Picture Books in the Primary EFL Classroom. "Monkey Puzzle" by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Examination Thesis, 2009

80 Pages


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definitions of the Terms Picture Book and Literacy
2.1 Definition of Picture Books
2.1.1 Authentic Picture Books
2.1.2 Educational Picture Books
2.2 The Concepts of Literacy
2.2.1 Defining Literacy
2.2.2 The Literate Student

3. Teaching Requirements for English in German Primary Schools According to the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg 2004

4. Vygotsky’s Theory of Early Childhood Education Relating to Literacy
4.1 The Zone of Proximal Development
4.2 Classroom Discourse
4.3 Role of the Teacher
4.4 Transferring Vygotsky’s Theory to Working with Picture Books

5. Authentic Picture Books in Class
5.1 Themes and Motifs
5.2 Stories in Picture Books
5.3 Advantages of Using Authentic Picture Books
5.3.1 General Benefits
5.3.2 Promoting Intercultural Competence
5.3.3 Literacy
5.3.4 The Gender Aspect
5.4 Criteria for Good Picture Books
5.5 Ideas How to Use Picture Books in Class

6. Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
6.1 About the Author and Illustrator
6.2 Realization of Monkey Puzzle in a Primary EFL Classroom
6.2.1 Technical Analysis of the Picture Book Monkey Puzzle Content Setting and Time Narrative Perspective Pictures Central Characters Themes and Motifs Stylistic Devices Humor
6.2.2 Educational Analysis Placement in the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg 2004 Students’ Encounter with the Topic
6.2.3 Methodical Analysis Opening Body Close Educational Objectives

7. Conclusion

8. List of Works Cited
8.1 Primary Literature
8.2 Secondary Literature
8.3 Templates and Instructions
8.3.1 Instructions for the Games Fruit Salad and On the Market
8.3.2 Caterpillar Diaries
8.3.3 Story about Eve
8.3.4 Listening Comprehension Activity
8.3.5 Zoo Plan
8.3.6 The Pig Rap
8.3.7 The Secret Jungle Alphabet
8.3.8 Instructions for the Monkey Puzzle Game
8.4 Verbindliche Versicherung und Einverständniserklärung

1. Tables

Tab.1: Children’s Favorite Books

Tab.2: Rising Action in Monkey Puzzle

Tab.3: Lesson plan: Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Tab.4: PISA Study, 2003

Tab.5: Indicator: Mean and Distribution of Student Performance

1. Introduction

The well known German storyteller James Krüss noted: „Bilderbücher sind Bausteine im Fundament jeder Kultur. Kultur beginnt beim Bilderbuch“ (Niemann 2002c; 7). This quotation reveals the importance of picture books in today’s society.

When speaking of picture books and literacy it is essential to adequately define these terms. Therefore, this paper will first address the problem of definition and will then go on to present teaching requirements for primary schools in Baden-Wurttemberg according to the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg 2004.

This is followed by the presentation of the theory of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Gibbons and Cummins (2005), Berk (1995), and Cameron (2008), for instance, prefer the Vygotskian view on language learning because it “foregrounds the collaborative nature of learning and language development between individuals, the interrelatedness of the roles of teacher and learner, and the active roles of both in the learning process” (Gibbson; Cummins 2005; 7). The analysis of the well known picture book Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler shows that authentic picture books can be successfully applied in a foreign language classroom.

In order to achieve this, chapter two clarifies the terms picture book, authentic picture book, educational picture book, and literacy. Further, the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg 2004 will be presented. This forms the basis for this paper as the Curriculum sets guidelines concerning educational objectives and students’ competence for school teachers Chapter four then introduces the theory of Vygotsky before moving on to show different methods of using authentic picture books in an English as a foreign language (EFL) classroom. The Vygotskian term ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ will be clarified as well as successful classroom discourse and the role of the teacher.

The advantages of using authentic picture books in a foreign language classroom are discussed in chapter five. First, possible themes and motifs which interest students are identified followed by the presentation of stories in picture books. The discussion then continues by highlighting the advantages of authentic picture books concerning intercultural competence and literacy skills. Another problem when dealing with literature is the so called gender aspect. Boys tend to be interested in different subjects and genres than girls. Therefore, how to overcome this gender aspect will be discussed in chapter five.

