Friday, August 5, 2011

Strategies for Language Development: "Reading" Wordless Picture Books and Describing Funny Pictures

Today's guest-post is written by Stephanie Sigal, M.A. CCC-SLP. She not only provides us with some really nice tips for reading wordless picture books and describing silly pictures with kids, she also provides an extensive list of wordless picture books and silly pictures. (My personal favorites are the Frog Series Wordless Picture books. I also *love* Ezra Jack Keats books.) Enjoy!

Wordless picture books and funny pictures are excellent tools to address vocabulary, word finding, grammar, articulation, attention and pre-reading skills. Goals to improve each of these naturally fall into place when “reading” wordless picture books and describing funny pictures. Even better, the variety of wordless picture books and funny pictures available allows for activities to remain fun and fresh. You can use wordless picture books and funny pictures for…

Sometimes a child can say a sound (e.g., /s/) in sentences, but needs extra practice in conversation.  Wordless books and funny pictures can bridge the gap between sentence level and conversation. 

Take turns with your child describing the pictures you see. If your child leaves out important information when describing scenes in books or pictures, you can ask an open ended question (e.g., "Hmmm - What's happening over here?").  If he can't describe what's happening, describe it for him.  Perhaps your description will improve his awareness to be more specific next time.  

With Wordless Picture Books
When appropriate, before turning the page, excitedly ask “What’s going to happen next?”  When given the opportunity to make a prediction (a pre-reading skill), children combine verbal and critical thinking skills.  

With Funny Pictures
Describing funny pictures is entertaining!  An instant smile appears when a child is shown a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding an ice cream sundae.  This task allows your child to link visual and cognitive skills, which is crucial for pre-reading.  Funny pictures need to be carefully examined, just as words need to be looked at closely to notice blends. What’s more, when a child focuses and attends to a funny picture and can explain why it is crazy a polar bear is on the beach, he is using attention and reasoning skills and making inferences. 

Social-Emotional Awareness 
A child may better appreciate the feelings of others if he can interpret and describe feelings.  When the opportunity presents itself, ask your child how a main character feels.  You may need to be more specific: “How does Jack the dog feel after his family left him without breakfast?”   Provide explanations as necessary.

Looking for some wordless picture books and funny pictures?

Wordless Books and Caldecott Winners

“Jack” Books

The "Jack" books by Pat Schories are a great introduction to wordless picture books. While the Jack books do not need to be read in any particular order, the following order works nicely:  

Children are interested in the characters in Jack's life.  Searching the detailed pictures for surprises is motivating, facilitates attention and assists in developing visual scanning skills.

Frog Series

The Frog Series by Mercer Mayer (and sometimes Marianna Mayer as well) is an appropriate series to try next.  Again, the books don’t need to be read in any particular order, but given the language skills required within each book, this order may be preferable:

I was first introduced to The Frog Series in my graduate school clinic.  School-age children described scenes in a Frog book chosen for them during an evaluation so we could obtain a narrative sample.

More Favorite Wordless Picture Books

(best for older children, purchase a used copy)
(My favorite, essentially wordless book, also a Caldecott*)

You can also use picture books with text, as long as the pictures are detailed.  This is generally more difficult than using wordless picture books, but if you try, it will work best with *Caldecott Medal / Honor Books.  One of the criteria for the Caldecott Award is that a child can interpret the story directly from the pictures.  A child doesn’t need to know how to read the text, in fact, cover text if your child can read, so he can freely choose his own words.
Caldecott Favorites

Flotsam (This is also a wordless picture book) by David Wiesner (Tuesday and Sector 7 are good for school age children)
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, Illustrated by Chris Raschka
The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey
Rumpelstiltskin by Paul Zelinsky
King Bidgood's In the Bathtub by Don and Audrey Wood
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
A Tree Is Nice by Marc Simont
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

The pictures in books by Leo Lionni and Ezra Jack Keats also allow for great descriptions.

Funny Pictures

I often provide What’s Wrong coloring books to children I work with so they can discuss one page a day with a parent as part of their homework.  I often leave the wordless picture book that we read together in therapy for homework as well.

What's Wrong? by Anna Pomaska is good to start with.  Then try What's Wrong with this Picture? also by Pomaska. 

Try this incredible set of silly photographs.  Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss is fun to read together.  Practicing describing a worksheet or two each day from Super Duper's 150 "What's Wrong With This Picture?" Scenes can also help carryover speech and language skills.

What’s your favorite wordless picture book or funny picture game?


Stephanie Sigal, M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech language therapist practicing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC.  She works with babies, toddlers and school age children with expressive language delay and articulation disorders in their homes.  To learn more about Stephanie, please visit her website and blog


  1. I like your blog very much. You have posted many information in one post. Keep on posting useful information. It is beneficial.

  2. Thank you great information on wordless books. I am buying few books based on your suggestions.