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The LLL SIG Newsletter

Volume 5, Issue 2 [August, 2009]

Reading a Picture Book: Finding Little Sister
Emi Itoi

In the spring 2009 issue of the LLL newsletter, I introduced readers to my language classes for adults that take place at a casual learning space called Neco. There, I teach using English picture books, an ideal teaching resource for all age groups. In this issue, I would like to expand upon that topic by explaining how picture books can be implemented in the language class.

An important aspect of picture books is their versatility. It would be a waste of the resource to use it simply for one reading and then to set it aside, never to be revisited. Let me share some activities I have tried, or plan to try, using the book Finding Little Sister.

Finding Little Sister is published by RIC Publications. RIC has published many English picture books that have been translated from well-known Japanese picture books. The original Japanese title of Finding Little Sister is 『あさえとちいさいいもうと』. The English version comes with a CD that might be helpful not only for students but also for Japanese teachers of English.

When my students first saw the book, they admired it, saying how pretty the pictures were. Speaking in Japanese, we turned the pages one by one while trying to predict a story line from only the pictures. This strategy is important since many adult learners tend to go straight to the English text rather than take the time to examine the pictures. Pictures are a rich source of information that convey information not explicitly stated in the story and, later in conjunction with the printed text, may help students comprehend the story more quickly and effectively. Guessing the plot is actually the fun part of the lesson because students can exchange their ideas and opinions in Japanese without being encumbered by any English.

I then spend 30 to 40 minutes in various activities. For example, I read aloud sentence by sentence and then have students read after me. This is a traditional method of reading aloud instruction, but it can be made more engaging if students vary their speed and intonation, or impersonate the characters. In order to practice English intonation, I might ask students to locate important words or phrases to stress and then encourage them to read with exaggerated intonation.

After I have read an isolated sentence a few times, students then look up from the book and try to repeat the sentence without reference to the text. I remind students that this is a good recall exercise, but, in cases of less than perfect recall, I am quick to alert them to rephrasing and paraphrasing, two strategies to circumvent rote memorization.

Writing can be incorporated, as well. I choose several sentences from the book and write down only a few words from each sentence on the board, leaving underscored blanks to indicate missing words as shown in the following example:

From the Book
"But the little girl kept walking away from Naomi's voice. Naomi hurried to catch up with her. Then the little girl turned around. It was someone Naomi had never met before."

On the Board
"But the little girl           away     Naomi's voice. Naomi             her. Then the little girl          . It was someone Naomi never      ."

The students would go to the board and fill in the blanks. You would be amazed how beautifully they write English in cursive!

Once the students feel confident in reading the book, it is time to role-play. I assign each student a character from the book. Finding Little Sister requires four characters and a narrator. The story is divided into four scenes so that one person does not have to memorize too much. We move the desks to the back of the room and make enough space in the front to perform. Some students are shy while others are born actors. In the end, everyone seems to enjoy performing and watching others act.

The collaborative, rather than unilateral, selection of a new book is also an important consideration. I usually bring several picture books to class and briefly explain the theme of each book while the students pass them around, making all sorts of comments, such as "This is nice," "I really like these pictures," and "This looks rather difficult," At the end of the discussion, we take a vote on which book to read next semester. On my list of books for next semester are The Little House (Virginia Burton); A Day with Dad (Bo Holmberg); Frog and Toad Together (Arnold Lobel); Uncle Elephant (Arnold Lobel); and Allison (Allen Say). Perhaps you have a favorite among these choices.

In the future, I would like to try the following activities:
1. Creating an original ending;
2. Writing to an author;
3. Retelling a story in class; or
4. Show and tell.

Let me elaborate on Show and Tell as it might look with the book Finding Little Sister, the main theme of which is sisterly relationships, especially caring for a little sister. Keeping this theme in mind, I would ask students to bring to class a photograph of their family or something that they might associate with a good family memory. If the photographs or items were too small to be seen by the entire class, they could be enlarged on the overhead projector. Templates of possible explanations related to the photographs, for example, could be provided to students to lessen the English load. After a few classes devoted to preparation, the last class could be the actual Show and Tell day.

Other themes from Finding Little Sister are:
1) Hobbies: Naomi (main character) was collecting pretty stones as a hobby.
2) Ways to While Away the Time: Naomi used to draw train tracks on the road with chalk.
3) Lost and Found: Naomi frantically searched for her lost sister.

There is so much we can learn from picture books. To increase your awareness of the importance of picture books in class and how they might be successfully incorporated, I would direct you to the references for further reading.


Bloem, L. P., & Padak, D. N. (1996). Picture books, young adult books, and adult literacy learners. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 40(1), 48-53.

Hai-yan, Z (2008). Values and limitations of children’s literature in adult language education. US-China Foreign Language, 6(3). 18-21.

Ho, L. (2000). Children’s literature in adult education. Literature in Education. 31(4). 259-271.

Smallwood, B. A. (1998). Using multicultural children’s literature in adult ESL classes. ERIC Digest. ED 427557

Tsutui, Y. (2006.) Finding little sister. RIC Publications. ISBN-10:1741260396 http://www.ricpublications.com/ja/picturebook.html#amy