Using picture books with older readers

As schools across Scotland are busy getting involved in this year’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards we are busy running our Shared Reading programme in five authorities: Dundee, East Lothian, West Lothian, Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire.

We provide sets of the Bookbug category titles to 50 schools across these authorities and provide them with CPD on how to set up Shared Reading partnerships between older P6/7 pupils and younger P1/2 pupils. In some areas we have secondary pupils taking part by reading to children much younger than them. The model is extremely flexible.

A huge part of the project is re-engaging older readers with picture books and getting them used to analysing these texts, exploring their layers of meaning and working on how to bring them to life with voice, performance and questioning techniques.

It has been extremely exciting to get out to our five areas and meet teachers who are so enthusiastic about the idea of reintroducing picture books into the upper primary stages or even into secondary English classrooms. There is a general perception that picture books are a stepping stone on the path to being a fluent reader: a useful tool for early engagement but something to be left behind as a child moves on to being an independent reader. This isn’t true. Being a reader is cumulative, not sequential, and picture books are rich and complex texts that can be read at many levels.

Not all picture books that you might choose to read with older pupils are ones which are suitable for sharing with younger pupils, but the skills that the older readers develop from looking at the relationship between words and pictures, analysing the writers choices in language, layout and structure, understanding the use of voice in bringing that story to life, are ones which build confidence in reading and can help older pupils undertake Shared Reading.

We’re only able to run the project in five authorities each year but we urge other schools to consider bringing picture books back into upper primary and secondary classrooms, using them to build reader confidence and then run shared reading projects across stages in order to help create a reading culture in their school.

Knowing where to start is the tricky bit! We’ve put together a list of picture books which we believe are fantastic for reading with older pupils. We also produce many book lists which you can browse for ideas.

If you’re interested in using picture books with older readers or running your own shared reading scheme but want someone to bounce ideas around with first, please feel free to contact me by emailing heather.collins@scottishbooktrust.com

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Heather Collins

Heather Collins is the Schools Outreach Coordinator at Scottish Book Trust.