s literacy level. Children join in the read-aloud gradually. 

Session 3


  • to practice performing the story as a whole group 
  • to review animal habitats and learn where they are in the world
  • to practice action vocabulary 


  • Picture book, flashcards of animals and their habitats, a child-friendly atlas  

Activity 1: Sequencing 

Spread the animal flashcards on the table, and ask children to put them in the order of the story. Once it is done, play the CD, and have them confirm if the order is correct. Encourage children to join in the song. 

Activity 2: Action Practice

Everyone stands up. Show the first page of the story and say, “walk through the jungle”. Mime the action with children. Do the same with the rest of the action phrases in the book. Decide the name of the girl in the story with your children, and play your version of Simon Says using the girl’s name instead of “Simon”. For example, if you say “Mary says swim in the ocean”, the children mime the gesture. If you say “Swim in the ocean”, children stay still.

Activity 3: Story Performance 

Perform the story song with children, doing the actions that you practiced in Activity 2 and some additional actions. 

Activity 4: The World Map and Animal Habitats

Quickly review the animal habitats directing children’s attention to the habitat illustrations in the book. Then with a child-friendly atlas, show children where in the world the animals in the story live. Introduce some interesting facts about animals and their habitats with simple language and mimes. (e.g., Rattlesnakes in deserts have good sense of smell. They find water using their nose.) 

Session 4


  • to make animal masks and perform the story wearing them


  • Picture book, construction paper, crayon, scissors, glue, stapler, rubber bands

Activity 1: Animal Mask Craft

Children make their animal masks. Prior to the lesson, ask children which mask they want to create. Make sure that at least one student makes a mask for each animal in the book. Also, ask them to bring crayons, scissors and any other simple art supplies they want to use to the lesson. You will also want to have some materials listed in the materials section above ready. In the lesson, children make their masks. While they are making masks, play the story CD and some other jungle-themed songs, walk around the room and give children necessary help. Make sure to use simple English when interacting with children and elicit some vocabulary such as colors, body parts, sizes and shapes by asking them questions about their masks. If you prefer to make this craft activity easier, feel free to use some animal mask templates available on the Internet. 

Activity 2: Story Performance

Children perform the story song with their masks on. At first, they may only join in with actions. Gradually encourage them to join in the song verbally. 


The above is an example of how I structure a unit of study using a picture book. Even if you use the same story, your program will be different from mine, and both you and your children will appreciate the literature and language learning in unique ways. It is this uniqueness and flexibility that motivates me to design picture book based programs. 

How would you like to use the story in your class? Please share your ideas on JALT TYL SIG Facebook page! <>

Picture Book

Harter, D. (1997). Walking Through a Jungle. Cambridge. Barefoot Books.  

Recommended Atlas

Boyle, B. (1999). My First Atlas. (2nd Ed.) London, Dorling Kindersley Publishers.