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Story writing using picture books

Writer(s): 
Yumiko Sano, Dokkyo University, Tama University

Quick Guide

Key Words: Creative writing, literature, oral presentation
Learner English Level: Intermediate to advanced
Learner Maturity Level: High school and above
Preparation Time: Depends on how much time you want to devote to browsing books in the library!
Activity Time: Variable—depends on class size
Materials: Your favorite children's books; picture books with vivid illustrations showing familiar creatures involved in a variety of activities.

This lesson offers a simple but effective means of getting your students engaged in English-language writing through the use of children's literature and was inspired by the following lines from Brown's (2001) Teaching by Principles.

I walk towards the door. I draw near to the door. I draw nearer to the door. I get to the door. I stop at the door. I stretch out my arm. I take hold of the handle. I turn the handle. . . . I open the door wide. I let go of the handle. (p. 55)

Although native-English speakers might find such sentences easy to compose, EFL students unaccustomed to using English daily may find it difficult to express such practical ideas in English. Upon reading this passage, it occurred to me that children's books often contain such expressions. Most EFL students have learned English only from school textbooks and have never had access to authentic literature. This is a good opportunity to introduce your favorite children's materials and have your students experience being authors, too. In this lesson, students will:

  • learn a variety of useful verbs, adjectives and expressions
  • exercise their imaginations
  • collaborate with peers
  • experience oral and written story-telling
  • see themselves as authors

Preparation

Visit the children's book section at a library and find your favorite books. Specifically, find a picture book with vivid illustrations. Select three to five pages from the book and photocopy them. Erase any words that may appear on the page. You should choose pages with pictures of familiar creatures or objects so that students can come up with a story easily. Note: It is advisable to obtain any necessary permissions for use of the images before photocopying them for distribution to students.

Procedure

Step 1: Bring in your favorite children's books and allow time for students to browse them. Alternatively, select one book and read it aloud to students. In this way, students will learn the basic style of story telling. It would be a good idea here to introduce the genre pattern(s) involved to the students so that they can both (a) identify features of the genre in published works and (b) utilize the pattern to guide their own writing.

Figure 1: Children's Literature—Book Genres

Genre Features
Fantasy:
Traditional Fantasy, Fairy tales, Modern Fantasy
Usually sends a message of hope as the characters triumph over evil, in spite of the bleak outlook at the beginning of the story.
Fiction:
Science Fiction, Modern Fiction, Historical fiction
Gives a sense of not being alone, a sense that someone else is going through the same thing (especially modern fiction).
Informational books Non-fiction
Biography Non-fictional account of a person's life
Poetry Various forms

Step 2: Divide students into groups of three to five members. Give each group a set of selected picture pages from the book. Encourage students to create a story by reordering the pictures. Allow time to brainstorm and write up the story. Step 3: Each group then comes to the front and tells their story to the class. Step 4: Ask students to list new words or expressions they learned through the activity. Either the teacher or students write these on the board in sentence form to demonstrate how they are used.

Extension Activities

  1. Ask students to edit their stories. Encourage students to expand the stories to make them more interesting for others to read.
  2. Ask students to write about their favorite children's literature.

Adapt and extend the activity to suit your students. You can adjust the number of pictures you want to use, or adjust the class time allowed for writing. For my higher intermediate level composition class, I used four pages from the children's book "Harry the Dirty Dog," and gave students 30 minutes to create and write the story. For lower level students, you may want to introduce some basic vocabulary relating to things appearing in the pictures prior to the composition stage of the lesson. Before the oral presentation, you should visit each group, and proofread their story and comment on it, so that students will not get embarrassed when they present. Each group will come up with a unique story. Everyone will enjoy listening to them!

Reference

Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching By Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. White Plains, NY : Longman

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