Picture books are one of our best and most engaging narrative teaching tools, and I love especially when I find a series to share with my students—and you! Series books allow for special opportunities to establish flow (both contextual and psychological) with similar character behaviors, narrative patterns, and themes.
I have long been an admirer of author/illustrator Jon Klassen due to the power of his minimalist illustrations, which are beautiful but also witty, and establish character emotion primarily through exaggerated eye expressions. Recently I discovered he had illustrated a trilogy with Mac Burnett now called the Shape Trilogy, consisting of (in this order, which actually is important), Triangle, Square, and Circle. In these books, we can follow the antics of several shape characters as they interact with friends.
What the books really are about, however, is thoughts. The stories center around characters planning trickery, making arbitrary rules, judging what they see, and often thinking something is one way, when we as readers know it is not. They are, therefore, perfect for scaffolding story elements of the landscape of consciousness (language about thoughts and feelings), particularly for older elementary readers who will be better equipped to enjoy the abstractness. And naturally, you can find great supports and scaffolds for these elements with Story Grammar Marker®, Critical Thinking Triangle in Action, and SGM/Braidy’s Digital Icons.
You’ll find many moments to stop and analyze the connections between Kick-Offs, Feelings, Thoughts and Plans, but below are a few I targeted with my recent use of these books (I found using the digital copies through Overdrive and my public library a wondrous option, but get ‘em any way you’d like).
I’ve discussed in this space previously that Google Slides and similar tools are great for story mapping along with MindWing’s digital icons. Just cut and paste the icons, and insert shapes which are ready to type in (just double click). One modification I made here was that these stories are good contexts for talking about what we as readers think and know, as opposed to the characters: nice moments for perspective taking.
Another feature of Google Slides is that callouts such as thought balloons (available under the Shapes Menu) make for easy creation of comics. In this case I screenshot a page from the book—though you could take a picture with your phone camera or scan the book itself—to create a visual for a student who is challenged by aspects of theory of mind (ToM). In this story moment, Circle is praising Square for what she thinks is a hidden talent of sculpting, when in reality, Square is just doing his “work” of piling up blocks. Google Slides easily allows you to search and insert images, such as the sculpture here, by selecting Insert>Image>Search the Web.
I hope you have as much fun with this series as I have. Candlewick Press also provides a nice, free activity kit here.
Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology "through a language lens." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.