Picture Books: A Source of Inspiration for Classroom Activities

What are picture books?

Picture books are meant to be shared. With a target audience of three- to seven-year-old children, picture books are equally perfect for bedtime reading and for sharing with a group of children in a classroom or library setting.

Illustrations are usually found on each page of picture books or are placed opposite a page of text. The illustrations are as essential to the book as the text and often contain further details.

Picture book topics include non-fiction themes, learning concepts (such as the alphabet, numbers, shapes and colours), poetry and fiction. Some nonfiction picture books work with older children in the classroom, especially when they address curriculum topics.

How can picture books be used in the elementary classroom?

Teachers today have a splendid assortment of picture book titles to choose from. It is not difficult to gather enough books to support literature-based units of study that connect to social studies, science, and other areas of the curriculum. Picture books can also be used to introduce and practise reading strategies (making connections, visualizing, asking questions, inferring, and transforming).

In this article, I have outlined some learning activities that can be used to help students practise their visualizing skills. These activities could then be used to springboard into some fun picture-making projects using a variety of art materials.


The following lessons are adapted from Adrienne Gear’s book Reading Power. They work well with both primary and intermediate students who have had some prior experience with visualizing activities.

When talking to students about visualizing it is important to emphasize that:

• visualizing is not hard to do

• visualizing helps prepare students to read books that don’t have pictures

• visualizing is when readers use the words they hear or read to make images in their minds

• when visualizing, readers are making connections to similar past experiences

• the five senses can be used to help make the connections

Picture Books and Resources

There are many picture books and resources that can be shared with students to highlight different art mediums and techniques. Here are just a few.

Mixed Media
Kitten’s Winter

written and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandez
Kids Can Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-55453-343-5

Winner of the 2012 Canadian Children’s Book Centre award for “best book for kids and teens,” Kitten’s Winter is part of a seasonal series of four books. The short sections of rhyming text describe the snowy countryside and the animals that are encountered as kitten struggles to get home through the snowy weather. The illustrations are made with acrylic paint, self-hardening clay, and mixed media collage.

Note: Kitten’s Spring, Kitten’s Summer and Kitten’s Autumn are available as illustrated read-alouds on YouTube.

Have You Seen Birds?

by Joanne Oppenheim and Barbara Reid
Scholastic, 1968

In print for over 30 years, Have You Seen Birds? is a classic Canadian children’s picture book. It has won many awards including the Canada Council award. The latest edition includes a key to all of the bird names. Lyrical, rhyming text introduces a wide variety of birds throughout the four seasons and a number of different habitats. Barbara Reid created the unique illustrations using her plasticine techniques. Note: The Scholastic website contains a biography of Barbara Reid that explains her picture-making process. There are also a number of video demonstrations and interviews.

Water Colour
Winter Came Softly

written and illustrated by Linda Lovisa
self-published, 2020
ISBN 978-1-7771244-1-0

Winter Came Softly is the second picture book by the artist Linda Lovisa. The softly pigmented water colour illustrations enfold the text of the poem as it describes the wintery landscapes of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Black and white archival photos at the end of the book evoke memories of winters past and quiet walks through newly fallen snow.

Note: You can order a copy of the book from Linda’s website. Linda also offers online and in-person art classes. The information for these can also be found on her website. lindalovisaartcanada.ca


Materials Required

• a copy of a picture book enclosed in a file folder so that the cover is not visible to the students (Books with a familiar theme or topic such as seasons, weather, animals, places, and activities usually work well.)
• one pencil and piece of blank paper for each student


1. Check to make sure that your students understand what you mean by “visualizing.”

2. Explain that you will be describing the cover of a book and that they will be making a picture of the cover in their minds. They can do this with their eyes closed or by looking at and concentrating on one object in the distance.

3. Describe the cover images to the class from the top to the bottom of the cover. Do not read the title.

4. Ask each student to turn to a pre-determined partner and share what they think the book might be about.

5. Have some students share their ideas with the larger group.

6. Repeat the verbal description of the cover image. As you do so, have students draw their visualized images on their papers.

7. Show the cover of the book and read the title to the class.

8. Ask the students to turn back to their partners and share how their visualized images compare with the illustrator’s image.

9. Show the cover of the book to the class again.

10. Ask the students to turn to their partners and share their ideas on how the illustrator created the cover image. What materials were used? What might the process be?

11. Have some students share their ideas with the larger group.

12. Make a list of the materials and tools that the artist might have used on the chalkboard or chart paper.


Materials Required

• one copy of the picture book divided into four segments, with the beginning of each segment tagged with a sticky note

• one piece of blank paper and a pencil for each student


1. Have the students divide their papers into four equal sections by folding the paper in half and then half again.

2. Read the first segment of the book aloud without showing the illustrations. While you are reading, have the students make pencil drawings in the first section of their papers. When you finish reading, have the students print a few words that helped them visualize the story.

3. Have the students turn to their pre-determined partners and share their first drawing.

4. Continue reading the story. Stop at the end of each segment for the students to share their drawings with their partners.

5. Re-read the story but this time stop to examine the illustrations carefully.

6. Have the students turn to their partners and talk about how their pictures compare to the illustrator’s.


This lesson could stretch over a number of days depending on the age, skill level, and interest of the students.


1. Review the list of required tools and materials that the students created in Lesson One. Have the students discuss the list and add any other items that would be useful for picture-making.

2. Demonstrate the safe use of the tools and materials.

3. Have the students engage in guided practise, using the tools and materials, until they are skilled enough to work safely and independently.

4. Have students work independently to create their own illustration for part of the book.

Extending the Learning

Have students continue to work independently on picture-making activities throughout the year and use picture books to introduce new techniques and skills to the ones that they have already acquired.


Brenda Boreham
Brenda has 35 years of classroom experience. She has presented workshops on literacy strategies and has written a number of resources for teachers. She remains passionate about matching up kids with books.

This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2022 issue.

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