Using Picture Books to Teach Expository Writing

Why would anyone use picture books to teach expository writing? Because picture books are written by master authors who can teach us clearly through their examples. Not to mention, it doesn’t take long to read through most picture books, so you can share examples and get right to the work of writing.

Teach middle school and high school students creative expository writing using picture books as mentor texts!

What is expository writing?

Expository writing is a fancy name that simply means writing that conveys information or ideas and offers explanations or evidence to back up said information or ideas. Informational children’s books, textbooks, autobiographies, magazine articles, and newspaper articles are all examples of expository writing.

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That sounds boring!

Since expository writing is informative and its purpose is to impart facts, this isn’t the place for personal opinions. That doesn’t mean, however, that it has to be boring. There is still much room for creativity and it should still catch the reader’s attention! There’s even a bit of room for humor if you see fit.  (The Fallacy Detective is a good example of expository writing that uses humor.)

Lay it all out there.

It’s important that the writer of an expository essay assumes the reader doesn’t already have prior knowledge of the subject. In this way, the essay gives all the necessary information for a complete understanding of the topic.

How To Teach Expository Writing

When preparing for an expository piece, I ask my homeschool students to make a list of questions someone might ask about the topic. We then order the questions in a sequence, asking, “Which questions make sense to answer first?” These questions become the basic outline of the piece. All we have to do then is begin writing in such a way that the questions are answered without the reader ever having to ask.

Of course, there will be rearranging of questions here and there. There might also be new questions that need to be answered as the writing begins or during the editing process.

Note that expository writing is a little different that the expository essay. They certainly have many similarities, but I’m not proposing the typical five-paragraph essay structure here. It’s still important to have a thesis – which means the main idea on which everything else supports. But, that thesis doesn’t have to be quite as formal as the five-paragraph essay. It’s also important to support your thesis with with evidence, but not necessarily in a formal format. I also don’t feel like it’s imperative to round out the writing with a conclusion that revisits the thesis unless it happens to work with your creative piece.

How The Pros Do It

To help my middle and high school students get the idea of what I mean by creative expository writing, I’ll often share several of the follow books with them.

The Reason for a Flower: A Book About Flowers, Pollen, and Seeds (Explore!)Where Butterflies Grow (Picture Puffins)How I Became a PirateA Place for ButterfliesA River Ran Wild: An Environmental HistoryA House Spider's Life (Nature Upclose)Are You a Butterfly? (Backyard Books)Flash, Crash, Rumble, and RollBen Franklin and the Magic Squares (Step-Into-Reading, Step 4)DK Readers: Pirates: Raiders of the High Seas (Level 4: Proficient Readers) (DK Readers Level 4)Bats


The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller

Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder

How I Became a Pirate by David Shannon

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart

A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry

A House Spider’s Life by John Himmelman

Are You a Butterfly? by Judy Allen

Flash, Crash, Rumble, Roll by Franklyn M. Branley

Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares by Frank Murphy

Pirates: Raiders of the High Seas by Christopher Maynard

Bats by Gail Gibbons

Several of these authors have written other books that would be quite suitable. You’re looking for any book that shares information about a topic without being too “textbook-like.”

Types of Expository Writing

After using the picture books and method mentioned above to write stories and/or informational text, we often take some time to tackle some very specific forms of expository writing.

  • Advertisements
  • Book jackets
  • Book reviews (or reviews of any product, movie, etc.)
  • Brochures
  • Editorials
  • Handbooks
  • Interviews
  • Job descriptions
  • Newspaper articles
  • Tributes

I challenge the students to use creativity in these assignments, too! (By the way, each of these is a great assignment for project-based learning!)

Need a little more help in teaching with this method?

I taught a practical class that can help!

Want more?

Picture books are great tools to teach writing styles! Great lesson ideas here!

I have written several other posts about using picture books to teach writing styles to middle and high school students. Learn how to teach narratives, persuasive essays, biographies, text structure, and literary techniques – all using mentor texts from master authors!

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The middle school years are some of my favorite to homeschool! This mega-post shows you how I do it.       Homeschooling high school is so worth it!



  1. I love reading this series. I teach writing at our co-op and these are great ideas I can use with our group!

  2. Rachel, I hope your students enjoy the lessons! Oh, and I hope their writing improves, too. 🙂 LOL

  3. Do you have a top 3 for these books as well?!
    I have to order them (live in the middle East), so I have to be selective :).

  4. Tisza, for these I would suggest whichever topics seem to motivate your children the most. The books are equally good. In fact, for those that are leveled readers (Eyewitness, Step Into Reading, etc.) you could even choose other books from the same series if you find topics of more interest to your children.

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