Ideas for Third Grade Lessons Using Picture Books in the Classroom

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Why Use Picture Books?

Some of our favorite stories from childhood are picture books. Think back to when you were in primary school. Do you remember a book your teacher read you? Do you remember doing an activity with it? Give your students those same kind of memories. Using this genre doesn’t have to end at second grade. Even though many of your third graders will be reading at a level higher, you can still teach concepts with picture books. They are fun and an easy way to introduce a unit. These books also reach both auditory and visual learners, which is important to consider when thinking about your students’ different learning styles.

Merging the Two

When looking at your curriculum, you’ll notice that some objectives are better suited for third grade lessons using picture books than others. For example, in your science curriculum, you’ll most likely teach a lesson on plant life cycles. Immediately, The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle pops into your mind to use with your students. Reading The Tiny Seed to your students will get their minds ready to learn new concepts as they revisit the old ideas they already know about the life cycle of a plant. The best part–you are doing this review with colorful illustrations and a classic story. You will catch students’ interest, and you can connect new concepts to the tangible ideas in Eric Carle’s book.

The easiest way to use these types of books is to first look at your curriculum and read through your objectives. If a certain title comes to mind, then jot it down next to the objective. When it comes time to teach that concept, check the book out of the library to share with your students.

In social studies and science, picture books are perfect for introducing a new unit, showing students a new way to look at an already mastered objective, or for further understanding of an objective. For example, in social studies at this grade level, students often study the differences between a rural area, a suburb and a city. You could use The Lonely Phonebooth by Peter Ackerman to show a New York neighborhood and different people in a city–especially if you teach in a rural area.

Where Do I FInd Them?

Besides picking the brains of your friendly librarians, here are some other ideas for finding picture books that would be perfect to use with third grade students:

  • Ask your fellow third grade teachers to share their personal library titles or ideas for using these books in their classrooms.
  • Do a search on the Internet or a bookstore website. If you are looking for a picture book for a unit on simple machines, then try a search, such as “children’s books simple machines” or “simple machines picture books.” See what titles you come up with. Then talk to fellow teachers and librarians about whether they’ve heard of the titles.
  • Read children’s book blogs. Book bloggers are doing the work for teachers, parents and librarians. They are reading books, reviewing them and even offering ideas for how to use them in classrooms. To find useful children’s book blogs, you can use an Internet search or ask your colleagues, friends and even family members if they read any book blogs. You may be surprised how many people use these sites to choose the books they read.

Three Titles and Ideas to Use Them

Although teachers in different districts may have various objectives to meet, in general, third graders learn similar concepts. You can use the following list for third grade lessons ideas for incorporating picture books.

  • To teach the trait of organization with the six plus one traits of writing, you can use the book Meanwhile Back at the Ranch by Trinka Hakes Noble. In this lesson, read the book to students and ask them to comment on how the book is organized. What transition words are used throughout the text? Then students can create their own fun writing piece, using similar organization and transition words, such as “Meanwhile Back in the Third Grade Classroom” or “Meanwhile Back in the Cafeteria.”
  • With a unit on government in social studies, you can share Duck for President by Doreen Cronin. This is a hilarious book (with many “jokes” only the teachers may get) that teaches a lot about the election process as well as the responsiblity that goes with a government office. You can use this book to discuss these concepts with students. When you are specifically discussing government vocabulary and lessons, use Duck For President to help them remember these concepts.
  • Area and perimeter are often hard for third graders to picture and to differentiate between. You can use the picture book Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! by Marilyn Burns to introduce these concepts. Your students can solve the dinner seating problem in the story along with the characters to practice their math skills. They’ll be having fun and involved in the story, and they may not realize they are even doing math!

Not only can you teach different subject matter with these books, but you can also keep students interested in reading and possibly get them to look for a more advanced book on the same subject, depeding on their reading level. Share with your fellow teachers your ideas for using books and create a library of ideas for third grade teachers. One of these days, you may meet a former student who says, “I remember when you read us Duck for President. That was my all time favorite book!”


Author’s experience: Sixteen years of experience as a preschool and elementary teacher

Book blogger: Margo Dill’s Read These Books and Use Them (

Ackerman, Peter. The Lonely Phonebooth. David R. Godine, 2010.

Burns, Marilyn. Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! Scholastic Paperbacks, 2008.

Carle, Eric. The Tiny Seed. Little Simon, 2009.

Cronin, Doreen. Duck for President. Atheneum, 2004.

Noble, Trinka Hakes. Meanwhile Back at the Ranch. Puffin, 1992.