The illustrations in The smartest giant in town support the words very closely, but the additional mini-stories that appear via the ad hoc appearance of other story characters leave lots of space for chattering and wondering. Annett describes observing a teacher in Germany who let the children talk about the illustrations in German before she read the words on the page. She did this with 6-7 year olds and 8-9 year olds, who have 50 minutes of English once a week. She described the process like this: " The teacher being [very] experienced and knowing the children very well gave them a lot of time to speak about the pictures in the mother tongue just supplying individual words in English here and there such as animal names (frog, squirrel) for example before reading out the text on one page in English." I really like this idea, and it's something I do a lot when sharing picturebooks with children and upon rereading picturebooks children begin to describe and label illustrations in English.
Annett presented at a conference about this picturebook and a section of her presentation was summarised thus: "Although the children’s initial responses prompted by the pictures in the book were exclusively in their mother tongue, Annett argued that they are nonetheless facilitating L2 learning. By reading the pictures and talking about them, she stated that children construct a framework of possible meanings that may become more elaborate and more precise as they decode visual images and language structures during repeated storytelling sessions. The pictures act as a form of scaffolding device in the same way as recurrent language structures in the literary text provide an ‘entry point or way into the story’ (Cameron 2001: 163). Annett stated that the children’s first language was an invaluable aid in that process as individual words used by the children in their L1 can be taken up by the teacher to introduce new language items in the L2."
Rereading a picturebook is essential in enabling the L1 to support the L2, I can't emphasise enough the importance of sharing a picturebook at least three times with a group of children, not only does it help them move from L1 to L2, but it also gives children time to look and listen and understand, each time they'll pick up something new and different. As EFL teachers we focus on children's imitation of the words on a picturebook page, but in fact the illustrations also have significance, and words are needed to describe them. I've been saying this at conferences, but I'l say it again, picturebooks are pictures and words and both can be used to promote language use.
Annett described some follow up activities which are nice to feature here too. She used a handout from the British Council in Hong Kong, which can be down loaded here. Here's a scan of the mix and match activity the older children did. As you can see, the song is an excellent way to focus on language, as it's repetitious and cumulative.
They also looked at thank you cards, which they wrote in German, though a similar activity could be done in English with children who are more confident in their writing skills.
I'd like to thank Annett for sharing some of her thoughts and ideas around this picturebook, and for allowing me to share some of the children's work. Here's the reference she used:
Cameron, L. 2001. Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.