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Enhancing English Learners’ Language Development Using Wordless Picture Books


Louie, Belinda, and Jarek Sierschynski. “Enhancing English Learners’ Language Development Using Wordless Picture Books.” The Reading Teacher, vol. 69 no. 1, 2015, pp. 103-111.

(This article is freely available through the Professional Development database in BadgerLink)


The purpose of the article is to share how educators can use wordless picture books as “close viewing” experiences for English Learners (ELs) in grades K-5. The close viewing experiences with wordless picture books create space for linguistic output through participation with the time to process language, make mistakes, and learn from others. Educators support ELs through instruction related to how we make meaning from visual texts, introducing narrative conventions, text structure, and different levels of meaning, depending upon the text.

A major focus of the article is on the discussion that takes place through instruction with wordless picture books based on the varied levels of understanding and language use in the classroom. Authors establish expectations for beginners, emerging ELs, and advanced learners, emphasizing the need for providing plenty of time for students to look and talk about the pictures in order to make sense of what should be a “coherent whole” that we expect from any narrative. Demands of the picture books are clearly defined and explained and guidelines for viewing closely are provided before actual classroom examples are shared, culminating in student-authored texts.

Classroom Application

There are several sections within the article that educators may find immediately applicable, including a table that lists titles of several wordless picture books placed on a continuum of complexity. There are simple guidelines established for educators to teach close viewing, allowing for the necessary support ELs need to step into the text/s, identify text structures, discuss, and retell, while using details from the illustrations to construct meaning. There are also pictorial template examples for teaching setting, character, and text structure. All of these tools are connected not only to the analysis of wordless picture books, but to the writing students can do after they learn and discuss the various aspects of the text/s.