...from images to words and back again

1: Rivers of Reading

Creating a classroom ethos where diverse language and literacy practices are valued.

Understanding and evaluating children's reading practices

Visual Rivers of Reading show how children can begin to build a visual representation of their literacy practices outside school through using a river metaphor. The River can also be extended to include tributaries for other household members reading practices.

The visual nature of the task allows children to respond creatively to questions about their reading habits and increase overall awareness of literacy use outside school.

The task also allows the teacher to assess the types of home literacy practices that children engage in and plan subsequent reading activities around the children’s interests.

Task: Ask the children to observe their own reading practices and the practices of their family (optional) and write, draw, or stick information about what they read onto their River of Reading.

In order to maximise the children’s involvement in the task, it helps to create a template and provide a finished model. This also helps the teacher to highlight their own role as a user of literacy outside the classroom. Click below for an example.

2. Starting to Read

Starting the reading process with each book may seem like a simple task...

Starting the Process of Reading

...but in each case introducing the book and generating an interest in reading has to be carefully considered in order to optimise a the children’s willingness to participate.

Tip: The children may be keen to begin taking about reading following on from the River of Reading task and it is important to capture and use this momentum.

Introducing books into the classroom may seem obvious, but it's important to spend time with the children talking about key themes to be explored and share the key learning intentions. This means children will start to activate prior knowledge and think about the role visuals play in their lives.

Task: To emphasise the role of visuals in meaning making and address the issue of older children being sceptical of using Picturebooks, present the children with the text only from The Rabbits. Ask the children to analyse the words and illustrate using their own ideas.

The children may focus on the animals and environment described within the text and use their previous cultural knowledge to produce illustrations.

As the text progresses the pictures may become more sinister. This task sets the scene for a discussion of the need to carefully read images and words together as both contribute meaning to the message.

3. Meaning Making

Entering the world of the book is vital for children to understand the purpose and content of the text.

Entering the world of the book

One of the most important aspects of reading is the ability to make links to the texts with life experiences. Children need frequent opportunities to enter the world of the book and share their thoughts and feelings in response to the words and images.

Task: For teachers to use when they want to organise ground work and discussion. These suggestions help maximise the potential of looking and talking in small groups.

1. Spend time looking and the front and back cove, the end papers, and any other information available.

2. Prepare a set of prompt questions to accompany each text. Focus the questions around: what can you see? What does it remind you of? What do you think?

3. Provide clear guidance to the children for modelling the process of looking, thinking, and responding to each double page spread within the book.

4. Invite the children to facilitator and running a look, think, share pattern of response.

5. Establish turn taking strategies that allow each child time to respond and listen.

6. Take notes of the questions and themes discussed by children in small groups and share these in whole class plenary sessions.

4. Image Annotations

Using annotations is creative tool that encourages careful reading of visuals.

Annotations to Excavate Meaning

Children focus on certain elements in a book while at other points they gloss over in a rush to find out what happens next. It is sometimes necessary to slow the reading process down and use a strategy that allows children to examine the visuals in more detail. Using annotations is creative tool that encourages careful reading of visuals.

This task involves making an A4 colour photo-copy of an image and posting this onto an A3 sheet of white paper, this creates a border for the pupils to make “annotations”.

Task: Invite the children to write in the margins, using arrows or lines to link their comments to the image. Ask them to think and then write comments related to what they see and what they think. Ways to do this include asking questions of the characters or adding speech bubbles to represent what the characters could be thinking.

Children find the task easier to complete if they can look at an example beforehand or complete an example as a shared class activity, perhaps even using an interactive whiteboard to capture the comments.

Children can work on the task individually or in pairs, using different coloured pens to differentiate each child’s response facilitates follow up discussion and assessment by the teacher. In pairs the children are free to discuss and share their ideas, as well as support each other with written responses. EAL children can be encouraged to use their home languages in responses or translate their talk into written comments.

5. Text Annotations

Text annotations encourage close textual analysis, which also allows children to focus on language choices and structural aspects of text.

