Wednesday / May 29

Powered by Picture Books

It’s a problem as old as teaching itself: “What is a good story for my students to read and discuss?” There are tried and true stories out there, but, when we are looking for something fresh, we teachers don’t want to comb through websites and lists and textbooks only to find something that doesn’t match their learning focus. When we do find something, we ask ourselves, “Well, is it academic enough? Is it appropriate? Will it reach everyone? What standards will this cover? What skills will I be able to teach them? Will this prepare them for state testing?”

The hunt is so exhausting.

Enter picture books.

Picture books can be leveraged across grade levels and language abilities to cover a wide gamut of skills:  analysis, reading and writing response, theme, writer’s craft, and so much more–and all in compact, 32-page bundles. They act as a scaffold to all kinds of deeper thinking for the upper grades. They are rich in language, cover a wide range of subjects and experiences, vary in their structures, and are accessible in practically every school and public library in the United States.

In our book, Text Structures from Picture Books, we’ve compiled lessons for 50 picture books–some perennial classics, as well as several new favorites.  While there are many things that can be taught using the power of picture books, here are a few things you can do in your classroom tomorrow:

Grab the Pura Belpre honor book The Notebook Keeper: A Story of Kindness at the Border, written by Stephen Briseño and illustrated by Magdalena Mora.

Have your students open their notebooks and do a quick write about this prompt (for three minutes):

Think of a time that you were kind to someone or someone extended kindness to you when it really mattered (or when you really needed it). What happened? What did you notice about that person? How did it make you feel?

Allow students to share what they wrote in partners and/or with the whole class.

Read the book to the class and talk about things that they noticed in the story (author’s craft, conflict, theme, story structure, character choices, connections, etc.).

Show the students this text structure (the path we noticed the author took to tell the story):  Use the text structure to have the students retell the story (orally or in writing).

You could finish the lesson there and already you would have gotten students writing, reading, discussing a great piece of writing, and summarizing a text.  But if you want to take things deeper, why not try some of these steps?

  • Have students use the text structure to write about their own lives by using it to expand on their quick write (or they may want to choose a different moment). They could use it to write a kernel essay (where each box in the structure could be used to write one sentence) or a longer piece.
  • Teach analysis skills by helping help students get to the heart of the story. Guide them to look for the big ideas (words like kindness, friendship, growing up) and turn these into thematic statements called truisms, such as: Kindness can be found in the darkest of places.
  • Use those truisms to launch into longer pieces of writing, such as an 11-Minute essay or a literary analysis essay.
  • Look closely at some of the writer’s craft in the book and have students emulate it in their own writing.
  • Use the story as a way to teach reading response writing, using text evidence to support their thinking.

In Text Structures from Picture Books, you will find these types of strategies for each of the 50 books.  Our goal was to remove the guesswork and make the hunt for high-quality texts a little less daunting.

We believe that writers of all ages have something to learn from picture books and that leveraging their power produces many rewards.

Using short, beautiful texts to teach these skills makes the skills accessible without sacrificing the rigor — and without taking too much time.  Students may not even realize the complexity of what they are being asked to do because it’s “just a picture book.” With practice, using these short-yet-impactful texts and strategies, students will be able to then transfer the processes to more challenging works with greater ease.



Written by

Stephen Briseño is a middle school English teacher, writing consultant, and award-winning picture book author. His debut picture book, The Notebook Keeper: A Story of Kindness from the Border, won a Pura Belpré Honor and a 2023 Notable Children’s Book designation from the American Library Association. He writes, reads, and drinks a ton of coffee with his wife, Kayla, and daughter, Zinnia, in San Antonio, Texas. Follow him on Twitter at @stephen_briseno or visit him on the web at

Kayla Briseño has taught English all over the world and nearly every age, from elementary through adults. She has conducted professional development workshops with Gretchen Bernabei for over a decade, sharing and generating impactful writing instruction, while being a long time contributor to Trail of Breadcrumbs publications. Text Structures from Picture Books is her debut book. She and her husband, Stephen, are both self-declared book nerds, coffee aficionados, and national park fanatics. When she’s not teaching or helping teachers, you can find her creating art with her daughter, Zinnia, reading a good book, or enjoying a stroll along the San Antonio Riverwalk, where she lives with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @kayla_briseno.

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