This is succeeded by a possible realization of Donaldson’s Monkey Puzzle in an EFL classroom . At first, the author and illustrator are introduced followed by the technical analysis of the picture book itself. The realization then continues with the educational and methodological analysis. Finally, the last chapter summarizes the results of the analysis.

2. Definitions of the Terms Picture Book and Literacy

First, the term picture book will be clarified followed by a categorization of different genres of picture books, such as an album, an exhibit book or a picture storybook. This is followed by a discussion about the terms authentic picture book and educational picture book. Further, the concept of literacy will be discussed before presenting a description of a literate student.

2.1 Definition of Picture Books

Picture books are books for children from two to ten years (cf. Grünewald 1991; 5) which consists of text and pictures. Picture books can be categorized into two main groups. The first category’s characteristic is that the book contains none or only little text. Different forms are, for example, the album, the “Wimmelbuch” (Grünewald 1991; 5) or the exhibit book.

The album, which offers a collection of single pictures (cf. Grünewald 1991; 5), is mostly addressed to younger children. This is also called a “picture narrative” (Nikolajeva 2006; 6), for example, Teddies by Nicola Tuxworth (2002). The pictures can be thematically related, for example, boat, car, ship, or bike.

Another option is the so called “Wimmelbuch” (Grünewald 1991; 5) which depicts many different scenes in one picture. An English example is Where ’ s Wally? by Martin Handford (2008). These books usually do not include any text at all.

The “exhibit book” (Nikolajeva 2006; 6) informs children about a specific topic by presenting pictures with a short factual text, for example, What ’ s Out There? by Lynn Wilson (1993).

The second group contains books in which the stories are accompanied by text and pictures. They are called “picturebook or picture storybook” (Nikolajeva 2006; 6), for example, Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (2002). Usually, the story is told by the pictures. The corresponding text functions as an extension or as an explanation of the pictures (cf. Grünewald 1991; 5). If the story is mainly transported by the text and the pictures are only attachments, then it is no longer a picture book but an illustrated book (cf. Grünewald 1991; 5). This paper will focus specifically on picture storybooks.

Concerning the artistic style of the pictures, an illustrator has various possibilities. The pictures in the books can be drawn with a pencil, or painted with water colors, for example, The Tortoise who Bragged by Betsy Franco and Anne-Marie Perks (1999), or they can contain art. Lionni and Carle, for example, often use collages with dyed paper in The Very Hungry Caterpillar (2007). Printing technologies like airbrush, photography, or photo collage are rather uncommon (cf. Grünewald 1991; 5). The use of artistic styles like expressionism, pop art or photorealism is also possible. Working with balloons, the picture within the picture or a close image sequence (cf. Grünewald 1991; 5) is on the rise. These techniques are mostly borrowed from the new media such as television. A good example being Aufstand der Tiere oder Die neuen Stadtmusikanten by Jörg Steiner and Jörg Müller (1995).

Moreover, picture books not only differ in content and structure but also in format and readership. Various formats of picture books exist worldwide. Format includes the quality of the paper being used, that is hardcover, paperback, board books, bath books etc. and the size of the picture book. They are also available as a mini book or in big book formats. Mini book being an abbreviation for a miniature book is a small reduction of a book. A big book is „an enlarged version of a beginning reading book, usually illustrated and with very large type, generally used by a group of students to read together and learn about concepts of print and various reading strategies“ (Nebraska Department of Education 2008; www.nde.state.ne.us/ read/framework/glossary/general_a-e.html; accessed 14.4.2009). Therefore, big books are very helpful for working with picture books in class.

The readership is divided into different types of readers, depending on language proficiency, ranking from beginners in learning the target language to native speakers. Books written for native speakers on one hand are called authentic or real picture books (cf. Enever 2006; 59). Educational picture books on the other hand, are adapted for language learners and mostly aligned with the national curriculum (cf. Klippel 2006; 84).

