Using Illustrated Books as a Learning Tool
A few years ago I was at a boutique shop in the Kensington Market area of Toronto. There was a book section and I was excited to see some Spanish language books. I randomly pulled an illustrated Spanish version of the Odyssey off the shelf – El Increíble Viaje de Ulises – and it has become one of my favourite teaching tools.
The main reason that I love this book as a teaching tool is because of the beautiful illustrations. The author and illustrator, Bimba Landmann, is an incredible artist; her images jump out of the page and are enough to capture any learner’s attention. I have used this book with adults and children, with beginners and with advanced students. Here are a few tips for teaching with illustrated books:
Use the Images as a Discussion Topic
Before I start reading the text, or have my students read the text, we talk about the images. This is especially important if the pictures are as intriguing as they are in Ulises. It’s best to start by allowing the learner to explore the pictures without the distraction of the text. Depending on the student’s level, I ask them what they see – maybe we start with colours or with descriptions of the characters, or maybe we guess what this part of the story will be about.
Use Repetition, Gestures, and other Helpful Hints
The text in Ulises is quite advanced so even my intermediate students don’t get it right away. I help them along by gesturing the action words or by providing synonyms for the vocabulary. I also insist on lots of repetition. We usually only read a few pages of the book each class but I always start by repeating the main points of the previous pages or by having the students tell me what they remember. We use the illustrations to jog our memories along the way.
Create Related Classroom Activities
I have found that using books in language lessons always works best when I create classroom activities that are related to the reading. With Ulises, I have had young students draw and discuss their favourite monsters from the book, or create new monsters that could be part of it. With older students, I have had them write short critiques or rewrite the ending. With other books, I have had students create dialogues between characters or act out the parts.
Whatever activities you choose to use, picture books can be an excellent way to intrigue learners, to teach new vocabulary, to allow for free discussion in the target language, and also to explore other cultures and histories. I have been pleasantly surprised at how receptive my students are to learning about Greek Mythology in their Spanish classes! I highly recommend illustrated books as teaching tools and Bimba Landmann’s are particularly beautiful. You can find a listing of her books on her website, most of which have been translated into several languages.