Throughout my years as an educator, anytime I pull a wordless picture book out to use, I’ve always had at least one student roll their eyes and tell me that “those books are for babies and kids that can’t read yet”, especially in the upper grades. My heart aches whenever I hear that. As parents and educators, we have an obligation to our kids and students: to open their eyes and teach them how to be successful readers. Wordless picture books are one of the best tools we can use to support our teaching

I think it’s time that we set the record straight for our students and show them just how beautiful, powerful, and impactful these books can be. In my opinion, some of these books can be even more challenging than a “normal” book. The lack of words requires the readers to read with a different lens than they normally would. It requires readers to be thoughtful observers and to study each picture, searching for clues to help put the story together in their mind. One of the very best parts about these books? Two people reading the same book can walk away with two different stories, based on what they inferred and synthesized while reading. How cool is that? 

Read “Building a Culture of Readers” by Liz Janusz

These books push readers to access all of their strategies while reading: summarizing, interpreting information, making connections, asking questions, all without the support of the written word. Early readers that read wordless picture books learn how to retell a story using their own words, rather than relying on the author’s words. This encourages creativity, vocabulary development, and imagination. Wordless books also provide an introduction as to how to create their own stories, using only pictures. As adults, we sometimes forget just how crucial the illustrations are to the story. Wordless picture books are an excellent reminder for us, and provide a foundation to our students for thinking critically about what to include in their illustrations. 

Advanced readers can often use wordless books as they are learning how to think deeper and more critically about character changes, mood/tone of the story, themes that are woven throughout, and plot development. At this age, readers can now begin to add their own words and dialogue to the illustrations as they create their own version of the story. One of my favorite things to do with wordless books is to show the book to the whole class as a read aloud and give them two stopping points throughout the story to talk to a partner. Having students share the story they have in their mind with a partner so they compare and contrast with each other. 

Read “How a Hashtag Made Me a Better Teacher” by Liz Janusz

When thinking about using a wordless picture book, I find myself repeatedly using my favorites. Some of them are listed below:

Tuesday by David Wiesner

Flotsam by David Wiesner

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Bluebird by Bob Staake

Shadow by Suzy Lee

At a loss of how to begin with a wordless picture book? Try some of these activities!

  • Allow students to create their own dialogue for the story. Give them sticky notes and they can draw speech bubbles for the characters and add them throughout the story. 
  • Stop throughout the story at various places and have students predict what they think is going to happen next based off of the pictures.
  • Choose a page from the book and write your own story based off of what is happening in the illustration. 
  • Students can work in partnerships to practice storytelling the story to each other. Not only does this address our speaking and listening standards, but it encourages thoughtfulness and creativity!


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Liz Janusz

Liz Janusz

ELA Instructional Coach

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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