Text Annotations

Annotating written text encourages close textual analysis which also allows children to focus on language choices and structural aspects of a book. Making annotations can be a useful developmental tool for assisting with comprehension and enhancing understanding.

This strategy address particular targets in Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland: in the areas of finding and using information, understanding analysing and evaluating texts and enjoyment and choice; and in the National Literacy Strategy in the areas of understanding and interpreting texts and engaging with and responding to texts.

Task: Invite the children to write in the margins, using arrows or lines to link their comments to the text. Ask them to think and then write comments related to what they read and what they think. Ways to do this include asking questions of the sentence structure, vocabulary, or questioning the content itself. This activity should always be done within the context of the whole book. It may help to highlight specific sections of the text that you wish the children to comment on.

This is undoubtedly a complex task demanding a high level of reading comprehension and of higher order thinking from the children. They are used to accepting the written word as authoritative and to having questions on the text being asked by teachers. This task hands over the responsibility to the reader and leaves them with more freedom to ask the questions they want to ask.

6. Photo Journals

While the use of photography as a tool in the classroom is not new, its potential is not often exploited.

Photo Journals

Photo journals invite the children to express elements of their home life in school and provide meaningful contexts for border crossing conversations between members of the class community. Each child has a unique story to tell and teachers can work with children to enable them to express their identity using this visual medium.

Creating photo journals helps develop higher order thinking skills as children make decisions about what pictures to take, how to compose the shot, choosing the pictures to include in the photo journal and creating a narrative by placing them in a particular order.

Task: Invite the children to take a single use instamatic (24 frames) camera home and take pictures in order to compile a photo journal in the style of Gervelie’s Journey. On completing the photography task they should hand in their cameras to be developed. The children should then select images (on average 5 or 6), arrange the pictures on A3 paper and use captions to explain the pictures. The photo journals can first be shared within the classroom and then displayed as part of a presentation to their peers and parents.

This strategy supports talking and listening, reading and writing through the juxtaposition of a visual and printed text which is then shared in an oral form. Like the other visual tools described in this project, photography is particularly powerful when working with children who struggle to express themselves orally or in writing. Children often feel more comfortable using a camera than illustrating. Additionally, cameras give them control over the images they choose to capture and to share.

Rivers of Reading Example 1:


Rivers of Reading Example 2:


Texts were displayed for the following purposes in children’s Rivers:

1. Literacy for accessing or displaying information

2. For pleasure or self expression

3. For establishing or maintaining relationships

4. Skills development

5. For religious practices

We observed an increased awareness of how much reading children were engaged in outside class contact time. Also, children who had not thought of themselves as readers began to build up confidence in the amount of reading they engaged in and showed a willingness to try out different types of texts and discuss texts with their parents.


Questions to help analyse and evaluate the model River in class:

1. Why is some content drawn and some stuck?

2. How many different types of texts have been included?
a. Why do we read these texts: for enjoyment? Information?

3. What other types of reading do we do?
a. Could something have been missed out?


Illustration Example 1:


Illustration Example 2:


Example Prompts for 'The Rabbits':

Start looking at the front cover in class, telling the children not to open it. Let them look then ask:

1. Tell me what you see on the front cover? What does the picture on the front cover make you think of?

2. You may wish to talk about the difference between the author and illustrator based on their biography and photograph on the front and back flaps. How do you think they work together?

3. (Endpapers) What can you tell me about these pages? Do they remind you of anything?

4. Let’s turn the page. What can you tell me about this picture?

5. (Title page) Look carefully at this page. Think back to the front endpaper. What seems to be happening?

6. For each of the pages you can use the following prompts:
a. Tell me about anything you’re looking at.

b. Can you talk to me about what you’re seeing and what it makes you think about?

c. Does it remind you of anything you know or have seen before?

d. Do you notice anything special about the use of colour/perspective/patterns/shapes/the space on the page?

e. Why do you think the rabbits were drawn like this?

f. Who are the rabbits? Who are the other animals?

g. What do you think this page is trying to tell us?

h. Can you speak aloud your thinking as you look at this page?

i. The illustrator is making a story in pictures. What story do you see? Is it the same story in words?

j. Do you find the words or the pictures more interesting? Would the words still be interesting without the pictures?

k. Is there anything you don’t understand?

l. What is this book about?


