The Power of Pictures: 3 Reasons Why English Language Learners Should Go On Picture Walks

SeedsForSuccess There is an expression we use in English that says, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Simply stated, pictures have the power to convey meaningful concepts just as effectively as words. As a child is learning the English language, it is critical that he or she be interacting frequently with books. But that interaction doesn’t necessarily start with the text itself. Beyond mere text, there is a powerful tool in many books that should be used initially to help a child develop their understanding of English: Pictures! Colorful, expressive, and full of details—pictures truly do have the ability to communicate the key elements of a story. Before your English Language Learner dives into the text, they should first interact with the pictures. A “Picture Walk” is a strategy used to guide a child through the illustrations before the actual text is read. This strategy is primarily utilized whenever the child is interacting with a brand new book. While there are many benefits to this strategy, here are 3 reasons why English Language Learners should go on Picture Walks: Reason 1: It Helps to Activate Prior Knowledge Every child possesses a wealth of personal knowledge and experiences. They bring this knowledge and experience with them every time they open a new book. This is referred to as their prior knowledge. Pictures will instantly activate, or turn on, their prior knowledge, which will propel them to start thinking about and relating to the text. Let’s say that a child knows a lot about cats. Perhaps they even have a pet cat. When that child opens a new book and sees a cat in the pictures, they will automatically start to think about all the things cats do and need. They will think about their own cat and the experiences they have with it. All the vocabulary they already know about cats will begin to flood their minds. In turn, they will then be able to relate this information—their prior knowledge—to what they see occurring in the actual illustrations. Ultimately, the pictures will get them thinking, and thinking will lead to a much better understanding of the text. Reason 2: It Allows for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction When English Language Learners embark on a Picture Walk, they will have the opportunity to be taught new English vocabulary in a direct way. Keep in mind that it is the responsibility of the adult to preview the pictures and learn the English vocabulary that will be taught prior to the Picture Walk. Then, during the Picture Walk, the adult can point to various objects within the illustrations and directly teach the English name for those specific objects. English Language Learners can expand their English vocabulary significantly by discussing the objects present in the pictures. Reason 3: It Strengthens Overall Comprehension The major goal of reading in any language is comprehension. Yes, it’s great if a child can read all of the words in a book without a single error. However, if they don’t understand what they’ve read, then they are missing a key component of literary success. When an English Language Learner previews the pictures of a story, they are gaining a basic understanding of the characters, setting, and events of that story. As a result, when they do attempt to read the text for the first time, they will be able to better connect the unfamiliar words to the now-familiar pictures. Essentially, they will be able to better comprehend what is being communicated. The power of pictures should never be underestimated when it comes to learning English.