Using Picture Books for Narrative Writing


We love to use picture books in our classroom. We are firm believers that you are never too old to learn a good lesson from a picture book. Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee is no exception. While the concept and text of the book may be simple for 5th graders (it is about a girl's first thrilling ride on a roller coaster), we are able to get a couple week's worth of writing instruction out of it!

We have to admit, this idea was inspired from a training we attended about integrating visual arts into literacy instruction. One great way to get students talking about art is to have them study illustrations in picture books. Marla Frazee is an amazing illustrator, and the facial expressions and subtle nuances of her pictures make for great art pieces to look at closely. To begin this lesson, we don't even have the students read the text in the book. Instead, we choose one set of thrill seekers to follow page by page. For example, there is an elderly couple that is riding the roller coaster together. We have the students focus just on the facial expressions of this couple as the story progresses. Students then choose another duo to study from beginning to end on their own.

After getting familiar with the different characters in the book, we then lead a class discussion on character traits. The students have a fun time thinking of traits for each set of characters, especially because looks can be deceiving with this set of riders! Several character pairs go through a character shift over the course of the book which also helps with understanding sequencing. We like to record this class discussion as an anchor chart for students to refer back to in future lessons.

The next lesson we do focuses solely on dialogue. Students are encouraged to imagine the conversations the character pairs have with each other before, during, and after the ride. They use the illustrations, as well as the character traits listed in the previous lesson, to come up with realistic dialogue for their characters. Again we like to model with one duo, giving us the opportunity to explicitly teach grammar rules related to dialogue. Students then move on to independent work using a character set of their choice.

Finally it is time to take what they have created thus far and turn it into a complete narrative writing piece. After modeling the components of a narrative that are expected at their grade level, students are given the opportunity to write their own stories from the perspectives of their chosen characters. As we all know, and as Marla Frazee makes perfectly clear with her wonderful illustrations, we all have different experiences on roller coasters, and the stories that come from this activity certainly reflect that.

Of course, after all of their hard work, we do end up reading the text to the class. We then like to compare the story the author wrote to the ones they came up with to look for similarities and differences. This book also does a great job of showing how authors and illustrators use font size, color, and shape to help tell a story. We were amazed at how in-depth our conversations with our students became as a response to this book. Do you know of other picture books that would lend themselves well to this kind of activity? Let us know!

If you want to use this book in your classroom, here is our affiliate link! By purchasing from this link, we earn a small commission.

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