Visual Literacy with Wordless Books

I’ve been meeting with a group of students from 3rd & 4th grade to talk about our reading lives. The purpose of these groups, which are facilitated by 2 of our gifted-certified teachers, is to have a space for students to read books of their own choosing and spend time talking about those books together and sharing them with the larger reading community. We’ve been trying many different things to support students in having meaningful discussion together. For this session, we decided to focus on divergent thinking using images from wordless books. We wanted students to practice moving through an “I see….I think…..I wonder” sequence to discover many possibilities from one or two visual stimuli from each book.

To start, we looked at an image from Christian Robinson’s book Another. Students shared things that they saw without assigning any opinions or interpretations. They quickly realized that this was harder than it sounded because I followed up most observations with questions.

Common noticings were “there’s a girl walking down stairs” or “there’s a cat chasing another”.  I asked them to describe what they saw that made them think the image was a girl or a cat.  This took several tries until they really got to a point of describing without interpretation.

Then, we moved to “I think” and “I wonder”. This was a chance for them to make interpretations about what they saw in the image as well as wonder about the possibilities of what might happen in the future of the book.

What we’ve noticed in student discussions of their books with text is they often stay at the surface of their book. They give a summary or name the characters/setting. They aren’t always naturally thinking of how the story sends their mind in many different directions. Our hope for this visual exercise was to practice this divergent thinking in a small way.

Ahead of our lesson, I took photographs of 1-2 pages from 20 different wordless books and put the images on separate slides. As students left the carpet, the teachers emailed the presentation to the students and I turned on editing rights. I also assigned each student a number.  They found their corresponding slide and used the notes section of the slide to practice their “I see….I think….I wonder”.  The teachers and I rotated around to talk to students about their noticings and wonderings.  Some of our conversations weren’t ever documented in the notes section, but the most important piece was the conversation that was happening.

Many students quickly discovered that seeing just 1 or 2 images gives you a unique perspective on a book. You don’t have the context of the rest of the story. They wanted to see the rest of the book, so at the end of our time together, students had a chance to read the rest of the book to see how their assigned image fit in with the rest of the story.

The teachers plan to revisit some of these slides in the future and make connections to the other books students are reading to hopefully have them think beyond just what is happening in the text to think about many possibilities and wonderings for their stories.