Teaching the Common Core State Standards for literature about ability to analyze illustrations and details in a story is really easy when you have the right book! That would be standards RL1.7, RL2.7 and RL3.7. Oftentimes, with picture books, the illustrations and details that the author and illustrator include can really add to the text in a way that lifts the story to a whole new level. It’s even better when you can find a diverse book to teach these standards with!
Brick By Brick by Heidi Woodward Sheffield
This is an amazing diverse read by author-illustrator Heidi Woodward Sheffield. The story is about a boy named Luis and his Papi and their dreams. In the text, you learn that Luis and his Papi both want to have an “always house.” Luis’s dad is a bricklayer building all of the tall buildings in the city where they live. Luis does lots of things like his Papi. Papi does his work “brick by brick” and Luis “book by book.” At the end, Luis’s Papi surprises him and his family with a house he is building with his bricks.
The Story in the Illustrations
Heidi Woodward uses a really unique collage style mixed with photographs, words and pictures to create the illustrations. She tells almost a complete second story that takes the words in the text to a whole new level.
In the illustrations you see the passage of time from spring to fall and spring again. You see that the bricks that Papi lays is building the family’s dreams. This is really beautifully done as the words in the text are half English, half Spanish just like many words in the text. The part that is really added is that you see more about the character’s interests in the illustrations. For example, you learn that he LOVE dogs and in addition to a permanent home, he also wants a dog. In the end he gets a dog.
None of this is in the text at all!
Books that have illustrations like this are the absolute IDEAL book for the RL1.7, 2.7 and 3.7 standards. If all we did was look at the words in the story, we would completely miss these important parts in the text!
Analyzing Illustrations and Details with Students
Getting students to see these important details can certainly be done especially when using gradual release of responsibility and a class discussion.
Whenever I analyze illustrations and text details, I NEVER do it after a first reading. Your goal with a first reading of a new mentor text is to get students to comprehend the text at the surface level.
I would normally analyze the illustrations on the second or third read of the book when students already have a base understanding of the story. Looking deeper at the illustrations will bring student comprehension of the story to a new level. You would likely not get as good of an analysis if you were to do an activity like this after the first reading of a new story.
With this book, there are juicy details in the illustrations to analyze ON EVERY PAGE.
How do you choose which illustrations to analyze?
I chose ones that provided the most variety of details and the ones that added most to the story. This way, students can see the full range of the illustrator’s craft and see the greatest variety of details. Doing this also encourages them to notice other details in the illustrations on pages that you DO NOT analyze explicitly.
Setting up the Analysis and Anchor Chart
With an analysis like this where SO MUCH is added to the text. I keep it simple and general. If I was only looking at a specific aspect of the story that is added by the illustrations like character traits or events then I would be more specific.
In this case, I simply prompt:
What does_____ show us about the story?
As you can see, I also provide a sentence frame for students to use to respond. Sentence frames are extremely powerful for helping students respond to questions especially for emerging bilinguals and ELLs.
You’ll also notice that I used “What…?” as my question word to really get students to recognize that there is something in the text. The type of question word you use is surprisingly important in how students answer the question.
With my anchor chart I would create standard table where I would take a picture of the pages we were analyzing in one column. In the next I would highlight what we are going to analyze on each page. These two columns would be completed before the student discussion even begins.
The third column is where we would analyze how that text feature adds to the story and this would be left blank. During your analysis using a gradual release of responsiblity (I do, We do, You do) we would fill in the third column to complete the co-constructed anchor chart.
After analyzing the illustrations and details in a story, I want to have students really reflect on what they added to the story in general or to a specific aspect. With this book, for example, I would have the students describe Luis and everything we learn about him from both the text and illustrations. I might also have them talk about the important details in the story that are revealed by the illustrations.
For these tasks, I would really want to make sure that the analyzing illustrations and details in a story anchor chart that we had just co-constructed was available and visible to the students either as a picture, digitally, or on chart paper.
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