5 Winter Picture Books to Teach Figurative Language

In college, my beloved Reading Methods professor read us picture books at the beginning of class. As twenty-something-old college students, we relished those five-ten minutes it took for her to read a book. We could relax, get lost in something other than student teaching hours, seminars, and projects, and just enjoy a good story. When she read us a picture book for the very first time, she asked, “Did you enjoy that?” Our response was, “Of course, we did!” She went on to say that if we, as grown adults, enjoy a picture book this much, then don’t discount it for older elementary students, middle schoolers, or even high schoolers. It was one of those ah-ha moments I’ve clearly held onto ever since. Today, we are going to dive into 5 winter pictures books to teach figurative language.

As a teacher who has taught all three levels of students: elementary, middle, and high school, her philosophy has proven true as I have used picture books quite often to teach concepts, as a brain break, and to ignite a love of reading and writing in students.

Picture Books as Mentor Text

Picture books are being used as mentor text more and more. Just because a book is written for younger students doesn’t mean the author didn’t devote hours to that piece of writing, perfecting every word, every character, and every storyline. Just because it’s geared toward younger students doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t amazing. Using picture books to teach students how to write is the beginning of students connecting authentic, real-world literature to their own writing.

When teaching writing, I love to teach figurative language, a concept explored in literature classes as we analyze stories and novels. Think about your favorite author and you probably don’t think about how many similes or metaphors they used; however, you do think about how descriptive their characters were or how they got the setting just right for you to imagine it clearly. Great authors use figurative language so smoothly that you don’t even realize it. Figurative language takes descriptive writing to the next level. It adds a creative flair to help readers understand the words and descriptions even more clearly. That’s a writing skill I hope my students can grasp.

The following picture books can be utilized as wonderful mentor text to teach figurative language. Plus, they’re based in winter, so it fits in nicely with the season, and if your students are writing a winter story, these books will be great inspiration.

1. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

A Caldecott Medal winner, this book breathes figurative language. It is in almost every sentence. This book paints such a lovely, timeless, still scene of winter. It is a soothing picture book that students will enjoy and glean a lot from on how to use figurative language.

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Publisher’s Synopsis: Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is. Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.

Examples of figurative language:

Simile: The trees stood still as giant statues. / Somewhere behind us, a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song. 

Personification: A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in. They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when their voices faded away, it was as quiet as a dream.

Alliteration: Our feet crunched over the crisp snow./ He looked up searching the stars.

Metaphor: The moon made his face into a silver mask. 

These are just a couple of examples from Owl Moon. This book is a wellspring of figurative language. 

2. Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Snowflakes Fall is a wonderfully descriptive picture book all about the beauty of snow, the winter season, the children who enjoy it, and even the blessings found at the end of the winter season. Not only does this book contain a blizzard of figurative language, but the deep meaning and motivation behind this book are also inspiring. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: Snowflakes fall to sit on gardens and evergreen trees. / Frantic, icy snowflakes scratch the window glass./ Branches fly and shadows darken dreams. 

Simile: Snowflakes fall, drift, and swirl together like the voices of children. 

Alliteration:On its loved library, And its familiar flagpole 

3. Bright Winter Night, by Alli Brydon

This adorable picture book has beautiful illustrations, incorporates the forest animals working together as a team, and has rhyming words. All of these elements will intrigue students, but it also has some great examples of figurative language. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: The forest calls, and creatures come: big and small, one by one. They sense there is a task to do as night descends, replacing blue. On one bright winter night, a group of woodland creatures emerges from the forest. Despite their differences, they start to build something together, using items found on the forest floor. What are they making? And how quickly can they build it? Something special is happening tonight, and soon the animals are off—in a race to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most astounding wonders! With lyrical text and sparkling artwork, Bright Winter Night is a celebration of the joy and beauty of nature and the special gift of friendship and togetherness.

Examples of figurative language:

Metaphor: The wolf pack launches with a start and races through the forest’s heart. 

Onomatopoeia: The sleigh careens, the rabbits jump as the rest go BUMP BUMP BUMP. 

Personification: The colors dazzle, glow, and blaze-the flashes sizzle, shock and amaze!/ The magic in the winter’s air drifts all around them, everywhere. 

