Around the World in 80 Picture Books: Teaching Ancient Civilizations through Text Sets

By Batchelor, Katherine E. | Middle School Journal, January 2017 | Go to article overview

Around the World in 80 Picture Books: Teaching Ancient Civilizations through Text Sets


Batchelor, Katherine E., Middle School Journal


This We Believe characteristics:

* Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant

* Educators use multiple learning and teaching approaches

* Organizational structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships

It is better to travel than to arrive.

- Proverb

Young adolescents today are multimodal thinkers, learning about the world through an array of simultaneous images and words swirling around their computer screens, iPhones, or televisions. For them, life without apps, Facebook, or (gasp!) texting is the Dark Ages! This leaves many middle school social studies teachers with the daunting task of asking students to temporarily leave the 21st century and imagine ancient civilizations that flourished 8,000 years ago. In fact, many students have difficulty visualizing the daily lives and events that took place in these old worlds. Teachers look for help in a textbook to provide students with a description of life in ancient worlds, such as Egypt or Mesopotamia. Even then, the expositoiy nature of this reading can be diy and unappealing. Filled with condensed paragraphs of text, few pictures, and an unimaginable geography and language, even the most intrigued reader may be left wanting more. Picture books might help, especially for the learner who craves visualization.

Thus, this article introduces text sets of picture books that address 10 ancient civilizations commonly explored in middle school in addition to instructional strategies that could be used for critical and multicultural literacy exploration. The epigraph that introduces this article can be used to help students link traveling as a metaphor for learning, which serves as an ideal concept for exemplary middle level education, where learning as exploration is as rewarding or even more so than the final destination.

We begin our journey by discussing the importance of picture books and text sets in the middle school classroom while stopping at each "pit stop" on our journey to highlight picture book titles that will engage students. We end with shared literacy strategies and reflection that will assist social studies teachers in implementing the various text sets described throughout this article.

Importance of picture books

Picture books offer many benefits in the middle school classroom. For the purpose of this article, the picture book is defined in its broadest sense as a book in which the language, illustrations, and design each play a significant role in telling the story. Traditionally, picture books can be fiction or nonfiction, usually 32 pages in length, but some of the nonfiction picture books selected are 56 pages long. Picture books provide more information than a textbook alone (Vacca et al., 2009), and by collecting numerous tides centered on an ancient civilization in a text set, students can engage in learning from multiple viewpoints. According to Vacca and Vacca (2002), "picture books produce a variety of meaning because the illustrations enhance the story, clarify and define concepts, and set a tone for the words" (p. 52). By providing a variety of meaning, picture books can also be advantageous to English language learners (ELLs) in the classroom. Since ELLs rely on "contextual clues to consUuct content area meaning in a language they do not fully master" (Rubinstein-Avila, 2003, p. 130), additional visual scaffolding can be implemented with the inclusion of picture book readings into the curriculum.

Seen as a multimodal reading experience, picture books incorporate "reconsUuctions of the past through words, images, and design features intended to help readers make sense of historical events and concepts" (Youngs & Serafini, 2011, p. 115). This means that students can experience history in a Uansactional way, immersing themselves in events as they relate to individuals who lived earlier and highlighting relationshipbuilding that should form a primary foundation of any successful middle level curriculum. …

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