2.1.1 Authentic picture books

Authentic picture books are published in countries of the target language, for example, English books are available in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and other countries where English is the first language. They are written for children with English as their first language and are therefore neither revised nor simplified.

2.1.2 Educational picture books

As mentioned above, educational picture books are published for language learners. A common feature of educational picture books is, for example, a short text with easy vocabulary dealing with topics from the curriculum. They are also called “readers” (Enever 2006; 59).

A disadvantage is that educational picture books are “designed to support learners by providing ‘practice in English’ […] with the implied message that learners need to focus on learning words and phrases rather than enjoying stories” (Enever 2006; 59). Another disadvantage is that such stories often lack a plot: “instead of setting up a problem and working towards its resolution, the characters just move through a sequence of activities” (Cameron 2008; 162). Moreover, the simple present tense is often used to narrate, for example, the little girl walks through the woods. This might be done because “in EFL syllabuses it has been seen as simpler than the others and taught first” (Cameron 2008; 166). If pictures accompany the story “the present continuous tense is often found” (Cameron 2008; 166), for example, the little girl is walking through the woods. This deprives learners of “opportunities to hear authentic uses of past tense forms (…) in the meaningful context of stories” (Cameron 2008; 166). An example for an educational picture book is Oxford Reading Tree: Stage 1: Biff and Chip Storybooks: The Street Fair by Roderick Hunt and Alex Brychta (2003).

In conclusion, this paper will specifically deal with authentic picture books and how they can be successfully used in a primary EFL classroom. Further, an emphasis is put on picture storybooks as they offer not only an interesting and child-centered approach to language learning. The pictures also provide help in understanding the plot.

2.2 The Concepts of Literacy

One of the biggest duties of schools and teachers is to bear literate students. This paper focuses on working with picture books and how they can support literacy in a foreign language classroom. Therefore, it is important to first clarify the term literacy before presenting a description of a literate student.

2.2.1 Defining Literacy

Various definitions of literacy compete against each other. In a broad sense one could understand literacy as “the ability to handle language” (Klippel, 2006; 81). Some bring the ability to read and write into focus, that is “the written language and the handling of texts through analysis and creative text production” (Klippel 2006; 81). These definitions agree with that of reading literacy in the PISA program. The OECD1 defines reading literacy as understanding, using and reflecting on written texts, in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential and to participate in society (OECD 2003b; pisacountry.acer.edu.au/index. php; accessed 20.2.2009).

A narrow definition of literacy in general can be found on the website of the South Australian Curriculum and Accountability Framework. It defines literacy as the ability to understand, analyse, critically respond to and produce appropriate spoken, written, visual and multimedia communication in different contexts (Klippel 2006; 81).

This means that literacy is not merely an implemental skill but includes visual material as well as the criticism of various texts. This definition does not only match the understanding of literacy in a broad sense or the definition of reading literacy but it also incorporates spoken and written communication as well as visual and multimedia communication.

It is a matter of common knowledge that being literate is crucial for being good in school, for earning good grades and therefore for being successful in life. Above all, literacy is becoming more and more essential in everybody’s social life. It provides the reader with a set of linguistic tools that are increasingly important for meeting the demands of modern societies with their formal institutions, large bureaucracies and complex legal systems (OECD 2003c; www.pisa.oecd.org/ dataoecd/38/52/33707212.pdf; accessed 20.2.2009).

This quotation shows that the advancement of literacy is not only an aim of schools, teachers and parents but for every social institution in order to bear a successful society.

Concerning the question of when literacy is acquired, the OECD states that literacy is no longer considered an ability only acquired in childhood during the early years of schooling. Instead, it is viewed as an expanding set of knowledge, skills and strategies which individuals build on throughout life in various situations, and through interaction with their peers and with the larger communities in which they participate. (OECD 2003c; www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/38/52/ 33707212.pdf; accessed 20.2.2009)

In conclusion, according to the South Australian Curriculum and Accountability Framework and the OECD, literacy can be achieved in all facets of the language learning experience. Moreover, achieving a high proficiency level in literacy is an important aim for everybody worldwide. The definition of the South Australian Curriculum and Accountability Framework will form the basis for this paper because it incorporates all characteristic elements of literacy.