4. The Snow Dancer, by Addie Boswell

Not only are the illustrations gorgeous in The Snow Dancer, but the word choice is the perfect example of descriptive writing. The figurative language is also amazingly abundant in this story. Additionally, if you wanted to choose one book to focus on onomatopoeia, this one is it! 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Young dancer Sofia wakes up to a quiet, white world—it’s a snow day! She makes her way outside to the neighborhood park, where a field awaits her, white and shining and open. It isn’t long before the rest of the neighborhood wakes its sleepy head—and the other kids make their way to the park, scattering all of Sofia’s beautiful silence. But with the help of a new young friend, Sofia is ready to show everyone what a snow dancer can do on a perfect day like this. With lyrical language and gorgeous art, this book sparkles with all the joy and beauty of a snow day.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: All through the night, they fell-frosting the rooftops, fluffing the sidewalks, laying fuzzy hats on the fire hydrants. 

Alliteration: She sniffed the cold, clean air. 

Onomatopoeia: Whooomph! She fell down the hidden steps./ Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She hopscotched down the invisible sidewalk.  (There are so many more examples of Onomatopoeia!)

Simile: The sun shone like a giant spotlight. The soccer field gleamed like a giant stage. /Outside the world sparkled and glistened. 

5. Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak

I love this series of books. Kenard Pak has a picture book that says goodbye to every season and hello to another. These straightforward books with gorgeous illustrations use personification for the entirety of the story, as parts of the season speak as if they are animate. Not only is there a plethora of personification examples, but the author uses other figurative language examples as well. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: As leaves fall from their trees, animals huddle against the cold, and frost creeps across windows, everyone knows―winter is on its way! Join a brother and sister as they explore nature and take a stroll through their twinkling town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with everything from the setting sun to curious deer, they say goodbye to autumn and welcome the glorious first snow of winter in Kenar Pak’s Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter.

Examples of figurative language: 

Alliteration: Autumn afternoon/Setting sun/wispy winds/…Swept into the sky

Personification: Now that the wispy winds have come, we fall from the oak tree branches and are swept into the sky! (Leaves)/ Our pine-needle branches shiver in the wind while you sleep. (There are many examples of personification!)

Metaphor: Hello, snowflakes. Hello. We fall in a white, misty curtain and muffle all the sounds around you. 

Simile: Hello, clouds. Hello. We cover the sky like a downy, soft blanket. 

Activities: 

To further practice identifying and writing figurative language, check out this FREE Picture Book Figurative Language Activity we have!

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We also have Figurative Language Posters available in our store as well!

Click here to grab yours today!

Conclusion:

Using winter picture books as mentor text to teach figurative language is a great way to provide authentic examples for students. Picture books can be utilized for any grade level as a way for students to see real writing examples that have figurative language and to practice identifying figurative language. Also, winter picture books bring just the right coziness that makes reading so fun and delightful. 

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How to Teach Writing with Lemony Snicket

“All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” ― Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket knows just how important reading is. Daniel Handler, the author behind the pseudonym/character of Lemony Snicket, is known widely for his novels, A Series of Unfortunate Events. He has also written several picture books for children under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket. These include The Dark, Goldfish Ghost, The Bad Mood and the Stick, and The Lump of Coal.

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket regularly breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader, using a rare second-person point of view. Lemony Snicket is seen as an additional character and narrator created by Daniel Handler. Snicket explains complex vocabulary, foreshadows events, tells the reader about himself, and directly interacts with the audience based on the story. This is what Lemony Snicket is known for. 

No wonder students and teachers alike enjoy his books. His unique way of writing, coupled with his dynamic and eccentric stories, make for a powerful combination in children’s literature.

Mentor Text is a book or literary work that serves as an example of writing for students to emulate. A mentor text is writing that is studied for author’s craft, word choice, and other skills to help students learn how to effectively write. 

Lemony Snicket is a wonderful author to utilize for mentor text in the classroom. 

Point of View

His books are the perfect examples of teaching point of view, particularly the rare second-person point of view. 

Although A Series of Unfortunate Events can be seen as a third-person omniscient point of view as all the characters’ feelings and thoughts are explained, it is also second-person as Lemony Snicket talks to the reader directly. By speaking to the reader, students gain a clearer view, explanations, and another perspective, all within the same book. 

For example: “It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” -The Bad Beginning

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.” – The Bad Beginning

“I don’t know if you know this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.” -The Bad Beginning

“For instance, if you are a bank robber – although I hope you aren’t – you might go to the bank a few days before you planned to rob it.” -The Bad Beginning 

Students can see how Lemony Snicket uses a second-person point of view in an interesting and unique way, and they can incorporate this into their writing. 

