7 Picture Book Activities to Make ELA Fun (3rd-5th Grade)

teacher reading picture story book to class
    teacher reading picture story book to class
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Third, fourth and fifth graders are ready to move on to more complex chapter books, but teaching with picture books is still a wonderful way to reinforce important reading comprehension and literary analysis skills. Keep reading for seven picture book activities to use with students in third grade, fourth grade and fifth grade.

Use Pictures for Sequencing

Figuring out what happens next in a story is helpful for understanding the elements of foreshadowing which often appear earlier on. However, foreshadowing is a bit of a hefty concept for third graders. Try out this activity to help them make text-based predictions for a picture book.

  1. Choose any picture book that has a clear plot and predictable ending. Examples include Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Corduroy by Don Freeman.
  2. Read the first page.
  3. Turn the page and have the students examine the picture before reading the text. What is going to happen on this page?
  4. Read the text. Cover up the text if needed while students make their predictions.
  5. Repeat the process every time you turn the page.

This might be easiest with a document viewer or in a small group so all students can see the pictures. You can also give different picture books to small groups for them to repeat the process themselves. The activity reinforces that books provide evidence for foreshadowing.


Track Plot in Picture Books

For students who struggle with the plot structure of a story, picture books are a helpful tool. Children's stories have a more straightforward plot than most grade-level chapter books and are easier for many students to follow.

  1. Draw a plot mountain on the board, with rising action leading up to the climax and falling action ending in a resolution. Label the correct sections.
  2. Read a picture book with a clear plot and memorable climax, such as a fairy tale.
  3. As you read, stop periodically to model how to write events in the correct place on the plot mountain.
  4. When you finish, go over the events of the story as they relate to the plot structure. Make sure that everyone agrees on where the climax is and the events leading up to it.
  5. Erase the story notes and have students copy the plot mountain into their notebooks or on a piece of paper.
  6. Read a second picture book, preferably with the same subject or in the same tone as the first book.
  7. Have students write down the events in their own plot mountains as you read.
  8. When you're done, discuss where everyone placed their story events.

The next step in this plot activity would be to introduce a more complex piece of text, such as a short novel or more advanced short story. You can vary your level of scaffolding depending on how much modeling your students require.


Illustrate the Importance of Imagery

Picture books help stories come to life with vivid illustrations. They help beginning readers visualize the story itself. But by the time students are in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade, their books have fewer pictures to rely on, and they need to refer to the text to visualize the story. Help them visualize simpler stories with an engaging art activity.

  1. Read a short picture book with lots of imagery out loud. Do not show students the pictures. (It's best if you find a book that most students haven't read before).
  2. Pass out a retyped version of the story, delineated by page number, with no pictures.
  3. Have individuals or partners choose a few pages to illustrate based on the text.
  4. When students are finished, compare different versions of each page. How did some students see the imagery of the story?
  5. Read the story again and show the pictures this time. How different was their interpretation from the actual illustration?

You can make this exercise more accessible for struggling readers by assigning one page for each student to write. Advanced readers can write a short reflection about what they like about the published illustrations, and what they prefer about their own pictures.


Determine the Main Idea

Figuring out the main idea of an entire work can be challenging. Teach students to turn to both the text and illustrations for help.

  1. Put students in groups of four and give each group a picture book with a clear main idea, such as books that focus on diversity. (Each group can read different books if you don't have enough copies of the same book to go around).
  2. Have these groups then split into two sets of partners.
  3. Both sets of partners read the book. One set of partners focuses on the main idea from the text (word choice, dialogue), and the other focuses on the pictures (colors, emotions).
  4. When they finish, have the small groups discuss how both the text and the pictures establish the main idea of the book.
  5. Come together as a whole class to discuss what each group found.

You can use this activity in a lesson about tone as well. For lower-level readers, tell them what the main idea is and have them focus on finding evidence for it. Advanced readers can determine the main idea themselves.


Create Alternate Endings

Even the most popular picture books could use an edit. Students can practice their literary synthesis and creative writing skills by rewriting — or adding — another ending to a picture book.

  1. Read a picture book that students know well, such as Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss or The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
  2. Take a vote to see who likes the ending (any events after the story's climax).
  3. Brainstorm possible new endings to the story.
  4. Have individuals or partners write a new ending to the story that sticks to the story's tone, includes the story's characters and stays in the story's setting. They can illustrate their new endings as well.

Give students the choice to add a few pages to the book or to change an existing part. Advanced writers can rewrite the whole story with one small change, such as a new character or setting.


Connect Themes Across Literature

It's hard for middle and high school students to connect a common theme across different written works, let alone elementary learners. But picture books allow students to read several books in one setting and more easily find their shared theme.

  1. Choose several picture books that address the same theme. Some books can be fictional while others can be informational.
  2. Split the class into the same number of books that you have. Pass one book out per group.
  3. Announce the theme of the books and encourage students to find at least two pieces of text evidence for that theme.
  4. After they finish their work, rotate the books and have them find two more pieces of evidence.
  5. Repeat the process for as many books as you have.
  6. In a whole-class discussion, evaluate which book addresses the theme most clearly.

Differentiate the activity by requiring more or fewer pieces of evidence according to class skill level. You can choose the theme to focus on based on your social studies curriculum or essential questions in your lesson plans.

Make Your Own Picture Books

Reading picture books is one thing, but making your own picture books is a great literary project. Guide students through the construction of their own picture books to demonstrate their understanding of story structure.

  1. Read two or three straightforward picture books. Map their plot structure (like in the activity above).
  2. Model how to write your own story by mapping an original story (or class story) on the same plot structure.
  3. Have students write their own stories over the course of several class sessions.
  4. In their final drafts, have them put one or two sentences at the bottom of each blank page. Older students can type their stories; younger students can handwrite them neatly.
  5. Have them bind the books with yarn or a three-hold binder. They can decorate their covers to match the tone of their stories.
  6. Host a book-reading night for parents to attend.

Consider making this project a final assignment for your narrative writing unit. Depending on the literary element you're focusing on, stories in student picture books could feature prominent historical figures or personal narratives.

Help Early Readers Become Fluent Readers

Picture books are an enjoyable way for students to have fun while learning more complex literary concepts. A quick trip to the school library is all you need to make any of these lesson ideas work in your classroom. For more reading projects, check out these simple reading comprehension activities that work. You can also bring these entertaining grammar games for kids into your next language arts lesson to make learning fun.