As a teacher one of my favourite activities was reading aloud to students; it was one of the few times when there was absolute silence as they enjoyed the magic of a great story. All too often, however, the time to read and appreciate great books as a whole class, particularly with older students, is eaten up by other seemingly more valuable learning activities. According to Jim Trelease, author of the bestselling title Read-Aloud Handbook, ‘Reading aloud to older children — even up to age 14, who can comfortably read to themselves — has benefits both academic and emotional’.
With Book Week fast approaching, what better time to reinstate story-time and use great picture books as a stimulus for great writing? Regardless of what age your students are, picture books are an effective way to model the Seven Steps techniques and inspire students’ creative writing. In honour of this year’s Book Week theme, ‘Australia: Story Country’, here are some ideas on how three classic Australian picture books can be used to teach the Seven Steps.
Step 2: Sizzling Starts
Shaun Tan’s beautifully illustrated picture book, The Lost Thing, opens with a question, ‘So you want to hear a story?’ I am instantly intrigued, what a simple and effective example of a Sizzling Start (Step 2)! Read the story to your students or play this wonderful YouTube version. Discuss the start of the story and then get students to use this same question as a starting point for their own story. Alternatively, they could come up with a different question that will instantly engage the reader and make them want to know more.
Jackie French’s award winning picture book, Diary of a Wombat, may not be the first book that springs to mind when you are looking for an example of Tightening Tension (Step 3). The daily exploits of the affable wombat are not what you might find in a James Bond style tension scene. However, the use of repetition and the cumulative diary entries build tension over the week. Read the story to your students and discuss the various obstacles encountered by the wombat. Think about the use of the Five + 1 Senses in the story; what does the wombat see, hear, touch, smell, taste and feel during the course of the week? Ask students to use the diary format to build tension in a story about another type of Australian animal.
Step 7: Exciting Endings
Rod Clement’s hilarious story, Grandpa’s Teeth, is a wonderful example of an Exciting Ending (Step 7). After a lengthy police investigation that put a whole town on edge, an emergency meeting is called and the community donate money to buy Grandpa a brand new set of teeth. He and his family are so happy that they smile all of the time, even Grandpa’s old dog Grump which leads to the revelation that he is in fact the culprit. Ask students to work backwards from this ending to plan a different story. Alternatively, ask students to think of another object that could go missing and eventually turn up somewhere completely unexpected.
Read, Inspire, Create
There are of course great picture books for each of the Seven Steps and many picture books that span multiple steps.
The Early Years Writing Manual lists suggested picture books for each Step and includes examples of some books set out for students on the Story Graph. To access a complete list of the picture books suggested in the Early Years Writing Manual, become a member of Seven Steps Online.
Jillian Mudford from Bellevue Hill Public School has embraced the power of picture books and created a very comprehensive list of titles with examples of how they utilise the Seven Steps. She has kindly allowed us to share this wonderful list.
To access a list of this year’s shortlisted titles for ‘Book of the Year’ go to: The Children’s Book Council of Australia.
Read some of these picture books aloud with your students and see how inspiration breeds creativity.