6 Upper Elementary Picture Books I Use to Teach Writing
Picture books are not just for primary grade students. I use picture books with my fifth graders during each genre unit to model what good writing should look like. Hidden in these gems, are also great examples of writing skills that they can use during writing time with any genre. I’ve listed below six of my favorites with examples of the writing skills I teach for each one.
Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter
This is my favorite book to teach writing skills. In the story, Eva cannot come up with something to write for her class, so each person on 90th street gives her a piece of advice. Each piece of advice can be used to help guide her writing. For example, the 90th street baker says, “Find the poetry in your pudding.” We discuss what this can mean for writing such as improving overused words, turning an old story into something exciting, etc. I even create a chart with each characters advice for writing so the students can refer to it.
The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg
If you are looking to teach students how to develop a strong character, this book will do just that. Chris Van Allsburg is very good at creating a strong character using thoughts and actions. In this book, we discuss how to use a character’s actions to portray their character. Chris Van Allsburg creates this selfish, greedy, character, Monsieur Bibot, through actions and dialogue. It is a great book to demonstrate “show don’t tell.”
The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson
I love this book for upper elementary students because they are able to relate to the plot. In the story, a boy gets carried away with his friends during a baseball game, and ends up ruining an older man’s garden. He feels terrible afterward, and works hard each spring to help the man rebuild it. It is a great story to show rising action and character change.
My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco
I often struggle when teaching personal narrative because I find students often write about the same topics. Since I am departmentalizing and teach four classes, after reading 99 stories about a day trip to six flags, I am ready to cry. Patricia Polacco is one of my favorite upper elementary picture book authors. In My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, she does a wonderful job in modeling how to write a personal narrative. The story is about a typical brother sister relationship that reaches a turning point and completely changes. After reading this book, I often find students are able to understand more what I am looking for in developing a personal narrative.
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland
One strategy that we use for writing is to base a story around an object. In The Lotus Seed, a young woman travels from her home in Vietnam to America. The only thing she has with her to remember her home is this tiny seed from a lotus flower. After I read this story to students, it is amazing what they are able to come up with. I often start by having them do a quick write and make a list of several objects they could write about. They then choose one of these objects to turn into a story. One of the best writing pieces I have ever gotten from a student resulted from this lesson. She based an entire story around a leaf. It was beautiful, and I use it as a model every year!
I Wonder Why Penguins Can’t Fly and Other Questions About Polar Lands by Pat Jacobs
My favorite genre for teaching writing is nonfiction. I love how interested the students become in researching their topics. Often times, they even go home and research on their own. They love to come in and tell me all they have found. I always start with this question and answer book because it peaks student interest in non fiction instantly. Instead of reading fact paragraph after fact paragraph, the book asks several interesting questions based on a topic. There is an entire series to choose from. I usually start the lesson by having students open their writing notebooks. I read several questions and they write down the one they would like to hear the answer to the most. I then go around and have students read their questions and I provide the answer. By structuring the lesson this way, students have more accountability and tend to engage with the lesson more. We then discuss how to structure their own question and answer books when they start researching.
These six books are some of my favorites but I have many more that I use to teach writing. Using picture books is a great way to engage students. Upper elementary students are not too young for these visuals and often need them to be able to understand what we are looking for in their writing!