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I love picture books! I love to teach students how to infer in reading! Using picture books to teach inferring is the best combination since peanut butter and jelly, in my humble opinion. I especially love to use picture books with my dual language learners. The illustrations make it so much easier for language learners to comprehend the story and participate in the lesson.
Although most books can be used to teach how to make inferences, some are better than others. Because I teach in English and Spanish (depending on the language of instruction), I am always looking for books that are available in both languages. That way, if plans change, I can still teach the same lesson, but in the opposite language.
Over the years, I have compiled a list of my favorite picture books to teach inferencing in upper elementary in both English and Spanish.
Why you should use picture books to teach inferring in upper elementary
Have I mentioned that I love picture books? I could spend hours looking through shelves filled with picture books and never get tired of it. When I first started teaching fourth grade, I was upset because I thought my days of teaching with picture books were over. Boy, was I wrong! Upper elementary students love picture books. The secret is to choose the right ones. Look for picture books that touch on issues that are relevant to your students, and they will hang on to every word.
Picture books are especially helpful with language learners. As a dual language teacher, there is always a student in my class who is learning content in their second language. Using picture books helps me level the playing field. Everyone can have at least a general understanding of the story because the illustrations help with comprehension.
Picture books also help students build vocabulary in their second language. As we read a book together, I can point to different parts of an illustration to support their understanding of a specific word. As they learn new words through reading, they will be able to create connections in their brain that will help them remember those words later. The word is now connected to a story they read. The illustrations helped make the experience even more memorable. The chance of students now remembering this word in the future is much higher.
Using picture story books to teach inferring in upper elementary
Inferring is such a difficult skill to master. Using picture books to teach inferencing makes it much easier for students to visualize and understand the sequence of events in the story. I see picture books as accommodations. They help all students access the content without making changes to the curriculum.
Picture books are also extremely engaging. In my classroom, my students love every time I pull out a picture book to teach a lesson. They will often mention that book in the future whenever we review that particular skill.
Best picture books to teach inferring
Here are my top five favorite picture books to teach inferencing in English and Spanish.
The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg
All of Allburg’s books are incredible books to teach making inferences, but “The Sweetest Fig” is one of my favorite books to teach inferencing 4th grade. The unexpected twist at the very end will have your students’ jaws on the floor and will lead to some amazing discussions. I love using this book to teach inferring because there are so many opportunities to practice the skill.
In this story, Bibot is a very mean dentist and pet owner. One day, one of his patients pays for her dental treatment with two magical figs. When eaten, the magical figs can turn Bibot’s dreams into reality. But as the saying goes, what goes around always comes around.
This book is also available in Spanish, which is perfect for my fellow bilingual teachers.
If you would like to grab a FREE read-aloud lesson plan for this book in English and Spanish, click here!
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
Enemy Pie is another great book to teach making inferences. This book is perfect for third grade but can be used with fourth graders as well. In this story, the narrator has a new neighbor and a new enemy: Jeremy Ross. His father decides to help him get rid of his enemy by baking an enemy pie. There are so many opportunities to practice inferring in this book. I especially love to use this book to make inferences about character motivation.
Scholastic Storyworks has this story available online for free! And that includes all of their teaching resources as well. From graphic organizers to quizzes, their webpage is jam-packed with valuable resources that you can use with this book to teach inferring.
For my fellow bilingual teachers, this book is also available in Spanish. Unfortunately, it is not included in the Storyworks resource, but you can get a copy of the book by clicking here.
Thank you, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco
Patricia Polacco is by far my favorite picture book author. Her books tackle important issues in a kid-friendly language. “Thank you, Mr. Falker” is an excellent picture book to teach inferring because the characters are so complex. There is so much description about the characters, and the reader must infer to determine how they feel, and why they are acting a certain way.
As with the previous book, this story is also available in Spanish, making it a great option for those of you who teach in a bilingual or dual language program.
Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina
This is a recent find, but oh my, am I glad I found it? This book is absolutely precious and a wonderful book to teach inferring. It is best for third graders, but my fourth graders enjoyed it as well. I especially love reading this book to my Spanish speakers because they can make a personal connection to the story.
In “Mango, Abuela, and Me,” Abuela has come to live with Mia’s family. The reader can infer that she has moved because Abuelo has passed away, although the author never actually says that. The reader can also infer at the beginning of the story that Abuela does not speak any English, and Mia doesn’t speak any Spanish. The book describes how the two of them work together to learn each other’s language and develop a beautiful relationship. I won’t lie – I may have chocked up a bit when I read this story for the first time.
If you need this book in Spanish, you can click here.
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
Have I mentioned that I love Patricia Polacco? Her picture books are a true work of art, and “The Junkyard Wonders” is a masterpiece. In this book, Polacco recounts her own story as a student in a special education classroom in Michigan, and the impact Mrs. Peterson had in the lives of the students in her class. It is impossible to read this book without crying. So if you plan on using it in your classroom, be prepared!
“The Junkyard Wonders” is a great picture book to teach inferring because there are so many opportunities to practice it throughout the story. Definitely plan your stopping points ahead of time, as most inferences in this book can be confirmed in the next paragraphs. With a little bit of planning, this book can really pack a punch in your instruction.
You can get the Spanish version of this book by clicking here.
Honorable mention – The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg
Unfortunately, this book is not available in Spanish. But it is so good that I couldn’t leave it out.
“The Stranger” is my number one choice of books to teach inferring. The mystery behind the stranger’s appearance and the unusual events that follow will keep your students on the edge of their seats.
Throughout the book, students will collect evidence to determine who the stranger is. Pretty much every single page of this book has text evidence that students will use to infer the stranger’s identity.
The only caveat is that students need to have some background knowledge on Jack Frost. Whenever I plan to use this book, I find ways to talk about fall and the legend of Jack Frost in the weeks prior. Just mentioning the character in passing, and what he is known for is often enough. Without this background knowledge, students will still be able to infer that the stranger is a “magical creature” who brings in the cold weather, causing the leaves to change colors during autumn, but won’t be able to name him and have a full understanding of what he “does.”
There you have them! My five (or six!) favorite books to teach inferring in both English and Spanish. Did any of your favorites make the list? Let me know in the comments.
Other blog posts you may find helpful:
How to Use Anchor Charts in your Classroom – In this blog post, I describe how I use anchor charts to support bilingualism and biliteracy.