If a picture can get a child to talk, why not use it?

Wordless picture books can reveal a great deal of information about a child’s oral language development. We can hear how they use words to convey meaning when describing something. We can observe how they retrieve words and connect them into phrases and/or sentences. We can note their diction, phrasing, and intonation. Much can be learned from asking a child to ‘read’ the pictures in a wordless book. I highly recommend using wordless books with falling readers in a variety of ways.
Wordless picture books can easily be divided into three main levels. Book levels are based on a combination of picture complexity, implications for meaning, sequence of events, objects and/or actions on each page, ‘story-line,’ picture support, and oral language requirements for clear understanding. By understanding the characteristics of each level, you can select appropriate and effective wordless books for use with kids at school and at home.
A description of each level is as follows:
Level A: ‘Small Talk’ WORDLESS Books
Common characteristics:
• One or two pictures on each page
• Limited story plots (if any)
• Interaction involves mainly ‘point and say’
• Familiar objects, animals, colors, and shapes
• Large pictures; sometimes using both left and right pages for one scene
• Details within pictures tend to be large and simple
• Book titles and cover pictures are simple and ‘to the point’
• Limited inference and prediction needed to gain meaning.
• Early concepts about print can be reinforced easily
Level B: ‘More Talk’ WORDLESS Books
Common Characteristics:
• Fairly detailed pictures on EACH page
• Greater opportunities for predicting plots in sequential order
• Several objects and/or scenes on each page
• Include concepts such as shapes, colors, school, curiosity, mischief, eating out
• Story titles require more inference about the main idea
• Detailed cover pictures, requiring greater prediction and more complex vocabulary
• Picture layout includes pictures on left and right pages with NEW events and/or objects on each
• Requires that students make predictions, draw conclusions, search for details within scenes, analyze cause and effect relationships, and interact more with the book in order to draw meaning
Level C: ‘Big Talk’ WORDLESS Books
Common Characteristics:
• Requires greater attention to details, event sequences, complex predictions, and more descriptive vocabulary
• Pictures are filled with details and clues that call upon critical thinking and problem solving skills
• Pictures include artistic details that reveal facial expressions and body language; more complicated and detailed then easier levels
• Multi-snapshot scenes that resemble hand-drawn filmstrips, offering opportunities for reinforcing directional movements, return sweep, voice/print match, and sequencing of events
• Offer more opportunities for fluent oral phrasing, vocal expression, oral sentence structure, and diction
• Serve as a writing prompts for stories that can be written to accompany these books
Here are a few suggestions for engaging kids with wordless picture books:

Discuss the title and cover picture. As, “What is this story about? How do you know? What do you notice in the cover picture? Tell me more!”

Begin ‘reading’ the story by modeling complete oral sentences. For example, “One day, a bird was sitting on a tree and he saw a big, red apple fall off of a branch.”

Let the child tell the story, using the pictures for support and meaning. Encourage him/her to speak in complete sentences. Take turns doing this if it is difficult for the child. Encourage descriptive talk such as, “What color is it? Where is it? What else can we say about this dog? Is he happy, sad, small, or big?”

As the child open-ended, ‘prediction’ questions in between pages: “What do you think might happen next? What makes you think so? Can you guess what they might do on the next page? Do you think they are happy? How do you know?”

As the child to reread the whole story, this time without questions or interruptions.

Encourage the child to dictate a sentence to you about the story and/or write their own sentence to go with a picture in the story. You can write the dictated sentence on paper and then ask him/or to draw a picture to go with it.
The use of wordless picture books as an assessment tool can help us learn more about the ways in which children use oral language to convey meaning. We are able to learn a great deal about what the child brings to early literacy development. Wordless books not only serve as great oral language tools, but they also provide wonderful writing prompts for students who just often say, “I can’t think of anything to write!”
Remember, a picture speaks a thousand words . . . got wordless books? Catch some soon!
Guest Blogger: Dr. Connie Hebert, National Literacy Consultant & Author
Dr. Connie Hebert is dedicated to catching falling readers by motivating, teaching, and inspiring educators around the world.  She has presented literacy seminars, district trainings, and keynote addresses in 47 states and at national, state, European IRA, NAESP, and RRCNA reading conferences. She is the mother of 3 amazing children, a nationally acclaimed teacher of teachers, reading specialist, and motivational speaker. Published works include her books, Catch a Falling Reader, Catch a Falling Writer, and Catch a Falling Teacher, along with 4 sets of Sight Word Phrases. For more information and her Catch a Blog, please visit: www.conniehebert.com
Dr. Connie is also an expert at helping parents engage with their kids at home. Her upcoming book, The Teachable Minute: The Secret to Raising Smart & Appreciative Kids, offer lots of suggestions for what to SHOW, ASK, & TEACH kids in 77 common places. Watch for it…coming this February, 2013.
Facebook: Connie Hebert
Twitter: DrConnieHebert