Standard Lesson

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

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions plus independent writing and research time
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In this lesson, students use picture books as frames for structuring research projects. They read the framing text, brainstorm the details included in the text, and discuss what the writer has chosen to include and leave out. Students are given a research assignment and identify key questions to answer as they research. They return to the framing text and analyze its structure, looking for elements of organization and the kinds of information included on each page. They use the structure of the framing text to create a guiding pattern for their own pages. Students write drafts of their pages, then again return to the framing text, this time exploring the language—similes, sentence variety, etc. They apply the same analysis to their own writing. Finally, students revise and publish their pages in the style of the framing text, create a bibliography, and compile the pages into a class book.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Research papers can fill any teacher with dread. Deborah Dean explains that in her experience, most research papers "sounded like encyclopedias: voiceless stacks of facts loaded on top of each other with a few quotes thrown in randomly" (32). Since her students did not have exposure to other alternatives, Dean continues, "their default strategy was to mimic the sources they used-encyclopedias or Internet sources that sounded like encyclopedias" (32). Dean's search for more effective ways to frame student writing led her to James Collins, who states: "We use default writing strategies precisely because we can do so without thinking much about them; this frees the mind for thinking about problems and challenges encountered while writing" (138). In this lesson, picture books give students frames for structuring research projects, freeing them from the language of their encyclopedia sources and allowing them to focus their attention on the content of the paper.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Several copies of the framing picture book, ideally one for each small group of 4 to 5 students (see booklist)

  • Access to reference books and Internet sites matching the writing project (e.g., geographical facts about other countries for McDonald's and Smith's books)

  • Chart paper, markers, and tape




  • Choose a framing picture book (or books) for students. Megan McDonald's My House Has Stars and David Smith's If the World Were a Village are ideal for this project. Other possible framing texts are also available.

  • Read the sample brainstorming list and research questions for McDonald's My House Has Stars, and determine the kinds of opening questions and prompts to ask students as they compile lists and research questions of their own for the project.

  • Customize discussion starters and tasks for the particular picture book that you've chosen:

    • McDonald's My House Has Stars includes similar information for each house, so a shared list and search guide is appropriate for the class.

    • David Smith's If the World Were a Village includes a different topic on each page. Students might brainstorm their lists and establish guiding research questions in small groups, based on the topic for the pages their group will create. The unifying focus for projects modeled on Smith's book will be finding numerical data that can be calculated for a village of 100 (e.g., a village of 100 in your state or county).

    • If you choose one of the framing texts that is based on calendar dates (such as Burleigh's Black Whiteness or McKissack and McKissack's Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters), students can identify key dates as they are brainstorming their lists.

  • Customize the Picture-Book Research Paper Rubric as necessary to match the framing picture books that your students are using for this project.

  • Build in time during this lesson for students to complete their research, draft their pages, and share their drafts with peers. Work can be completed as homework or you may provide independent or group research time in class. Allowing time for library and Internet research is highly recommended. This lesson includes details for the formal group sessions only.

  • Test the ReadWriteThink Printing Press on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page. Explore the options that the tool provides so that you can guide students' decisions during Session Five, matching the available templates to the picture book frame that you are using for the project. In most cases, the Flyer or the Newspaper template will be most appropriate.

Student Objectives

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • 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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