Oral Storytelling with Picture Walks

add more oral language to your picture walks with these simple ideas
Oral Storytelling has been a focus for me this year.  Over the years, we have seen a decline in language skills within my school.  The reasons for this could include more technology time and less family time or less time for play based education and no preschool experience.  Every student is different and so is every story.  But oral language is a key factor when it comes to success in both reading and writing; therefore, the need for language skills is real.  Over the past few months, I have shared some ideas to boost oral language skills through oral storytelling.  This month I will continue this examination but through picture walks.
Picture walks.  They are an important part a guided reading lesson.  It helps students to build background on the story before they begin reading on their own.  This way when they get stuck on a word, they can use meaning and context from the pictures (plus that background knowledge from the picture walk) to help them.

add more oral language to your picture walks with these simple ideas

I would not define my typical picture walks as "strong."  My guided reading lessons have always included them and I allow the students to talk about what they see and notice.  Sometimes I point out specific things that I want them to be aware of and sometimes I ask them "wh" questions to probe their thinking a bit further.

To be honest, many times I would get "I see a ...." or "There is a ..."  The picture walks were not earth shattering.  I should have put forth a bit more effort but I have always felt a bit crunched for time and would just move on.

But this year, my team has made a conscious effort to build more language into our lessons.  This includes my guided reading picture walks.  And all it took was me changing my wording and intention.

When I hold up the guided reading book now I say, "Let's tell a story with the pictures."  As we open the book to the first page, I ask them to begin the story with a "hook."  Then we continue telling the story through each of the pages of the book.  I encourage the use of transition words between events or pages.  And I ask them to end the story with a strong closing.  This slight change in my language and intent builds their storytelling/oral language skills but is also building background knowledge, which supports them when reading the words.

add more oral language to your picture walks with these simple ideas

One more way that we have used guided reading books to support oral storytelling is during whole group mini lessons for writing.  My teammate has started to use guided reading books as wordless books this year.  She covers up the words and asks students to tell the story.  It has worked out really well.  The stories are short, the images are clear, and students are building their storytelling skills.  It has been a great way for her to model "hooks," transitions, and closings.

Do you  have any other ways that you add more language instruction into your day?

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Add more oral language to your picture walks with these simple ideas


  1. Hi Em. I always appreciate reading about what is happening in your classroom. Thank you for taking the time to share. I too, do picture walks and am hungry for new ideas. I love the idea of the students turning the picture walk into a story. My question is...what do you do if their story is different than the actual story. This happens sometimes when the children have not read the story before. Do you correct them, or let them read and then compare their story to the one read? Just wondering. I always try to use some of the vocabulary in my picture walk so they will be ready for those unfamiliar words. (I have a lot of Els.) Is there a way to sneak that in. I am anxious to let the picture walk become more student lead, but do have those questions. Thanks for your feedback. Julie Bales heyjbales@sbcglobal.net

    1. I always get so excited to hear from you, Julie!! Thanks for writing. And what a great question because this totally happened to me. So I then started to be an active part of the storytelling process. That way I could help to "guide" the story because it does seem counter productive to let them take an inaccurate picture walk. And I also like to point out some vocabulary along the way. But even asking them to add that little "hook" when they begin telling the story ("One summer day..." or "In the winter...")and asking them to use transition words between the events has been super helpful! If you decide to try this out, please let me know how it works and what I can do to improve.