Wordless Picture Books as Writing Prompts

In talking with one of my colleagues  about wordless picture books as a prompt for ESOL student writing, she said that the books in the list below were very Eurocentric and that it would be good if we could find some wordless picture books that would reflect the experiences of learners from the southern hemisphere. Any suggestions?

Anno’s Italy by Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Flotsam by David Wiesner

June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chis Van Allsburg

Tuesday by David Wiesner


I was able to preview a few pages of some of the books you listed on Amazon, so I think I have a general idea of how they work.

Why not go about your locality (or have the learners do this) and take pictures with a camera or smart phone to use as writing prompts? Or, if their employer permits it, have the learners take pictures of their workplace for the same purpose. If the learners have friends or relatives in their home countries with smart phones or computers, they could take pictures to send to the learners. More advanced learners could combine photos into a storyboard and then write a story. More technically advanced ones could do this online or offline with free presentation software.

Di, you bring up a critical issue  relating to the books and stories that all learners face if they don't belong to the dominant population, wherever they live. It is so important to have characters reflect the readers in order for vital connections to be made between the reader and the words being read! I hope we get good suggestions here.

Robert makes an excellent suggestion, which reminds me of a very successful Adult Ed program housed is a very poor downtown area of Montreal. When students walked down the stairs of a rundown building to enroll, they were given a disposable camera and told to go around town and take pictures that told a story about who they were. The photos were then developed. The walls of the rooms were covered with collages, one more moving than the other. They then wrote their stories. What a great start to writing! Leecy

Thanks for bringing this up, Di! I agree with the comments above, that having learners take their own photos and/or Googling photos of their home countries is very helpful. The most reticent and shy of my students light up when they are shown pictures of their home countries and language begins pouring out. I've also compiled a list of books (not just wordless books, unfortunately) which feature characters and topics more relatable to our diverse student populations, as well as simple bilingual books - see a sampling listed below.

  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  • Chocolate Milk, Por Favor by Maria Dismondy and Donna Farrell
  • It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
  • We All Went on Safari (English and Swahili edition) by Laurie Krebs
  • One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
  • I'm New Here by Ann Sibley O'Brien
  • The Boy Without a Name (English-Pashto edition) by Idries Shah
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina by Monica Brown and Sara Palacios
  • Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing and Robert Casilla

Hello Di and all, Christina Terrell from the Ohio Resource Center recommended the Eye on Literacy books, which I've used myself with success. Having learners take their own pictures to label and write about is a fabulous idea.

It is also effective for teachers to choose a photo and work through the Picture Word Inductive Model with the class, which is similar to the Language Experience Approach using a photo as the prompt. I posted the steps in the process and a link to an article by Emily Calhoun, the teacher who created it in a previous discussion.

Would love to hear more recommendations!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition


This discussion reminds me of the fun my students and I used to have filling out messages in cartoons. There are many sites that allow students to create their own comic strips or cartoons. Before the age of the Internet, I used to white out the text in bubbles from Sunday comics, Xerox copies of strips, and pass them out for students to fill in and then share.    One of our members, Bill Zimmerman, has posted several times around his Make Beliefs Comix site, which allows students to create strips right off the bat in very easy steps. His site has many gems to help teachers engage students through strips.   I created a few samples of this practice using different cartooning/comic sites. All are free and all are pretty easy for you or students to use. Since I can't post images in my response here, I created a page with samples on one of the education sites that I manage. Your comments are invited and highly encouraged. Go to ... http://learnresources.org/readwriteresources.htm .(Scroll down the page to see images.)   Leecy