Friday, May 15, 2020

Getting Ready to Research, Part 3

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay is number 3 in a six-part series that originally appeared in spring 2016.

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade. 

Last week, I focused on using reading alouds as a foundation for teaching visual literacy. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.


A few years ago, I attended a summer seminar at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. The instructor introduced us to Visual Teaching Strategies, a method developed by the museum community to help children think critically about fine art. The Carle’s workshop emphasized using the method to explore the illustrations in fiction picture books, but I’ve discovered that the method works equally well with nonfiction picture books. 

When I work with students, I like to use art from four books I’ve written—A Place for Turtles, Feathers: Not Just for Flying, When Rain Falls, and Under the Snow). Here are some suggestions for implementing the method in your classroom or library. 

After selecting a few illustrations to share with the class, cover the words, as shown below, so that students’ minds can roam free. Show the first image with a document camera and encourage students to look at it closely. Then ask: “What do you think is happening in this picture?” When a child has answered, follow up with: “What do you see that makes you say that?” 

As you guide an active class discussion with these two simple questions, students build observation and communication skills while developing confidence in their ability to construct meaning from visuals. To facilitate the conversation and promote full-class engagement, help students stay focused on the topic, restate students’ comments and ideas, and encourage the class to give students the time they need to formulate and express their ideas. 

As students discuss this image, they say the bird could be hunting or taking a bath or getting a drink of water or taking off or landing. Without the words, we just can’t tell.

This is where the Visual Teaching Strategies method ends, but I’ve added another step that I think makes the activity even more powerful. As the class discussion winds down, I reveal the text, as shown below, and read it aloud. 

Then I ask the children a key question: “Would you have drawn something different if you were the illustrator?” The students usually make some great suggestions. 

If time is limited, I move on to the next illustration, but if possible, I invite students to create the illustration they envision. And the results are amazing!


What’s next in getting ready for research? Next week I’ll discuss way to help students learn to extract key content-area information as they read fiction and nonfiction picture books. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Blogaversary, Melissa! I was listening to Megan Dowd Lambert's webinar where she talked about exploring PBs with looking at the illustrations, and that gives me more insight into your post here. Terrific activity to do with kids!

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