Picture Books and Struggling Readers

child reading

Important connections can be made between picture books and struggling readers, and strategies that address these connections can improve a child's reading ability.

Understanding Struggling Readers

Students who are classified as struggling readers can be found in virtually any grade level. While many of these children are diagnosed with a learning disability, others have managed to slip through the cracks of their school system and continued to advance to the next grade level. However, as they get older, their difficulties in reading continue to plague other academic areas as well. Those who struggle to read are typically at a risk of dropping out of school once they reach the legal age to do so. What can be done to help these struggling readers?

Help needs to be facilitated both at school and in the home. As a teacher, there are numerous reading strategies that can be incorporated in all grade levels. Parents can take several steps to help their children's reading skills improve.

Finding meaningful connections between picture books and struggling readers is the key to unlocking a new world full of an ever-increasing vocabulary and a deeper understanding of the content of the written word. Several methods are available to encourage students to become better readers with the use of picture books.

Importance of Picture Books and Struggling Readers

How can picture books help those who struggle to read?

  • Picture books make connections between illustrations and meaning using children's prior knowledge about subjects. When children recognize objects and actions in illustrations, they can infer what the plot of the book might be, and later verbalize those inferences as they attempt to interpret the story.
  • Picture books encourage visual literacy by encouraging children to form mental images as they read text and view illustrations.
  • Illustrations introduce visual literacy skills to students with little or no reading capabilities. Children who are intimidated by written words can verbalize what they perceive in the illustrations. As they become more skilled readers and writers, they can attempt to put those perceptions in writing.
  • Artwork teaches aesthetics, including colors, shapes, moods, and feelings.
  • The books encourage children to analyze illustrations as they relate to the book's text. They can compare the illustrations with the setting and characterization of the book.
  • Picture books teach reading comprehension by connecting the visual imagery to the actual meanings of the book. Children comprehend the meaning of the text through illustrations.
  • The books introduce the cognitive nature of art as it relates to words.

Suggested Strategies

What are some strategies that can connect picture books and struggling readers? The following are a few suggestions that have worked both in the classroom and in the home to improve reading comprehension and writing skills for students of all ages.

  • Book walks-A book walk has students examining a book before actually reading it. This should be a guided activity by a parent or teacher. Children look at the illustrations of the picture book and try to guess at the setting, plot, and characterization. Once they've taken a "walk" through the book, the teacher and the children can read the book together. After reading the book, a discussion can explore how accurate the children's preconceived perceptions of the book actually are.
  • Peer illustrating-Have students work in pairs or groups to create their own picture books, and then present those books to the class.
  • Wordless picture books-Ask non-readers or ELL students (English language learners) to look at a wordless picture book and tell the story as they interpret it. Help them focus on particular vocabulary words as they tell the story.
  • Make connections-Have students draw conclusions and make connections between the illustrations and the limited text of a picture book. How accurate are the illustrations? How well do the illustrations correlate to the written words in the book?

Finally, for more practice, access the Tar Heel Reader, a website that is the result of a collaboration between Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and the department of computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This website offers a collection of free and easy-to-read downloadable books on the Internet. You can view the books in a variety of formats, including PowerPoint and Impress, and each book can be speech enabled. The site is available in other languages, and children can write and illustrate their own picture books to upload.

Picture Books and Struggling Readers