How to choose & use picture books as a prewriting activity

by | Jun 14, 2021 | Books and Reading, Writing Games & Activities

Did you know you can help prepare your child to write by reading a picture book as a pre-writing activity? A good picture book exposes children of all ages to quality literature, enhancing learning and teaching them a great deal about writing.

  • The way words hook the reader at the beginning of the story.
  • How words form sentences and paragraphs and, finally, an organized story with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • The way precise word choices show actions, descriptions, and feelings.

Picture Books: A Springboard to Writing

Before beginning to work on a new writing project or lesson, read a related picture book aloud to your child. Be sure you do the reading during this time, not your child. (Children can practice reading skills another time.)

Talk about the book together.

  • What words or sentences grabbed you at the beginning and made you want to hear or read more?
  • What happened at the beginning of the book? The middle?
  • How did the story end?
  • How did the story make you feel?
  • What are some of your favorite words from the story?
Picture books as pre writing activities | Prepare your child to write by reading a good picture book together!

How to Choose Picture Books for a Prewriting Activity

How do you pick the right picture books for a prewriting activity? There are so many wonderful read-alouds with delightful story lines and engaging illustrations. Start with your own bookshelf!

You can also scour used book stores, yard sales, and the library in your search for the perfect book. For guidance, ask your local children’s librarian, read book reviews online, or seek out the recommendation of friends.

Keep in mind that others’ recommendations may not always match your family’s criteria for acceptable reading. So the final decision, of course, is yours.

Picture Books to Avoid

Though your child may love superheroes, Disney princesses, or other cartoon characters, it’s best to avoid these mass-market picture books for prewriting times. Instead, look for high-quality, timeless books that play with language and use unique artwork. You know which ones I mean—the books you don’t mind reading again and again because you love them too!

Picture Book Resources for Young Children

Picture Books Resources for Older Students

If your kids are older, you might assume they’re beyond picture books—but that’s not true! You’ll be surprised to learn many picture books are actually geared toward upper elementary and middle school ages!

For starters, my friend Cindy West of Our Journey Westward has loads of ideas for using picture books in your homeschool to teach writing to older students in middle and high school. You might also like Pernille Ripp’s how-to guide for using picture books with middle grades, especially the section on teaching writer’s craft through picture books.

RELATED: Children’s Books and Growing a Reader

Perfect for most children in grades K-3. WriteShop Primary is the best way to gently introduce writing skills to young children. The engaging lessons incorporate hands-on activities and crafts, and every prewriting activity suggests picture books to go with that lesson’s theme.


  1. Jacqueline

    These pointers are really helpful and very inspired. Many many thanks! I will now be following your website closely. Do you think you will be publishing your book in the UK?


  2. Kim

    I completely understand, Jacqueline! My young son was the exact same way. Since you weren’t specific about the nature of her frustration, I’ll give you some general tips that should help your daughter relax a bit.

    1. Establish limits. It’s OK if her story is only six or seven sentences long. Recopying a long story can ovrwhelm a seven-year-old.

    2. If up to this point she has been writing as you dictate, try printing her story in on lined paper instead, skipping every other line. (Alternately, type it on the computer using a large, clean font.) Let her copy rather than write from dictation. As an additional aid, place a wide strip of construction paper beneath the line she’s copying from so she’s not distracted by other text. As she copies, she can slide the strip down line-by-line.

    3. Before she begins copying, sit down together and talk about her narration. Ask her to find her favorite sentence, circle her three most descriptive words, and underline three great action verbs (or other favorite words). Ask her why she made these choices. She’ll be less likely to shorten her writing if she has already identified positive features!

    4. Likewise, spend a moment praising some of her best words and sentences. She surely won’t want to shorten a sentence Mommy has fussed over!

    5. Set a time limit for copying her narration—maybe 7 minutes because she’s age 7. When the timer goes off, she can stop, even mid-sentence. Let her do this once or twice a day. She can pick it up again the next day if need be. There’s no rush!

    6. You didn’t mention the kinds of “mistakes” that upset her, but if they’re spelling errors, you can create a word wall at eye level from a sheet of butcher paper or poster board. If a word is giving her trouble, write it on a rectangle of paper and tape it to the word wall. When she recopies, it may be easier for her to look at the larger words on the word wall than to copy from your smaller printing on the paper. (When the wall gets full, remove the words she knows to make room for new ones.)

    This may not solve all your problems, Jacqueline, but it will certainly get you started! Hope this helps.

  3. Jacqueline


    I have just come upon your website. I am homeschooling my two children and am struggling a little with the 7-year-old and her creative writing.

    I think the problem is perfectionism! She can write (joined handwriting) nicely and she has good ideas. She can spell reasonably for her age- she is reading herself and we read to our children a lot.

    BUT despite the fact that she is happy to create stories and get me to dictate them, whenever it comes to writing them out herself, she becomes upset by ‘mistakes’ and starts to shorten her originally long and interesting sentences to avoid having to write them out in their entirety. I try tobe encouraging and am always telling her mistakes are part of the process but she really freezes up so writing things down turns into a rather tense chore.

    I am a writer myself! But I worry that somehow I have made the process ardous for her. I would love any advice you may have to offer. Needless to say my second child is totally uninhibited when it comes to producing stories and does’t worry at all.


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