2.2.2 The Literate Student

According to the South Australian Curriculum and Accountability Framework mentioned above, a literate student should be able to understand the target language, analyze its structure and reproduce appropriate communication.

In a practical book from New South Wales in Australia Coombs (cf. Klippel 2006; 88) distinguishes four roles which a literate student should be able to fulfill: Code breaker, text participant, text user, and text analyst. Code breaker subsumes the aspects of understanding and decoding. This means, for example, that a code breaker should be able to understand the functions of spelling. A successful text participant brings in his own knowledge and interacts with the text. In order to do so, a student should not only extract information from the text, but should also activate his or her background knowledge to better understand the text and its meaning. Text users produce written texts for particular purposes in order to creatively exercise their skills. They create different text types and understand their functions according to their specific context. Finally, a text analyst understands that a text is rarely neutral, especially the ideas and information conveyed in it. He or she recognizes the models of argumentation and dialectics and is able to apply those schemes to his or her own work (cf. Klippel 2006;88).

These four roles emphasize the written text and how a student can deal with various texts. Frank Smith (1985), however, explains that literacy is not only a “set of skills or competences” (qtd. in Klippel 2006; 88) but also an ability to create worlds and experiences. Coombs’ four roles of a literate student are too narrow for Smith. According to him, the affective and aesthetic goals fall too short. Not only reading stories but also listening to and looking at stories in the classroom is an “enriching socio-cultural practice” (Klippel 2006; 89) between the students and their teacher and moreover, between the text and its audience.

To sum up, the four roles of Coombs are a good model of the literate student with regard to the written text. However, a teacher should not forget that literacy is more than the written text and should therefore include other media in order to foster a fully-developed literate class.

3. Teaching Requirements for English in German Primary Schools According to the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg 2004

The main duty of English tuition is to enable children to deal with multilingualism and with the varieties of cultures which can be found in and beyond Europe. Therefore, it is important to present the teaching requirements for English in German primary schools defined by the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg 2004. This section will first present the competences students should have acquired at the end of primary school, such as language learning and intercultural competence. Secondly, learning strategies should be developed in order to gain meaning of unknown words by including the context. Linked to these strategies are the reception and production of language, as well as oral interaction. Finally, the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg suggests several teaching principles which will be outlined at the end.

The Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg mentions achieving a high degree of language-learning competence which is not only important for learning English, but is also the basis for acquiring other languages later on. The children develop a language-learning competence through joint interaction in an immersive and reflective classroom. They are not only able to understand utterances and oral texts in the target language, but are also able to make themselves understood in an appropriate manner. The children make guesses about language, draw conclusions and revise their hypotheses. During this process, they discover linguistic elements as well as their meanings and functions. With the ability to write in the target language, the children are able to acquire a universal idea of the world. In addition, language learning and the ability to make sense of the world are dependent on each other. Language learning abilities enable the students to access language, and language helps to enlarge their knowledge. This dependence shows how important it is to combine the English lessons with other subjects such as “Mensch, Natur und Kultur” (Landesbildungsserver Baden- Württemberg 2004; www.bildung-staerkt-menschen.de/service/ downloads/ Bildungsstandards/GS/GS_E_bs.pdf, p.68; accessed 14.3.2009). By linking language teaching to other subjects, the students will not only be able to increase their ability to make sense of the world, as mentioned before but also their factual knowledge in the target language and in subject areas. Teaching subject areas in the target language is what teachers should aim at, so that the children are able to understand information and context in the foreign language. To achieve this goal, literary forms of expression, such as authentic picture books in the target language, should be used.

In addition to language-learning competence, children also acquire intercultural competence. Intercultural competence can help to find their own identity and personality. It enables children to feel empathy, tolerance and respect which is the basis for democracy.

