Teacher Tips

Using Picture Books to Teach Middle Grade and Beyond

Teaching with Picture Books

by Robyn Gioia, M.Ed.

When most people think of picture books, they think of cute pictures and feel-good stories that thrill children from ages 0-7. But, teachers know better. There is much more to picture books than meets the eye.

Students have grown up with visuals since the day they were born. From elementary to high school, picture books can spark the imagination and open the eyes as an introduction to a subject. Picture books boil down to the main topic and draw the reader in with interesting tidbits. Our public libraries are full of wonderful picture books ready to do the job. Picture books inspire conversations and provide topics for research. They allow insightful tie-ins to curriculum and present opportunities for projects. Their pictures bring the topic to life. They create understanding unlike anything else. They are quick reads that can fit into almost any schedule.

Take the book, The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Ree.

One of the greatest historical war heroes in the S. Korean culture was Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. He is known for saving Korea from Japan, a conquering country with a formidable naval fleet. Because of his design, the undefeatable Turtle ship had the ability to defeat the Japanese. His larger than life statue looms high over the skyline in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul.

In the picture book, a young Sun-Sin comes to life as a boy who is afraid to enter a shipbuilding contest sponsored by the King. The King needs an indestructible ship able to withstand ongoing invasions from the sea. Sun-Sin decides to accept the challenge. The author imagines what experiences might have influenced a young Sun-Sin’s turtle ship design, and from there the story is told.

Teaching Middle Grade with Picture Books

(Artwork from “Fighting Ships of the Far East (2)” by Stephen Turnbull © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc)

The Turtle Ship picture book goes step by step through the design engineering process. Young Sun-Sin tries and fails at several design attempts before creating the design known today. This was something I was able to use in my 6th-grade science class. As we talked about the boy Sun-Sin and identified how the process was evolving, it created a bridge to understanding the design process. We had also learned that historically, a lot of designs were inspired by nature. The Wright brothers studied birds before designing the first airplane. In our story, Sun-Sin looks to his turtle for solutions.

When I used The Turtle Ship book in our lesson, my students were fascinated by the Turtle ship design from the 1500s. They learned the ship could rotate in one spot and fire cannons from each of its sides. They discovered soldiers were encased inside the ship so the enemy could not attack. They loved that the top was curved and covered in spikes to keep from being boarded by the enemy. They also learned that the hull was designed to ram into other vessels.

The Korean Turtle Ship

The turtle ship became one of the top engineering designs in warship history. You can read about this incredible ship and its design ingenuity on the U.S. Naval Institute News website. USNI News asked its readers, “What is the greatest warship of all time and why?” The answer can be found on the USNI News website https://news.usni.org/2016/04/06/survey-results-what-is-the-greatest-warship-of-all-time

Teachers in grade levels from primary to high school have used this story to inspire students with a wide range of activities and topics.

Engineering Design Process (EDP)

Research on Korean Inventions

Historical Fiction Comparative Study

Creating a Historical Timeline between Asia and American History

Writing Sijo, a Korean Poetic Form

Analyzing Civic Characteristics of Main Characters

Origin Story with Read-Alouds and Comparisons with Multiple Sources

Teaching Korea through Writing

Teaching Modern Asian Culture through History

Creative Writing

Using the Glossary for Vocabulary Understanding

Study of Honor

Compare and Contrast Other Korean Historical Picture Books

STEAM: Create a Vessel that Holds the Most Weight

STEAM: Design a Boat That is the Fastest

Downloadable Teaching resources:

Lee and Lowe Teaching Guide: TURTLE-SHIP.TG

Historical Information on Admiral Yi Sun-Sin: Admiral Yi Sunsin_KSCPP(1)

 

How do I motivate students outside the classroom?

Distance learning took many teachers by storm.

With the advent of Covid19, teaching went from being in front of a classroom of students to being behind a computer with periods of facetime. The magic of the classroom and active student engagement was gone. Every teacher was faced with the same question. “How do I motivate students outside the classroom?”

Before I describe the following Harry Potter contest, imagine using other books you’d like to feature. How could you incorporate a biography? A STEAM book? Historical Fiction? Think how this system could work in your own classroom between students, between classrooms within the grade level teams, or between grade levels in the same school. Have fun. Think outside the box.

Our school librarian was concerned that our students would opt for entertainment games instead of reading a good book. She and the other librarians in our school district came together and created a Harry Potter Contest. The contest was designed to be a competition between schools.

After creating the different elements of the contest, the librarians designed a website with weekly instructions and a leaderboard featuring house points. Before the contest began, the librarians sorted the schools into houses. My school was sorted into Hufflepuff.

(As a side note, we just finished the contest and it was a HUGE success. Students were engaged, books were read, lively conversations took place, and best of all, the schools came together in a friendly reading competition. Oh, and Hufflepuff won!)

Harry Potter Contest

Week One

  1. Reply to your Hogwarts invitation letter via electronic owl (Google Form)

Prompt positive responses are worth 5 pts; late responses will still be accepted, but will only be worth 1 pt.)

