Traffic signals don’t require a single word to send a clear message. Even small children can learn how to “read” them. Red reads “stop.” Green reads “go.” Yellow reads either “slow down” or “speed up,” depending on the “character” of the driver.
Even young students can also “read” wordless picture books. Because the artwork reveals its own narrative, young readers can follow the action, interpret the characters’ motivations, predict outcomes, and intuit the mood and emotions of the story.
I take things a step further by using wordless picture books as the foundation for a student story-writing activity. I ask students to choose the wordless book they want to work with (or you can project one book one-spread-at-a-time to the entire classroom). Then I ask them to write the story that they believe belongs with the artwork. It’s an excellent way to teach young writers about story structure: the illustrations provide this in ready-made fashion; the artwork serves as a container within which a story already exists. But within that existing container, students have a great deal of creative freedom to tell the story in their own way. It’s always a delight to see how different student tell such different stories even when they all started with the same series of illustrations.
This activity works well for tentative writers, who are helped over the tremendous hurdle of having to start from scratch. They often stick with a fairly direct recitation of what is happening in the illustrations, but still internalize the story’s structure as they work their way cover to cover.
But the activity also works well for more conﬁdent writers, who I ﬁnd use the artwork as a jumping-oﬀ point for creative ﬂights of fantasy.
There are many good wordless picture books out there; you can search out a variety to appeal to a variety of students, or to allow you to repeat the activity several different times. One that I’ve found works well is Bill Thomson’s Chalk. Let me know if you have suggestions of your own.
I’ve found wordless picture books prove to be “green for go” as writing tools for students of all ages!