Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis


Middle/Secondary Education (5-12)

First Advisor

Shelly Furuness


A single class is made up of thirty students, thirty individuals with their own experiences, knowledge, skills, beliefs, and understandings. Then, of course, multiply that by six classes a day. A middle school teacher is met with the overwhelming task every day of connecting these 180 individuals to the skill or standard they need to learn that day. Despite any teacher's best efforts to get to know his or her students, no teacher will ever be able to know exactly what each student's schema (a framework of prior knowledge that helps a person make sense of experiences) includes about a given topic. Even if a teacher did know this, how could he or she tap into 180 students' different schemata?

Knowing that people learn by adding new information to the scaffolds that already exist in their brains, I knew I needed to meet the tremendous task of finding a way to reach all my students in one way rather than 180. I began the journey of tackling this task looking at theory in a content literacy education course. During that course, I was introduced to using picture books with middle school students, despite the preconceived notion that picture books were only for elementary school aged children and younger. A semester later, upon reflecting on my practice in an education course focused on middle school curriculum and instruction, I recognized the success of creating a common experience for my students. My lesson plan for an eighth grade Language Arts class included a simple shared experience as an anticipatory set that we were able to relate to throughout the following lesson, which helped create a concrete image of the lesson's skill in the students' heads. These two ideas, picture books (found in theory) and creating shared anticipatory experiences to which a classroom of students can all refer (found in practice), merged into one.

What follows is an explanation of my exploration of using picture books to build common schema with middle school Language Arts students. I worked with small groups of students to investigate what happens when a teacher uses picture books to create a common experience, which all share and to which all can relate and reference throughout the ensuing lesson.