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6 Ways to Use Books in the Art Classroom to Support ELA and Visual Literacy

Home / 6 ways to use books in art classes to support ELA and visual literacy

Literacy in art classes can be accessible and fun! students can understand while listening at a higher language level than reading. Reading aloud teaches important skills like focus and context to create meaning. It can also expose students to new worlds and perspectives and expand their language bank. If we can help students improve their writing, reading and critical thinking skills, it can support deeper art production and appreciation. Combine book literacy with visual literacy in the art room and see amazing things happen!

The University of Kansas discussed the importance of literacy and defined it as the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. ELA literacy focuses on reading, writing, listening and speaking. visual competence focuses on identifying, reading and understanding images. In an image-based world, colors, shapes, and even emojis are all part of visual literacy. Understanding these two areas of literacy and how they influence each other is necessary to succeed in today’s society.

books on a shelf

Let’s explore six ways to use books in art classes to encourage ELA and visual literacy for all grade levels.

Note: Be sure to review all books in advance to determine if they fit your district and school curriculum and are appropriate to share with your students.

1. Read aloud while students work.

During independent studio time, read an artist’s biography or story that relates to your study unit. The class will be so eager to hear the story that they will tell each other to shut up!

2. Play audiobook.

Many schools and local libraries have a facility for borrowing audio books. As with the idea above, play an audio book while the class works on an assignment to keep them focused. Students love the voices and sound effects that an audio book can bring!

pillows on the floor for the story lesson

3. Illustrate bookstores.

Just like books, art can tell a story. Learning the parts of a story can be very useful. One part of a story to focus on is the plot. As you read, pause and ask the class what the plot is. Ask students to reason about what might happen next. Students can share it orally or draw it in their sketchbooks. This keeps the engagement going because they want to hear if their predictions are true!

See the FLEX lesson for more connections Literacy through storytelling. From Morse code and character sculptures to interpreting landscapes, this is an excellent reading and writing resource!

Students draw book scene

4. Review ELA concepts.

Link ELA concepts to this book. Not only does this ensure that all students have the same basic knowledge, but it also reinforces key concepts in new ways.

Here are some basic ones ELA concepts for each secondary school level:

  • Elementary
    Identify characters, locations, major story events, traits, and themes.
  • middle school
    Determine the theme and plot, and analyze how the setting shapes the characters.
  • Secondary school
    Identify steps in the textual description of a process, analyze a series of cause-and-effect events, and locate the central idea.

5. Try bookbinding with your class.

Create books in an art classroom using recycled items or using professional-level materials. Bookbinding takes many forms and has a rich history. Use books as tools for students to write and illustrate their own story, or use them to gather information, like a sketchbook or graphic organizer.

Here are a few ideas for making your own books:

  • bookbinding
    Use recycled paper and a durable cover like chipboard or recycled paper Cornflakes box. Try a simple binding method like this Japanese ribbon technique, this circle bookor this square smash book.
  • flip books
    This is a student favorite, but it requires a lot of paper and creativity. Flipbooks are also a great introduction to animation. You can use it to create simple flip books Blocks of sticky notes. You can also build your own with copy paper and a stapler.
  • origami books
    Origami helps students focus, follow directions, and use hand-eye coordination skills. Here are two guides (1, 2) to get you started.
  • sketchbooks
    Sketchbooks are a staple in most art classrooms. Students can brainstorm ideas, try new techniques, and record their processes. Sketchbooks can be expensive, and often our budgets don’t allow for sketchbooks for every student. Learn how to make your own sketchbooks Here.

6. Discuss color symbolism.

Discuss how color can bring additional meaning. Help students associate colors with the main enemies and protagonists in a story. Select color schemes to convey the mood of a specific scene. Create artwork that focuses on color to illustrate a character or scene. Set a timer to make this announcement a great ringer!

stack of books

reading books aloud or quietly; Listen to them, share them, create them, fold them or bind them together. Imagine stories, record them, illustrate them or write them down. ELA literacy and visual literacy are both important tools to be able to read and write in this world. When paired, they create new connections and reinforce existing ones. Bring the art of literature into your classroom with the ideas outlined above and discover new levels of creativity and engagement!

Tell us your favorite way to integrate books into the classroom.

What is your favorite book to share with your students?



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