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Lesson Plan

Picture Books as Framing Texts: Research Paper Strategies for Struggling Writers

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Picture Books as Framing Texts: Research Paper Strategies for Struggling Writers

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions plus independent writing and research time
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Session Five


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • practice doing research.

  • improve their research-based writing.

  • practice writing cooperatively in groups.

  • build a strategy for understanding texts that will help them as writers in a variety of situations.

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Session One

  1. Read the introduction, at least two individual story pages, and the conclusion of the picture book to the class. Be sure that students understand the way that the book is set up and the point that it is making.

  2. Divide students into small groups, and ask students to read and explore more pages in the framing picture book.

  3. As they explore the picture book, ask students to list the kinds of details that the author has included in each of the individual descriptions. Ask students to think about what writers choose to write about and what they leave out. You can consult the sample for Megan McDonald's My House Has Stars to guide the brainstorming.

  4. Have students share their lists at the end of the session, listing the items on the board or on chart paper. Save the lists so that you return to them in the following session.

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Session Two

  1. Give students their research writing assignment, based on the framing text. The World Factbook and National Geographic MapMachine are useful resources for either assignment:

    • For McDonald's My House Has Stars, ask students to research a country of their heritage for a class book like McDonald's. Each student contributes a page on a house in his or her country. This activity can be focused further by asking students to consider a specific state, province, or other geographic region.

    • For Smith's If the World Were a Village, ask students to research a village in the country of their heritage—to describe the average village in that country for a book like Smith's. If desired, students can choose several pages from the book to focus their research on, rather than completing a page on every topic that Smith explores. Alternatively, students can each focus on a particular story from Smith's book (e.g., Languages or Religion). Again, the activity can be focused further by asking students to consider a specific state, province, or region.
  2. Explain that students will include the sources that they use for their research on a separate bibliography sheet.

  3. If you're planning on formal assessment of the pages, share the Picture-Book Research Paper Rubric with students and discuss the criteria for the project.

  4. Divide students into small groups to review the lists from the previous session.

  5. In these small groups, ask students to identify the key questions that they will answer as they complete their contribution to the text. Give students 10 to 15 minutes to compile a list of guiding questions.

  6. Circulate among students, providing feedback and answering questions as students work. Encourage students to return to the framing texts when appropriate.

  7. Gather students as a class and invite each group to share their guiding questions. As students share questions, create a running list on the board or on chart paper.

  8. Once all groups have shared their questions, group similar questions together and eliminate redundant ideas. At the end of this session, students should have compiled a well-defined list of the guiding questions for their project.

  9. Allow time after this session for students to complete their research, independently or during class.

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Session Three

  1. After students have completed their research, return to the book as a frame. Ask students what things they notice first about each of the pages in their framing book—what stands out as part of the organization on every page. For example, in McDonald's book, students will likely notice that each page ends with the sentence "My house has stars." In Smith's book, students will likely identify the division of the resources and information as it applies to the "village of 100."

  2. As students identify features, map out the structures on the board or on chart paper.

  3. Ask students to look at the elements of organization on the pages and share their observations: what comes first, second, and so forth? How does the author connect the ideas?

  4. Encourage students to notice the kind of information that is included on each page. Reread a page or two and ask students to identify things other than the specific words that are used to connect the pages in the book. In McDonald's My House Has Stars, the information starts descriptively and then moves to an activity, some retelling of what the people do in this place. Smith's If the World Were a Village includes a narrative introduction on each page that weaves the numbers that are included into a specific context. On the Languages page, for example, Smith includes greetings in many of the languages that are spoken in the "village of 100."

  5. Once students have identified the organizing structures of the book, use the list to establish the pattern of the book. Ask students to suggest how the details on the chart or board can be organized to provide a guide for the pages that they are writing for the class book. Place numbers beside items or copy them to a fresh piece of chart paper to create the guiding pattern for students to return to as they draft.

  6. Ask students to start drafting their ideas and thinking about how the options of organizational patterns from the framing text they have read can work for their papers. Remind students that the pattern is a guide, not a formula.

  7. Leave students with specific questions that focus their attention on the connection between the research they have conducted and the structures that they have identified in the framing book. For McDonald's book, for instance, you might ask students to consider what research findings can lead into the night and include the stars quotation.

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Session Four

  1. After students have written a draft, look again at the pages of your framing text, noticing the things that makes the text enjoyable to listen to and read. Ask students to look for the ways that the author has put the words and ideas together in the book. Look for similes, repetition, a variety of lengths of sentences, and even some chunks that aren't whole sentences.

  2. As students explore their books, ask them to think critically about the features that they find, using questions such as the following:

    • What is the difference between an effective simile and a cliche? Are the similes in the book effective?

    • What kinds of words or ideas are worth repeating, and what is the effect of repetition? Why does McDonald repeat the sentence "My house has stars"? Why does Smith repeat the "village of 100"? What other reasons might a writer have to use repeated words, phrases, or sentences?
  3. After exploring the language use in the framing text, ask students to apply the same analysis to their own drafts. Since their own papers will follow the form of the framing text, the features from the picture book should be represented in their papers.

  4. Allow time for students to complete revision and peer review during the remainder of the session.

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Session Five

  1. Demonstrate the ReadWriteThink Printing Press for students, showing the pertinent options.

  2. As a class, decide on layouts and templates you'll use so that the pages of your book will match.

  3. In addition to creating their own pages for the class book, ask groups to provide a shared bibliography page. Again, choose a template for the bibliography pages so that the collection will match. Purdue OWL's Online Writing Lab (navigate to pages on research and citation) and the Landmarks Citation Machine are useful resources for creating bibliographies.

  4. Finally, assign each group a framing portion of the book to complete. The book still needs a title page, introduction, dedication/acknowledgements, and conclusion. Customize these shared pages based on the framing text that you're using. Distribute this shared work among the groups.

  5. Review the work that students are to complete during this session. Each group will complete the following parts of the shared class book:

    • Pages for the story composed by each group member

    • A bibliography page listing all the resources used by the group members

    • The assigned shared page that frames the book (e.g., the title page or the introduction)
  6. This will be a busy, active session so ensure that students understand the products they are to submit by the end of the class before releasing them to work on their final copies in their groups.

  7. Allow students the remainder of the class to print copies of their own pages for the class book. If resources allow, make a copy of the book for each class member. If you can make only one or at best several copies, the book can become part of the classroom library and students can check out the book to read and explore on their own.

  8. If possible, schedule an additional class session where students will read from and share the portions of the book.

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For basic mini-lessons on the features of a research paper, consider these Research Building Blocks lesson plans:

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  • Invite students to share feedback on the collected book as they read the stories written by their peers. This informal feedback from students demonstrates the role that a real audience plays in responding to a text and provides feedback from those closest to the writers. Feedback from peers is often more effective than that from the teacher because of the authentic relationship between reader and writer.

  • One effective way to encourage feedback is to set up a graffiti feedback session. Make a copy of each student’s page. Give each student a 1/2 sheet of chart paper and the copy of their page from the book. Have students tape their story page in the center of the chart paper. Distribute the mounted pages around the room. Students can circulate through the room, stopping and reading each story, then adding feedback on the chart paper border. Remind students of the importance of making supportive and positive feedback. At the end of the session, each author has a graffiti-decorated copy of his or her story.

  • For more formal assessment of the individual stories in the collected book, use the Picture-Book Research Paper Rubric. Be sure to share the rubric with students early in the writing process so that they are aware of the criteria that will be used to assess their work.

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