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The Reading Coach


Exploring Writing
Through Picture Books



In this article, we will explore how to teach paragraph structure and use of details to support topic through a wonderful picture book, When Jesse Came Across the Sea, by Amy Hest. (Later you can use similar strategies to incorporate your own favorite book into your writing lessons.)



Step 1: Review the book with a writers eye. Look for writing elements (in this case, rich detail, description, and strong paragraphs). Read several well-built examples aloud:

in a poor village far from here, there was a very small house with a slanting roof. Inside were two chairs, two narrow beds and a table with a fine lace cloth. A potbellied stove warmed the place in winter and warmed thin soup."
Picture Books for Teaching the Six Traits Writing Model

The Literacy Ambassadors picture book choices for use when teaching the Six Traits Writing Model are:

* Idea: Ted, by Tony DiTerlizzi
* Organization: Boundless Grace, by Mary Huffman
* Word Choice: Over the Wall, a young adult novel by John H. Ritter
* Sentence Fluency: Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson
* Voice: When I Was Little: A Four-Year Olds Memoir of Her Youth, by Jamie Lee Curtis
* Conventions: The Junie B. Jones" series

Note that the first few examples also describe the story's initial setting.

Step 2: Ask: What makes this great writing?" Student answers might lead to talking about adjectives. Ask students to underline each adjective as a group or individually. Reread the text aloud without the adjectives. It might sound like this:

Jesse lived in a house. It was nice inside. Her grandmother kept them warm with a stove.

Step 3: Encourage students to define differences between your version and the authors. Ask: Which is better writing and why?" Point out examples of description and detail, and show how the author used detail to build good paragraphs after topic sentences.

Step 4: Invite students to find paragraphs in their writing that are similar to the new version of the story -- general statements, containing little or no detail, few adjectives. Have students work individually, cooperatively, or in small groups to revise those paragraphs to include detail and description. Encourage them to look for those same elements in books they are reading, and then use similar techniques to create descriptive paragraphs of their own.

One last tip: When you share read alouds in your classroom, stop occasionally to offer a critique of the authors writing and to connect it back to your writing instruction.

More Resources

On The Web
* Scholastic Writing with Writers" online workshops
* Comments on Writing, by Nick Carbone, Media Consultant at Bedford St. Martins
* 6+1 Traits Classroom Writing Poster from The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory

Print Resources
* Teaching Writing with Picture Books As Models (Grades 4-8), by Roseanne Jurstedt (Scholastic, 2000)
* The No-Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing: Strategies, Structures, and Solutions, by Judy Davis and Sharon Hill (Heinemann, 2003)
* Teaching Writing to Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learners, by Donovan Walling (Corwin Press, 2006)


About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller has a library science degree from Florida State University. Her writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,,Education World, Family Network, and BabyZone. Be sure to visit Cathy's Web site at Click to read a complete bio.