Are Picture Books COMPLEX Enough?

A question I am asked frequently, because of my use of picture books as mentor texts, is: “Are picture books really complex enough for my upper grade students?”

And my answer always is…


There are many aspects that contribute to a text’s complexity- not just the “level” (whether that be Lexile or AR or F&P).
For one, a student’s prior knowledge contributes to complexity. What may be complex for one may not be for another. It will be dependent on their background, exposure, vocabulary, and experiences.
Picture books are not "too easy" for the upper grades students, no matter what the Lexile number might say! Find out why you should still be using picture books to teach in grades 3-5!
Secondly, I totally think picture books are like Disney and Pixar movies… how many times have you laughed at something in one of those movies and a kid looks at you like, what’s so funny?? You can read a book to a kindergarten or first grade class that they enjoy, but a ten-year-old would pick up on underlying themes in that same book that the little ones don’t.
One book example that comes to mind is The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. Did you know it has a Lexile of AD490L? If you went strictly by the quantitive element, you wouldn’t think it would be appropriate for an upper grades classroom. But how many six-year-olds do you know that would pick up on the metaphor of the fence in this story? There is such a deep level of understanding that can be discussed with this book on segregation issues!
And that leads me to my next point… YOU as the teacher are one of the BEST aspects that contribute to complexity! You can amp up the rigor of a text simply by asking the right questions!
Choose a book that relates to the standard you are teaching, and as you read, ask comprehension questions throughout to show them the importance of thinking while reading! Not only can you ask questions to prompt them to think the way you want them to, you can also do think-alouds to demonstrate your own thoughts and feelings. This is done so easily with picture books!
In case you needed any more convincing, here are four more reasons that picture books make great mentor texts:

1. The story is usually done in 32 pages. When you refer to parts of the story in your lessons, most likely, students are going to remember. You can read a great picture book one day, and then use it for various lessons for days after that! Often times, you can teach SEVERAL standards with one picture book.

2. Picture books hold students’ attention with illustrations and vivid language throughout. Seriously- some of the BEST examples I’ve found of figurative language, vivid verbs, and sensory details come from picture books.
3. There are so many amazing historical fiction books, science fiction texts, and even math literature. We know there isn’t enough time in the school day to read a book before every lesson (as much as we’d like to) so spread that book as much as you can!

4. Please do not think I’m saying to never read a novel with your students again. Chapter books, extended texts, novels… whatever you want to call them… are still so important! Students have to build stamina and stick with a story that really builds- I totally agree. But students also need to see, hear, and understand so many different styles to become better readers and writers. What better way than to read mentor texts all year long?

Are you interested in learning about how to do more than just “read” a picture book to your students? Do you want to make your read-alouds more meaningful?
Enroll in my Interactive Read-Aloud Mini-Course to get the what, why, and how of reading picture books to promote deeper thinking with your students! Save 20% when you enroll through this post! You’ll have lifetime access to the video lessons, as well as a special exclusive IRA questions bonus AND the lesson and materials for the model/demonstration video I present so that you can implement it in your class, too. There is also a certificate of completion to use for PD credit (if applicable in your district)! You will be excited to start interactive read-alouds right away in your classroom!

Or maybe you’d like to get ready-made mentor text lessons for the week?

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Join the mentor text club to get detailed explicit lesson plans using one book all week in reading, writing, grammar, and more!