  1. Access a copy of the first Harry Potter book. The audiobook is currently available to stream for free online (in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese) from Audible Stories; and the ebook is free on Amazon for Amazon Prime members (please talk to your parent/guardian for assistance).
  2. Take a picture of yourself reading/listening to the first Harry Potter book (worth 1 pt). Submit to your house email box.

Week Two

  1. Read Chapters 1-4
  2. Find out what wand you would get by taking this quiz
  3. Design your own wand or Arm yourself with a wand such as a chopstick, stick, or pencil. Post a pic with a sign showing your quiz results (worth 5 pts). Submit your results to your house email box.
  4. Take the Ch 1-4 Trivia Quiz (Teacher created Google Form) Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBA). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Three

  1. Read Chapters 5-8
  2. Show your House spirit by making a House bookmark. Post a pic of you using your new bookmark (worth 10 pts)
  3. 3. Ch 5-8 Trivia Quiz Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBD date). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Four

  1. Read Chapters 9-13
  2. Create your Patronus animal out of origami
    • Dog (easy)
    • Cat (easy)
    • Horse (that flips) (medium)
    • Bird (that flaps) (medium)
    • Snake (medium)
    • Rabbit (medium)
    • Fox (not hard, per se, but has more steps to it)
    • Phoenix (not hard, per se, but has more steps to it)
    • Mouse/Rat (doable, but slightly tricky at times)

Share a pic of your Patronus (worth 15 pts)

  1. Chapters 9-13 Trivia Quiz. Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBD date). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Five

  1. Read Chapters 14-17
  2. Make something for the Hogwarts end-of-year feast (for some inspiration, click here)
  3. Take a pic of your food/beverage for the virtual banquet table (worth 20 pts) Submit to your house email box.
  4. Ch 14-17 Trivia Quiz Your answers must be submitted by (TBA) to be in the running to compete in the Trivia Cup Final against the other Houses; the winner from each House will battle the other Houses in the Trivia Cup Final held at (TBA) with questions from the whole book.

    The winning school wins the HOUSE CUP!

    The winner is awarded the right to display the HOUSE CUP for one year, until the next competition.

 

Women In STEM (Math & Science) – Author Interview with Laurie Wallmark, and Giveaway

 Today we’re interviewing Laurie Wallmark, author of Numbers in Motion, and several other titles.

 

                               

This book features the STEM topics of mathematical equations and science, and how Sophie Kowalevski became the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate in mathematics that required original research and inspired a generation of mathematicians.

Sophie was also the first to hold a university chair in mathematics, and the first to be the editor of a major scientific journal.

 

  1. Tell us about Numbers in Motion and what inspired you to write the story of Sophie Kowalevski.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved math. Why? Because it’s fun! Although several of the people I’ve written about before have been talented mathematicians, they were recognized in different fields. I thought it was time to share a woman mathematician’s story with kids.

 

2. How did you do your research for this book? How did you organize all the information you learned about Sophie?

I researched her life through books and professional journal articles. A book that was especially helpful was written by Sophie herself, A Russian Childhood.

I use the program OneNote to organize all my research. I have a separate tab for each book, each of which includes a section for notes and for quotations. It’s very important to be able to go back to your notes and find the source for what you’ve written. In addition, I have tabs for my bibliography, a timeline of Sophie’s life, and, while I was researching and writing the book, an ever-expanding list of possible scenes to write.

 

 

3. How do you envision teachers and librarians using this book in classrooms?

The true value of picture books is that they can be used on so many levels. To start with, there is of course the text and illustrations of the story. Especially in a book like mine that takes place in another time period, there are many possibilities for discussing how the world has changed.

In addition, most nonfiction picture books, including mine, include some basic back matter such as a timeline and a bibliography. Numbers in Motion also has three more pieces of back matter. My author’s note tells how, in addition to being a mathematician, Sophie was also a writer. Next, for students (like me!) who might want to know more about Sophie’s math, I explain in more detail the problem she solved–the rotation of solid bodies. Finally, I include how Sophie Kowalevski’s name was transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet. This presents a great opportunity to discuss how people’s (possibly even some of their classmates’) names might be spelled different ways when written in our Roman alphabet.

 

4. Can you suggest three questions related to women in mathematics for student discussions?

  1. Why do you think we haven’t heard of as many woman mathematicians as men?
  2. Do you think woman and girls have the same natural ability in math as men and boys?
  3. Do you think there are any women working in mathematics today who have made important discoveries

 

 

5. What do you want readers to take away from Numbers in Motion?

Sophie loved math and overcame many obstacles to pursue her studies. I think the big take away from Numbers in Motion is it’s worth pursuing your dreams, even if other people say you can’t or shouldn’t.

To read more about Laurie and her work, click here.

 

Want to own your very own copy of Numbers In Motion? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on April 13, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive the book.