Besides intercultural awareness and language-learning abilities, the curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg 2004 puts forth further competences. Another important competence mentioned is the implementation of learning strategies. The students are to improve their receptive, productive and interactive abilities when it comes to oral communication. Primary school children exhibit a natural need for communication which the teacher should make use of in his or her lessons. The children want to make themselves understood not only in the mother tongue but also in the target language. The main goal is to become an actively involved dialogue partner in the target language. By acquiring and internalizing these strategies, the children are also able to pay attention to extra-linguistic elements, for example, context, gesture, mimic, or to the pronunciation of words or sentences and their intonation. Moreover, they should acquire the capability of detaching language structures from situations and using them for developing an independent language knowledge. These strategies help them to guess the meanings of unfamiliar words, phrases or sentences. This leads to a higher language level where children can act as dialogue partners who can help others take part in dialogues, revise their utterances or answer to questions.

The reception, as well as production of language, and oral interaction is linked to these strategies. Reception deals with what children are able to understand in the target language. They can understand oral texts appropriate for their age. The texts can be descriptions, narratives, or short dialogues and utterances. The content has to be linked to the children’s experiences and the pronunciation should be clearly articulated. Concerning written texts, the children should be able to understand texts they already know, or texts that relate to their own experiences in life. They also need scaffolding2 for understanding written texts, for example, pictures, clear structures such as paragraphs and subtitles and activation of their existing knowledge and understanding.

Another important aspect is the own production of oral communication and written texts. The children start first attempts to make themselves understood. They frequently use pointing gestures, mimic and other gestures to support their intentions. Within this process, the children develop interlanguages, that is, different varieties of the target language in which the mother tongue plays a supportive role. At the end of primary school, children should be able to produce short texts or single utterances, for example questions, statements, and descriptions. Throughout the learning process, comprehensibility should be the center of attention and should have a priority over orthographical and grammatical correctness.

What has been said about reception and production also applies to interaction. The students should be able to agree on topics from their daily experiences in a simple way. Further, they will have learnt to establish contact in the target language, to signal to their dialogue partners when they need support, and should be able to contribute to a conversation.

It is commonly known that children understand much more than they can actively produce. They are proficient in producing easy sentence patterns, especially to describe things. Moreover, they are able to reproduce memorized phrases, single words and grammatical structures in order to make themselves understood.

To achieve this, the Curriculum of Baden-Wurttemberg suggests teaching holistically, which means involving the child’s personality, activating every educational channel, such as auditory, visual and kinesthetic channels as well as action-oriented learning approaches. The language learning process should be modeled on the natural language acquisition of the mother tongue.

The Curriculum further proposes, as already mentioned above, interaction and the consequential immersive-reflexive tuition. Immersive means that teaching and learning take place during a process of interaction, which means the language should be situational and authentic. In such lessons the children are able to include their resources and their interactional competence, in order to be able to guess meaning from unknown words, sentences or phrases. By doing this, the children can establish knowledge about the foreign language which enables them to communicate.

This leads to the final principle, namely that the foreign language tuition should be organized spirally. Grammatical structures, and vocabulary already familiar to the children should be integrated and new knowledge will appear in connection with the already existing knowledge. Stories suit teaching strategies because they provide easy as well as complex occasions to speak in the foreign language depending on the individual learning progress. Consequently, stories play a major role in the EFL classroom, especially picture stories which support the language visually and consist of repetitive sentence structures.

Finally, it is important that the children experience pleasure in speaking English and that they maintain their motivation while developing a language competence as well as a language learning competence (cf. Landesbildungsserver Baden-Württemberg 2004; www.bildung-staerkt- menschen.de/unterstuetzung/schularten/GS/faecher/E; accessed 23.3.2009).

4. Vygotsky’s Theory of Early Childhood Education Relating to Literacy

Lev Semenovich Vygotsky was born in 1896 in Orsha, Russia and died in 1934 in Moscow. Having studied linguistics and philosophy at the University of Moscow he became very popular in post-revolutionary Russia as a psychologist (cf. Encyclopaedia Brittanica 2008; www.biography.com/search/ article.do?id=9520916; accessed 16.2.2009). His most famous work is called Thought and Language (1934) in which Vygotsky first expressed his theory “of language development” (Encyclopedia of Marxism 2008; www.marxists.org/glossary/people/v/v.htm#vygotsky-lev; accessed 17.2.2009). Vygotsky also spent time on schoolchildren and researched the acquired knowledge transmitted by the teacher.

