Pairing Picture Books and Primary Sources

Picture books are a staple of elementary instruction, but also work well for older students too. Nonfiction and fiction picture books alike can create a powerful learning environment, especially when paired with primary sources. This is a great way to integrate history into existing reading and writing activities.

  1. Locate a powerful picture book in your school library.
  2. Brainstorm a list of instructional uses of the text in your classroom. Anything goes.
  3. Locate a collection of primary sources that can be purposefully connected to the picture book to support learners.For example, you could use the book Soldier Song by Debbie Levy, focusing on the role of music for Union and Confederate soldiers, paired with 1907 Army Bugle Calls, or the song Home, Sweet Home. Tom Bober, a.k.a. Captain Elementary, has a great blog post on Knowledge Quest about this.
  4. Choose several strategies/tools best suited for your learners, for example:
    1. Observe, Reflect, Question (ORQ)
    2. RAFT
    3. Question Formulation Technique (QFT)
    4. Caption Writer
    5. Sentence, Phrase, Word
    6. Four Fold Concept and Vocabulary Development
    7. Short Story Contest
  5. Share your activity or lesson plan with students and other teachers!

For older students, have them do the work for you and ask them to find primary sources on their own to connect with a picture book, e.g. use the Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss about the Berlin Wall. Then, ask them to explain in writing or as a presentation how they connect and why they chose the primary sources.

Some other ideas for picture books that pair great with primary sources include, Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot about the Berlin Airlift, The Pie-Biter, a trilingual (Chinese, Spanish, and English) story of the building of the transcontinental railroad, and many Dr. Seuss books, for example the Better Butter Battle, about the building of the Berlin Wall.

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