Word Choice

Word choice is an important part of writing. The words we choose as writers make our stories interesting and dynamic, drawing in the reader. Lemony Snicket has a very unique word choice. His word choice is often a mixture of sarcasm, humor, and enlightenment. Snicket, or Handler, is an effective writer utilizing precise language to portray the story. Students will become inspired to write in their own individualistic way.

Here are some wonderful word choice examples:

“The book was long, and difficult to read, and Klaus became more and more tired as the night wore on. Occasionally his eyes would close. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over.” -The Bad Beginning 

“If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.” -The Wide Window

Figurative Language

Writers use figurative language to help readers better understand what is being described in a relatable way. Figurative language, from similes to metaphors, from onomatopoeia to personification, is utilized as a type of word choice that helps bring the reader deeper into the story. Lemony Snicket has a penchant for unique figurative language. 

Here are some examples of similes: 

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.” -The Slippery Slope

“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.” -The Grim Grotto

“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.” -The Beatrice Letters

“A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.” – Horseradish

Lemony Snicket loves to use another type of figurative language: personification.

For example: “This is my knife. It is very sharp and very eager to hurt you.” – The Reptile Room

In fact, he wrote a whole picture book on the concept. The Dark is about a young boy scared of…you guessed it…the dark. Dark is personified throughout this book and even speaks to the main character.

Dark is also a cute picture book to read around Halloween for upper elementary to middle school students. We have a whole unit on it, with emphasis on teaching personification among other skills, for grades 4-7. Check it out now! 

We also have figurative language posters that my be helpful to you. Check it out here!

Grab yours today!

Mood

Writers use word choice to create a mood. The mood is how a reader feels while encountering a book. It is the emotional response that writers try to get readers to elicit through specific word choices.

Lemony Snicket is outstanding at this, especially in A Series of Unfortunate Events. As he uses a second-person point of view, he sets certain moods for the reader. One of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen to evoke the mood of deep sadness is as follows: 

“The way sadness works is one of the strange riddles of the world. If you are stricken with a great sadness, you may feel as if you have been set aflame, not only because of the enormous pain, but also because your sadness may spread over your life, like smoke from an enormous fire. You might find it difficult to see anything but your own sadness, the way smoke can cover a landscape so that all anyone can see is black. You may find that if someone pours water all over you, you are damp and distracted, but not cured of your sadness, the way a fire department can douse a fire but never recover what has been burnt down.” -The Bad Beginning

Students can read Lemony Snicket or Handler’s books cover to cover to truly understand how his word choice effectively creates mood, but even well-picked quotes can show students how to evoke a mood in their own writing. 

Conclusion

As a teacher, I have used A Series of Unfortunate Events as read-aloud books, one after the other. We would pause and discuss the author’s craft of Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler. By utilizing his writing and focusing on specific quotes, students can see isolated examples of precise skills they can use in their own writing. One of my favorite college professors always said, “The more a student reads, the better writer they will be.” I highly recommend that students read Lemony Snicket’s novels and picture books to be inspired to create their own unique and wonderful writing. 

How to Write a Biography: Upper Elementary to Middle School

Writing a biography can be a daunting task. When students hear the assignment of writing a biography, they may have thoughts of long, boring essays or a tedious 10-page book report. There are various ways to tackle writing a biography, and they can even be fun in the process! Let’s look at some less intimidating ways to get your kiddos to write a biography, whether in elementary or middle school.

Step 1: Read a Biography

The first step for students before writing a biography is to read one. They need to see a real-life example before tackling their own biography assignment. Elementary students can read biography picture books or Who Was? biography novels. Biography picture books are especially interesting to students as the splendid pictures bring the person to life. 