First, this chapter will clarify the term “Zone of Proximal Development” (Berk 1995; 104) followed by a presentation of Vygotsky’s point of view on successful classroom discourse. Then, the role of the teacher will be explained. Finally, Vygotsky’s theory will be transferred to working with picture books.

As the Vygotskian theory of language learning combines the teacher and the learner in an interactive model, it supports working with authentic picture books in an EFL classroom.

4.1 The Zone of Proximal Development

In his theory of language development, Vygotsky created the term “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD) meaning “the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what he or she can achieve in conjunction with another person” (Berk 1995; 104). The child is, for Vygotsky “an active learner in a world full of other people” (Cameron 2008; 6), especially adults who make the world accessible to young children. Vygotsky was sure that “what the child can do in cooperation today he can do alone tomorrow” (Berk 1995; 104). This contributes also to the child’s independence and moreover, to a positive self-awareness and self-esteem.

The ZPD plays not only a major role in working with books in a foreign language classroom but also for a general preoccupation with picture books, for example during the time of self-study where picture books are often read. The language level is not the only aspect which varies, the content might also be too challenging for some children. It is therefore essential for the teacher to observe each child individually to find out what zone could affect the proximal development. For example, the children listening to the foreign language teacher model a new question: Do you like swimming? The teacher encourages them to ask similar questions, for example, Do you like drinking orange juice? Some students might be able to use other phrases and create a new question, however, some might be able to repeat the teacher’s question and some might even have trouble repeating it correctly. For each child, the ZPD is different (cf. Cameron 2008; 6-7).

Depending on the student’s level and his or her ZPD, the teacher should prepare different scaffolding. This goes hand in hand with the modern term of differentiation which means the “adjustment of the teaching process according to the learning needs of the pupils” (Clare 2004)

4.2 Classroom Discourse

We do not only use words as a means of communication in school, but also “as objects of study, as children begin to talk about reading and writing” (Berk 1995; 114). This puts a huge emphasis on discourse either between the teacher and the child or on a child-child discourse.

Talking about reading and writing involves the concept of literacy, as introduced above. For Vygotsky, “literate activities play a major role in the development of conscious awareness of mental functions and in bringing them under voluntary control” (Berk 1995; 114). Children have to become aware of the language system and its symbols. Therefore, it is essential to introduce literature to children “in which many different types of symbolic communication […] [are] used” (Berk 1995; 114). Vygotsky believes that literacy is mainly an understanding and communication of “meaning in authentic social contexts” (Berk 1995; 114).

According to Vygotsky, a discourse where students have to answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is not authentic. On the contrary, he seeks opportunities for the children to “experiment with strategies under the watchful eye of an adult expert and to indicate the kind of assistance they need to achieve meaningful understanding” (Berk 1995; 116). To deal with books and literature in such an authentic context is therefore vital if Vygotsky’s ideas are to be carried out.

Vygotsky also created the idea of the so-called “activity centers” (Berk 1995; 117). The students can work on their own or in groups to “accomplish […] academic goals” (Berk 1995; 117). The interactions, which are organized by the pupils “permit children to assume an active voice” (Berk 1995; 117). There, they can experiment with strategies and do not have to fear any punishment.

Another idea is to carry out “individual child activities” (Berk 1995; 117). The students interact with various texts, either written by themselves or by other authors and exercise their knowledge of written material. The skills which are necessary for this activity are acquired during the activity centers mentioned above, or in a whole-class discourse.

Concerning the teacher-child discourse, Vygotsky shaped the method of reciprocal teaching. The basic idea is that a teacher and two to four children form a learning group in which they take turn leading a discussion aimed at helping the children understand a text passage and acquire new knowledge from it (Berk 1995; 118).

As Vygotsky is of the opinion that “language learning is a socially embedded process, not simply a psychologically driven process” (Gibbons; Cummins 2005; 10) his theory goes hand in hand with Bruner’s term of scaffolding as defined above.

