Have you wondered what to do with wordless picture books with your children or students? Believe it or not, there are many reading and writing activities you can do to develop your child’s thinking, reading, writing, and emotional intelligence skills.
As you read with your child, take turns narrating the story out loud. This is great for the youngest of readers who are getting the hang of how books and stories work. Kids “read” the story as it unfolds in the illustrations. Reading the pictures is one of the whole points of a picture book — the pictures support the narrative story whether or not it has words!
Plus, this is also a great opportunity to develop new vocabulary as you narrate the story out loud together.
There are even more ways to use wordless picture books with all ages of children– including teaching specific skills.
Get these ideas as a free download here. Skills you can teach with wordless picture books include:
- sequencing (beginning, middle, end)
- deductive reasoning (inference)
- connecting to background knowledge
- reading confidence
- dialogic reading (conversation about the story)
- writing dialogue
- poetry writing
- creative writing
- emotional intelligence
Activities for Wordless Picture Books
Even young children looking through a wordless book are learning that in a story there is an order of events, a sequence. Teach kids to recognize the sequence of beginning, middle, and end.
Predict: When you get to the middle, see if you can predict the ending.
Skip a Section: Skip the middle pages of the book. Ask your child what they thought about a story with no middle part. Or skip the end. Have your child invent his or her own ending.
Recommended Books for Beginning, Middle, and End:
Quest by Aaron Becker
Don’t miss this enchanting and imaginative wordless picture book written that will transport you to a magical world. My kids and I poured over every beautiful detail and so will you. You’ll follow a boy and girl with a purple, magical bird on their quest to save the king and his kingdom. Awe-inspiring.
NOPE! A Tale of First Flight by Drew Sheneman
For any kid who has been afraid to try something, this book shows in hilarious and sweet illustrations (with almost no text) the bird’s fear of flying out of the nest. Finally, his mama gives him a swift kick out much to his joyful exuberance.
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
A beautiful wordless picture book showing a young boy exploring the woods in the dark. His flashlight illuminates plants and animals. Until the animals get the flashlight and illuminate him. Enchanting.
Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie de Paola
An old woman decides to make pancakes for breakfast. She has all the ingredients for the batter except one. When she leaves to get the missing ingredient, her dog and cat make a mess of the pancake batter all over the house. What will she do now?
Hike by Pete Oswald
Take an adventure with a boy and his father out of the city and into the woods. Wordless, playful, emotion-filled, and deeply satisfying, see the beauty of nature from a log bridge and a waterfall to the pine forest where the father and son plant a new tree. Stunning and heartfelt.
Retell: As kids develop an understanding of the beginning, middle, and ending, you can get more complex as you talk about the order (sequence) of events in the story. After reading, retell the story in your own words in the order that it happened.
Recommended Books for Sequencing:
Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli & Mariachiara di Giorgio
No Dogs Allowed! by Linda Ashman and Kristin Sorra
What a gorgeous book with a very clear sequence of events. The owner of a fancy bistro turns away a young customer with a dog, putting up a “NO Dogs Allowed” sign. More customers with animals of every kind — cat, kangaroos, elephant — are turned away, too. Thereore, the customers and their animals congregate at the plaza fountain and lemonade stand, prompting the owner to change his mind.
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
A magical snowman takes a little boy on a journey across the snowy countryside.
Children feel emotions. It’s up to us to help them notice and name those emotions. That develops emotional intelligence.
Download a printable showing faces and emotions to help you with this.
After teaching and naming our emotions, we can look for those emotions with the characters in wordless picture books. Doing this, particularly without words, is called making an inference.
Emotion Faces: As you read these books, refer to your emotion faces. On a sticky note, draw the emotion face the character is feeling on each page — or every few pages — and stick it on the page. Talk about how you know this. What does the character’s face look like? How does that tell you what he or she is feeling?
Act Out: Make your face imitate the character’s expression throughout the book. Can you match the emotion?
Recommended Books for Emotions:
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi
Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
When a bigger dog accidentally ruins Daisy’s favorite ball, she feels such loss and sadness. Ultimately, we are reminded with a hopeful ending that sadness doesn’t last forever.
Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle
Flora is back for her most beautiful lift-the-flap, wordless green and blue dance experience ever! As she dances with two gorgeous male peacocks and a fan, the peacocks become territorial of the fan which makes Flora very sad. Luckily, the peacocks realize they need to change their behavior so it all ends up okay.
Because the illustrations tell the story, kids use deductive reasoning and creativity to fill in the blanks. Look for the details and make inferences.
Predict: Prediction means using the clues given to you in the story to infer what will probably happen later on in the story. Do this throughout the pages of each story.
Make Deductions Using the Illustrations: Sometimes what’s happening in the story is confusing. Use the illustrator’s clues to figure out the story’s plot and important details. On each page ask, “What is going on here?” David Wiesner’s books are especially applicable to this question.
Recommended Books for Prediction:
I Got It! by David Wiesner
The ball is coming right to the boy, an outfielder. He yells the only words in this book, “I got it,” only he doesn’t yet… What happens next will stretch the reader’s imaginations. He and his crew go to great lengths to catch the ball. When he’s turned small, ball-sized, like a bird, will he finally catch the baseball?
Tuesday by David Wiesner
This is an unusual book perfect for making inferences. Because on this Tuesday, frogs fly on lily pads.
Skunk on a String by Thao Lam
Wordless, because we don’t need words in this detailed paper collaged story, we follow a skunk who has been tied to the tail of a balloon and drifts all over the city. How can he get down? When he finally unties himself, . . . he misses flying! So what do you think he does next?
Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage
Pay close attention to this wordless picture book. Walrus and Penguin escape from the zoo and wander the city. Can you find them? Together they have many fun adventures and walrus even find love! Excellent opportunities to pay close attention to the illustrations.
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
If you’ve never read a wordless picture book, you must read this one with its detailed illustrations on kraft paper and revealing die-cuts sharing glimpses of . . . well, that’s for you to infer.
Teach children that when characters talk to each other, it’s called dialogue. Now, imagine what the dialogue might be in a book with no words.
Speech Bubbles: Teach dialogue to early elementary students by introducing word bubbles on sticky notes for dialogue– the exact words a character says out loud. Upper elementary students can write conversations in sentences using quotation marks.
Recommended Books for Writing Dialogue:
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Remember this familiar fable? Pinkney gorgeously illustrates it without using any text. It makes a wonderful choice for writing dialogue.
Chalk by Bill Thomson
This is what happens on a rainy day when three friends draw with chalk on the sidewalk. . . the drawings come to life!
Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle
Beautiful periwinkle, white, and yellow illustrations show an ice skating Flora meeting a penguin. At first she’s rude but then she changes her behavior.
Use these wonderful picture books to inspire your own narrative story.
Write From One Illustration: Use an illustration to spark your own creative story.
Use the Book as Inspiration: Use an entire book to inspire and inform your own wordless picture book or narrative story.
Recommended Books for Writing Prompts:
Little Butterfly by Laura Logan
This gorgeous wordless picture book follows a little girl dreaming of flying with Monarch butterflies.
Imagine a City by Elise Hurst
Whimsical artwork accompanies prompts to imagine a more unique world — one with flying fish buses and teatime with gargoyles. This book would make a wonderful drawing or writing prompt. Pick an illustration. Use it as a foundation for your own world.
Red Again by Barbara Lehman
Just like The Red Book, this wordless picture book is a story within a story within a story . . . Look closely as a young boy finds a red book, opens to read it, and sees another boy who is holding the red book with a picture of the first boy reading the book. It’s twisty, mind-blowing kind of story looping that you’ll love to figure out through the inviting illustrations.
Lines by Suzy Lee
Watch the beautiful lines adorn each page as a solitary skater creates swirly whirly designs on the ice. She spins, leaps, skates backward, then suddenly — a surprise — eraser marks. Now we see that she’s an illustration on crumpled paper. Until she’s back with new friends, skating on a busy pond. Ultimately, this wordless picture book is a delightful illusion.
The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell
Look carefully as the cartoon cat in red runs through the pages and finds unexpected silliness with an alligator trying to eat him, a bear up a tree, a chicken squawking out of her coop, and so on with each page representing one letter of the alphabet. A uniquely imagined story in alphabetical order.
Boat of Dreams by Rogerio Coelho