Here are some picture books we recommend for younger students: 

I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer

The Girl who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne

Upper elementary students love the Who Was? novel series. These books are more challenging, contain some pictures, and are age-appropriate. We recommend:

Who Was? Anne Frank by Anne Abramson

Who Were? The Tuskegee Airmen by Sherri L. Smith

Who Was? Selena by Max Bisantz

Middle school-aged students can read a variety of biographies from sixth graders reading Who Was? to advanced readers conquering even adult biographies. Some biographies or autobiographies my middle school students have read and loved are: 

I Am Malala by Malala Youfsazai

Gifted Hands The Ben Carson Story by Gregg Lewis

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

Step 2: Research a Person

Once students have read a biography to gain an understanding of what one looks like and how it is organized, as well as more about the person they are learning about, they can complete research from the biography or autobiography. A simple graphic organizer to help students organize crucial information would suffice. Important information that the student should gather from their book includes: 

  • Birthdate and Birthplace
  • Death Date and Place If Deceased
  • Childhood/Family
  • Education
  • Adult Family
  • Major Accomplishments
  • Major Obstacles
  • Fun Facts
  • Lessons we can learn from this person’s life

Step 3: How to Write a Biography Tips

As a teacher, you can provide choices for students or provide a project students can tackle. Some biography projects require students to write a biography in a different format than a typical essay.

Paper Bag Biography

For elementary grades, a paper bag biography book report is an interesting way to create a biography. Once students have read their biography or autobiography, they color the front of the paper bag with a picture of the person as well as display the person’s name. On the back of the paper bag is written the major accomplishments, obstacles, and a lesson learned from this person’s life.

On one side of the bag is written fun facts and on the other side is written basic information such as birthdate, birthplace, family, death date, etc. Inside the paper bag, students place varying objects that symbolize the life of the person and explain or write about them. 

Cereal Box Biography

This same concept can be completed with a cereal box. Students would utilize construction paper and glue over the cereal box instead. They can create a cute name for their cereal that coincides with the person they’re learning about as well. For instance, a biography about Sugar Ray Leonard, a professional boxer, could become Sugar Rays on a cereal box biography report. 

Pizza Box Biography

Speaking of food, a pizza box biography report is something I have utilized for years in the classroom. It combines creativity, art, and writing to display a biography. A simple Google search can give you tons of templates, instructions, and student sample pictures to choose from. I’m not certain of the original creator of this project, but it is amazing!

Students decorate the outside and inside cover of a pizza box with pictures and facts of their person. Next, they create a pizza out of construction paper and each slice displays important information. They can use their creativity to decorate each slice with toppings. Some students create a flap that goes over their slice of information and on the flap are toppings they’ve drawn such as mushrooms, pepperoni, and peppers. I am always impressed with how students use their creativity to design elaborate pizzas!

Here is the link to a FREE pizza box biography book report guideline I have used for years. 

*Disclaimer: It is a compilation of information gathered from other reports found online. It is not my intellectual property.*

MLA Biography Essay

I have used the pizza box biography report for sixth graders, but as students move into seventh and eighth grade, there is a huge focus on learning to write an MLA essay. Because of this, I require students to write a biography essay or book report. Using a detailed template, students write their biographies. Each paragraph is thoroughly explained and chunked to display the life of the person they’re investigating. Here is a simple template of how I have seventh-grade students organize their biography essays: 

1st paragraph contains: Title of your biography and the author’s name. The book is a biography of __________, who was born on (Date) ______________ in (Birthplace) ____________________. Why did you choose to read this book? Write a brief summary of their well-known accomplishments.

2nd, 3rd, 4th Paragraph contains: A summary of their life. Make sure their life is in sequence. Tell of major life accomplishments, major disappointments, and major obstacles they faced. Tell of their childhood, adulthood, etc.

5th Paragraph contains: What is the most interesting fact about this person? Explain why. How would you describe this person? If you could meet your person, what questions would you ask him or her? Why? Would you recommend this biography to a friend? Why or why not?

6th Paragraph: Conclusion paragraph. What are the major life lessons a reader can learn from this person’s life? 

Step 4: Publish through Technology

Students can create biography presentations by using Google Slides, all the while utilizing pictures, quotes, and thematic decor to make their project come to life. Slidesgo.com is an amazing template resource in which students can make their presentations fit a theme, and be a bit more aesthetically pleasing and be exciting. 

Furthermore, Canva has a plethora of resources students can use to create biographies, from a standard presentation to infographics to creating a eBook. Canva is an awesome resource. It contains varying fonts, pre-loaded graphics, and the ability to upload pictures online. Canva has become a favorite tool of our students here lately!

Conclusion

Writing a biography can be challenging, but in a great way! By reading biographies such as picture books to novels, this readily prepares students to conquer biography writing. By presenting options such as craftivities or a detailed template for an essay, students can feel interested and ready to tackle the world of biographies.

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