Green for Go

Green Traffic Light. Adobe StockTraf­fic 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!

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