What We Observed:

Children need to be given opportunities to make these types of responses in order to process the main themes developed in the books.

As the children progressed through the texts they became more willing to discuss with each other and challenged their existing knowledge.

Entering the world of the book is vital for children to understand the purpose and content of the text. It allows children to bring the text to life and make meaningful links as well as providing teachers with an insight into how children are making sense of the plot, themes, and structure of the book. By creating space and time for looking at and talking about a set of texts, teachers can encourage critical reading skills.


Children made links between aspects of the text and their own lives. This was as simple as remarking that they have visited a desert that looks similar to the landscape in The Rabbits.


When they made links to other media encountered in their lives such as books, television, and films. Many children made a link between watching the news with their family and the war in Afganistan.


When they discussed plots, characters, settings, and scenes.


When they discussed the layout and colours. Many children remarked about the differences between the photographs and illustrations as well as striking patterns on some pages. Many used these patterns when they used their own photojournals.


Extending the Tasks for Small Group Discussions:

The texts produced a richness of discussion that was hard to capture in its entirety making it a challenge for teachers to decide how to manage the use of small group discussion work and how to capture what was said.

One strategy when managing groups was to use a handheld recorder. While children held the recorder they had the floor and others had to listen.

These recordings could be listened to by the teacher or children as an aid for later work and plenary sessions.


Annotation Example 1:

Copyright © Annemarie Young and Anthony Robinson 2009. Reproduced by permission of Frances Lincoln Ltd.


Annotation Example 2:

Copyright © Annemarie Young and Anthony Robinson 2009. Reproduced by permission of Frances Lincoln Ltd.


What We Observed:

The Annotations of the images such as those from The Rabbits is a way to engage young readers in the critical building of meaning in a story. It fosters reflection and questioning and the use of the imagination. Importantly, the impact on the affective domain was clear, since all the children participated with much enthusiasm and excitement, and as they interrogated the visual images their cognition of the storyline improved. This brought reading alive for many children as well as giving both teacher and pupil an artefact for reflection and subsequent revisiting. Therefore, the annotation can serve as a tool to encourage quieter pupils to talk about the story by using the annotation that they have created as evidence for the story that they wish to tell.


Annotation Example:


What We Observed:

When asked to respond to written text many children perceived the task to be challenging and voiced their concerns, showing a clear need for an extended preparation period in conjunction with whole class practice. However, there is no doubt that the skills are worth developing given the centrality of understanding, analysis and evaluation that is a focus in Literacy and English and Language Across Learning in the Curriculum for Excellence.



This task requires more complex evaluative judgement and consequently greater concentration. This task is a natural extension to the annotations of visual elements of books. It requires the development of close reading skills and the ability to categorise responses or at least recognise the different kinds of responses that can be made. It adds considerably to the overall comprehension of the book and encourages thinking beyond the text. Children can also decode meaning and show their comprehension of text in an alternative medium to writing, so it is particularly beneficial to children who can be overwhelmed with the process of responding all the time in a written format. Finally, it is can be used as a preparatory tool for the kinds of reading tasks that will be encountered in secondary education and beyond.


Journal Example 1:


Journal Example 2:



We found that four distinct narratives were being represented by the children:
• People who matter in my life (parents, family, photographs of people, teachers)
• Places that matter in my life (school, home)
• Artefacts that matter in my life (electronic gadgets, gifts, photographs)
• Representations of what I do outside my home (day trips and activities)

As well as learning to use a camera and reflect on photography, this task creates bridges between home and school, encourages intercultural communication, and involves visual and digital literacies. The task can be extended in many ways depending on the teaching and learning goals (to analysing photographs in non-fiction texts or in advertisements, for example). However, linking the task to a particular text that also uses photography will enhance visual skills and show yet another way of approaching a particular topic such as migration.

The photographs are windows into the lives of children and ultimately increase peer to peer intercultural awareness as well as supporting teachers' knowledge of their students through the sharing of life narratives.