Thus, the work of the teacher concentrates mostly on scaffolding children to participate in the discussion and on promoting a high understanding of the text at hand. Therefore, four cognitive strategies will be discussed in the following. Questioning, summarizing, clarifying, and predicting (cf. Berk 1995, 118). This guarantees that children will listen carefully and will bring in their background knowledge. Moreover, they will rethink their ideas, prove plausibility and rework what they have learned. An example taken from a class of first graders talking about a story of a snowshoe rabbit and its babies shows a successful classroom discourse:

Dialogue leader3: When [were] the babies born?

Teacher (T): That’s a good question to ask. Milly: Summer.

T.: What would happen if the babies were born in the winter? Let’s think.

Travis: The baby would be very cold. Kris: They would need food.

Travis: They don’t have no fur when they are just born. (Berk 1995; 119)

In order to create a literate classroom Vygotsky had the following ideas. First, he mentions “literature study groups” (Berk 1995; 129). Children “analyze content, share reactions, and explore questions about books with teachers and peers” (Berk 1995; 129). The teacher can introduce books from one author or books about a specific topic so that a general structure is guaranteed. Another method is the so-called “DEAR (Drop everything and read)” (Berk 1995; 129). This involves silent reading for 15-30 minutes. During this time students focus on any materials which they are interested in. “The writing workshop” (Berk 1995; 129) focuses on publishing and producing. First pupils correct and revise their written texts. If they like, they can also illustrate their own work or texts with a peer in order to publish it for the benefit of the rest of the class. Finally, “thematic units” (Berk 1995; 129) support intensive study around a thematic content. Children can bring in their interests, for example, whales and sharks. This could culminate, for example, in the presentation of a book.

4.3 Role of the Teacher

From a Vygotskian point of view, teachers are not solely mediators of knowledge. On the contrary, teachers have to fulfill various characteristics in order to succeed in their job. They have to be a “guide and supporter”, an “active participant in learning”, “a facilitator”, “an evaluator”, a “risk taker […] and problem solver […]” and “designer of a highly literate environment” (Berk 1995; 127).

As a guide, teachers are supposed to help children with difficulties, for example, help organize their questions and ideas, ensuring that children experience academic success. Being an active participant in learning means lifelong learning, even for teachers. Teachers have to explore and experiment on their own or together with children in order to acquire further knowledge and to understand the situation as a learner. Furthermore, teachers should facilitate an environment in which children can use language meaningfully and can experiment with learning strategies. He or she has to plan the curriculum according to the children’s needs and has to select appropriate material so that the children can reach their goals. As school goes hand in hand with evaluation, teachers have to evaluate the children’s work and progress. They are supposed to monitor students’ individual and joint development in order to create learning experiences to fit children’s changing needs. (cf. Berk 1995; 127). Another role teachers have to fulfill is being a risk taker and problem solver. This can be achieved by evaluating themselves through filling in special forms, for example, a teacher test (cf. Peterson 1987, 19-22). It is crucial that teachers act on behalf of the children’s benefit and do not hesitate to use new methods in order to meet up with the children’s needs.

4.4 Transferring Vygotsky’s Theory to Working with Picture Books

Vygotsky’s theory can be applied to working with picture books or literature in general. His concepts of writing workshops, literature study groups or activity centers are a good method for dealing creatively with visual and written material.


1 The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an “internationally standardised assessment that was jointly developed by participating countries and administrated to 15-year-olds in schools.”. The assessments are carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the first having taken place in 2000 (OECD 2003a; www.pisa.oecd.org/ pages/0,3417,en_32252351_32235907_1_1_1_1_1,00.html; accessed 14 4.2009).

2 Bruner describes scaffolding as “the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some tasks so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skill [he or] she is in the process of acquiring” (Gibbons; Cummins 2005; 10)

3 The teacher first serves as the dialogue leader, later a child can overtake this role. His or her tasks are to ask questions, to summarize the passage being read; he or she encourages children to predict etc. (cf. Berk 1995; 119)

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picture, books, primary, classroom, monkey, puzzle, julia, donaldson, axel, scheffler
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Melina Bresser (Author), 2009, Picture Books in the Primary EFL Classroom. "Monkey Puzzle" by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/140404


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Title: Picture Books in the Primary EFL Classroom. "Monkey Puzzle" by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

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