Using Picture Books to Teach Transition Words and Phrases

In the past, I've never considered buying pictures books when I hit up the thrift stores and yard sales. Instead, I tend to search for young adult and classic novels. However, after attending HelloLitCon with Jen Jones, a nationally recognized literacy and reading specialist, I was enlightened to the value of pictures books.

After attending HelloLitCon in July, I wrote a donors choose grant for picture books: Picture Books are Powerful Books. I requested 30 children's books to use for teaching a variety of reading and writing strategies. Four months later, a few days before my project deadline, my project was fully funded! I was beyond excited.

My books came in on a Tuesday afternoon; by Tuesday night, I had my lesson plans changed to incorporate these books the very next day. Can you tell I was excited?

Step 1: IDENTIFY MINI-LESSON TOPIC BASED ON STUDENTS NEEDS (??? time varies based on class size and data load)
Based on the data from our previous interim assessment, my students really needed some work on transitions. Even my AP students struggled with knowing which transitions were appropriate in which situations. So I pulled out my picture books and got to work. Once I decided on which books to use, I cut chart paper in half and labeled the halves with types of transitions: introductory, contrasting, time/location, and etc. 

I read through each of my picture books and made sure that each one included an acceptable amount of transition words and examples. I wanted books that would give my students plenty of examples to work with. 

Step 3: READ THE BOOK ALOUD (5 minutes)
If your students haven't read this particular book before, or if it's been awhile, read the entire book aloud without stopping. This isn't time to point anything out or ask questions; just read the book. If you try to work with the content without reading the book, it's likely they won't be able to focus because they're trying to think about what's going on in the story. Do yourself a favor and take the five minutes to read the book to them. They will enjoy it, and it will get them in the right mindset to work and focus. 

Step 4: MODEL THE SKILL aka TEACH A MINI-LESSON (10-15 minutes maximum)
First, I tell my students what we're learning about during this lesson. This particular lesson was about transitions. So, we used a hastily drawn graphic organizer, think two columns and four rows on notebook paper, to discuss the purpose of transitions and the different types of transitions. (I'll try to get a picture of that once I get back to school) Then, I told them that we were going to look at how transitions are used in the book we just read. I use my doc cam for this, but you can also have you students gather around you for this part. 

I show my students each page of the book. If they see a transition word, we add it to a sticky note and place it to the side. Each word gets its own sticky note. We work through the whole book one page at a time. 

Then, we take those sticky notes and place them in the correct chart paper (from step 1) category. We talked about the difference in time and sequence transitions and the difference in cause/effect versus compare/contrast transitions. Once all of those are placed, it's time for students to practice on their own. 

Next, I laid out all of the available options for students and let them choose a picture book. I didn't include the book that we'd read as a class because I wanted them to practice this skill on a new set of material. If you don't have enough books for everyone to have their own book, you can always pair students up or place them in groups of 3-4.  Each student/pair/group also needs a set of sticky notes. You can give them a whole pad of post its, or you can give each student/pair/group a set number based on how many examples you want them to identify. Either way works just fine. 

Step 6: STUDENTS READ THEIR BOOK (5-7 minutes)
This step mimics what I did for them earlier, a read aloud. This allows them to familiarize themselves with their book. Depending on the length and how quickly your students read, this shouldn't take more than 5-7 minutes. Remind them that they're just reading. They're not looking for anything or noting anything yet. 

Once students are done reading, they're going to mimic your mini-lesson. They'll read through the text, write each transition word on a separate sticky note, and then evaluate the word to decide which category it fits into. 

I've got the original anchor charts, with our sticky notes from the whole-class text, around the room. When students are finishing reading and identifying transition words/phrases, they get up and place their sticky notes on the appropriate anchor chart category. 

When everyone finishes reading, noting examples, and evaluating them to place them in the correct location, the work begins. As a class, we start looking at where everyone has placed their sticky notes. If we look at the time/location anchor chart and notice that there is a sticky note that belongs, instead, in the sequence category, we move it to the correct category. We do this for each category. This is a great discussion and learning time because it allows students to discuss why each word works the way it does and in which situations it works best. This part isn't to be skipped since it provides feedback for students. It allows them to make sense of their decisions to place a word in a specific category and gives them the opportunity to discuss why it was or wasn't the best fit for that particular transition word. 


Use a formative or summative tool to see if your students learned from the mini-lesson and application. This is important as you need to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of lesson. You can use a kahoot, a short quiz, a computer based lesson (IXL or Moby Max etc.), a board game, or one of many, many other options. Just make sure your students understand the content before moving on. 

Some things to consider/tips:

Sticky notes: I love using sticky notes for everything, but they're ridiculously expensive if you buy the post-it brand (that actually sticks to things). A suggestion that I have is to sign up for a NAEIR teacher account. It's free and you can buy a ton of sticky notes for a little bit of nothing. I recently bought 21 pounds of sticky notes for around $60. That's a steal considering sticky notes are $1 per pad. 

Children's Books: You can write a grant for picture books which is an amazing option, but if you can't do that/aren't allowed to, there are other options. I've found great children's books for cheap at the goodwill and salvation army thrift stores. You can also shop at yard sales or ask for donations from friends/family/students. One of my favorite options is thrift books. You can get really good, used children's books for around $4 each, which is cheap considering new picture books range from $15-$20 in store. 

Chart Paper: You can also use rolls of paper from IKEA or Amazon for this if you don't have chart paper available. Parchment paper from walmart will also work if you're in a pinch. 

If you're interested in other lessons using picture books, check out this Text Structure Lesson

I'd love to see what you do with this lesson. If you have questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments below or use the contact section to send me an email. I look forward to hearing your great ideas!

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