Using Picture Books for Theme-Based Learning

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written by Jan Carey

I love using picture books in integrated and thematic ways in the classroom, no matter what grade I am teaching. Great picture books not only teach through the story they present, but they inspire creativity, fun and imagination for the students… and the teacher!

An engaging picture book can become the basis of an entire unit of work. Students can refer to the book at different times, connect the story or characters to other texts and create pieces of work inspired by the book. There is no limit (other than one’s own imagination) about ways that a picture book can integrate learning opportunities in the classroom. 

Meaningful Learning for Picture Books

So, what are the curriculum areas/ activates that lend themselves most naturally to a picture book theme?

English – It is easy to focus on many learning language outcomes such as…

  • Character study 
  • Visual literacy – how do the pictures add to the text or story?
  • Perspectives, motives and diversity in the story
  • Creative writing – change a character, write from a different perspective or write a different ending
  • Exploring the text type; or genre eg: rhyme, non-fiction, fantasy, etc
  • Vocabulary development – using words from the text
  • Create own work, eg: invitations, recipes, poems modelled by the book
  • Reading the book to younger students, maybe a buddy class

The Arts – This is where you can get really creative. Re-create the picture book as a…

  • Puppet play – design the set, props and characters. Perform it to another class or parents.
  • Drama play – create a set, props and dress up as the characters in the book. Perform to another class or parents
  • Art piece/ mural – paint, draw, design scenes from the book that evoke emotion or a perspective of the story. Display in the class or school.
  • Music – put the story to music. What adds value? How is the story emotion enhanced with music/ sound effects?

A Spooky Picture Book Example

With Halloween soon approaching, many classrooms will take the opportunity to focus on a Halloween or Spooky theme! So, let’s dive into a real example…

Slimy Eyeballs and Other Delicious Halloween Treats is a humorous and quirky tale with silly scary characters who each bring along gruesome treats to a spooky midnight ball. Vibrant and playful illustrations along with silly puns and festive descriptions are woven together in this rollicking rhyming read-aloud.

This picture book lends itself beautifully to a thematic approach with 12 quirky characters and a feast of gruesome treats to explore and re-create.  Why not create the Spooky Street Cemetery in the classroom? Make up recipes for the gruesome treats. Design your own spooky invitations and invite another class to come and watch your students perform the story as a play. 

A FREE ‘Spooky theme’ Teaching Resource Kit

To support teachers and homeschooling parents, I have created a FREE 45-page Halloween / Spooky Teaching resource kit which provides a range of lessons that can be easily used with students in the lower/mid grades. It also gives copies of the images of the characters, gruesome treats, and clip art images that were actually used in the creation of the book ‘Slimy Eyeballs and other delicious Halloween Treats’.


# Permission is given to copy and use these lesson plans and images in your classroom/ learning program.

Slimy Eyeballs and other delicious Halloween Treats is currently available on Amazon here in both paperback and ebook formats.

I truly hope you and your students enjoy the book and the spooky activities.

With much gratitude

Jan Carey

About Jan Carey

Schoolteacher veteran Jan Carey has her finger on the pulse of what children enjoy reading. She believes a good book is one that has imagination, humor, and twists, and is the author of Slimy Eyeballs and Other Delicious Halloween Treats.  She hopes that her stories bring joy to her young readers with their silliness, humor, and fun illustrations.

Follow Owl Books on Facebook @owlbooksau and Instagram @owlbooksau.


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One Comment

  1. I enjoyed reading this blog because it really opened my eyes up to just how beneficial using picture books can be in a classroom! Your blog shared so many different ways you can use one book to expand upon learning. I like how you also connected ways that you can use the arts in the classroom in addition to English. The most important strategy I took from your blog was using visual literacy. It’s important to understand how the pictures in a book connect to what is being said in the story.