Reading Pictures: Developing Visual Literacy for Greater Comprehension


  • Kathleen Ellen O'Neil


Picturebooks tell stories in both words and pictures. Interacting with the printed word, the technical elements of illustration – color, line, shape and composition – work to establish and enhance the story. Sometimes simply by adding description of characters and setting, and, at times, by challenging the veracity of the text with ironic or additional information, the illustrations in picturebooks provide essential clues for comprehension. However, like any semiotic system, the elements of illustration have culturally associated meanings. For this reason, novice readers can benefit from explicit instruction in reading pictorial elements. Rather than leave the acquisition of knowledge of the culturally associated meanings to chance and time, offering young readers explicit instruction in this sign system can support their comprehension and thus perhaps accelerate their gain in reading skills. This article offers a number of activities for developing visual literacy with picturebooks, each easily accomplished in the elementary classroom.