A favorite part of my day is when I get to take a picture walk with my students. A picture walk is when you stroll through a book before you read it. You look at the pictures, talk about what is happening, and you don’t read the words. A picture walk can be two minutes, seven minutes, or ten minutes, depending on the level of engagement and the conversations that take place.
Picture walks are great for children of any age. My daughter, who just turned one year old, takes picture walks all the time. I talk to her about what is going on and she likes turning the pages and looking at the next set of pictures.
Our ultimate goal in reading is to comprehend, and picture walks deepen understanding.
Again, I want to compare this learning experience to skiing. When you ski down a hill without knowing what the trail is like you are a bit cautious and you may miss certain parts that could help you improve or parts that are especially fun. If you have seen the trail from the chairlift, or looked at a trail map, you have an idea of what to expect. When you do then go down the trail you can be sure to hit the good parts, and will understand the terrain even better. You will use your best strategies on your way down because you know what’s coming and what type of work is needed.
How do picture walks increase comprehension?
- They activate background information – background knowledge is what children know. It is the sum of their experiences, what they know about the world and how things work. When children look at pictures they are applying their background knowledge to the pictures and stories, hence creating deeper understanding.
- They scaffold vocabulary development – pictures show things happening and we can connect new or difficult words to the pictures.
- They inspire wonder – curiosity is piqued by picture walking. I have yet to meet a child who takes a picture walk but doesn’t want to read the book.
- They naturally help a child predict what the book is about/what happens – a good picture walk inspires lots of thoughts about what is going on. When children make predictions they hold on to those ideas and want to see if their prediction was right.
- They encourage connections – when children look at pictures they are often reminded of experiences they had. They connect the story to their life. Those connections help them understand what they are reading.
- They help kids understand that you don’t always have to read a book to gather information – pictures give a lot of information, and picture walks are often a great first step to helping reluctant readers become interested in reading
How to Take a picture walk at home:
Note: Make sure your book has pictures that really depict what is happening. Also try this with a book you have not read before, not an old favorite since your child already knows what has happened. An example of a great book to picture walk through is Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
1. Tell your child you are going to look at a new book differently today. Explain that you are going to walk through the book without reading. Start your picture walk at the cover. Look at the cover of the book and ask your child what they think the book will be about? Share your thoughts as well. Children need modeling, so modeling a prediction will help them make theirs.
2. Slowly walk through the pages in the book and talk about what you see in the pictures.
It should sound something like this:
Adult: Hmmm….What do you think is going on in this picture?
Child: It looks like the donkey found something.
Adult: What could it be?
Child: A stone. It reminds me of that rock I found in the driveway last week! Remember, the reddish one?
Adult: Oh yes, how did you feel when you found that rock? Do you think the donkey feels that way?
Child: I thought it was cool. I bet he thinks his rock is cool too.
Adult: And look on this page…What’s going on?
Child : It looks like his parents are sad. I wonder why.
Adult: What makes you say they are sad?
Child: Because they’re upset! Look, the mama has tears. The dad donkey just looks sad.
In a picture walk you want to highlight the actions and emotions of a character, notice the background and setting, and eventually talk about the effect of the characters actions.
I know this sounds like a lot, but it will come intuitively when you just talk about the pictures. You will get better and better at picture walks, and pretty soon your children will be able to guide them.
Try a picture walk today and let me know how it goes!