Picture This!

James and the Giant Peach 


Rebecca Macintire


After students become fluent readers, it is imperative they learn good comprehension skills which is the ultimate goal of reading.  One of the ways students can comprehend better is to use visualization.  This lesson will help students connect their background knowledge to the text to create visual images in their mind and better their comprehension skills.

Copies of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (one for each student)
blank sheets of paper & coloring utensils
Visualization Journals (blank paper or composition notebooks for each student) & writing utensils
classroom dictionaries

1. Have class sit on the floor in a circle around you.  We are going to travel to a place far away.  First we need to get comfortable, close our eyes, and open our minds.  I am going to tell about the place that we are going to visit, and I want you to imagine that you are there.  Try to picture all of the things that I describe so that you feel that you can really see it.  Ready?  I can hear the wind blowing as it blows coolly against my skin.  The sun is warm and bright.  It is reflecting off of each wave as they crash onto the white sand.  A seagull is flying above us and swoops down into the water to catch a fish in his beak.  There are two thick palm trees and each one is rich with coconuts.  Okay, class, you can all open your eyes now.  Where did we travel?  How did you know it was the beach?  What did you see?  Have you been to the beach before and if so, is that the same beach you pictured today?  Allow the class to share their visions and relate it to other experiences they may have had.  Why do you think some of us had slightly different pictures in our mind than others?  Point out that people tend to visualize differently because they draw from their own background knowledge.  Make sure that it is clear that it is a good thing that people have different visualizations.  Do you think that you could draw a picture of the beach I described?  Later I will ask you to draw a picture of something that you read.

2. One of my favorite things about reading is traveling to many different places.  I have been to countries all over the world in many different time periods such as Victorian England and a war-torn Rwanda, I have been to magical realms like Hogwarts and the Shire, and I have seen people and creatures that I never knew existed!  All these things are possible through my imagination.  Today we are going to learn how using our imagination and visualizing books help us to understand and enjoy books.

3. One of my favorite authors is Roald Dahl because he likes to take his readers on really exciting trips!  Today we are going to climb inside of a giant peach as we begin reading James and the Giant Peach.  This book is about a young boy who accidentally drops some magic crystals next to an old peach tree.  A peach at the top of the tree begins to grow and grow until it is the size of a house!  When James goes inside of the peach, he meets some very interesting characters.  We are going to read to find out what happens to James when he is inside this giant peach.

4.  Students can stay seated on the floor as you read Chapter 1 aloud.  You can close your eyes and relax to help you visualize the story—just don’t fall asleep!  After reading, ask students about their mental pictures.  How did you picture his house he lived in with his parents?  Did anyone see the same beach they had pictured when I described the beach earlier?  Point out that sometimes we make mental connections of things we have imagined or seen before.  This helps us visualize new things.  What did the rhinoceros look like?  What about the “queer ramshackle house” his aunts lived in? The garden? Give students the chance to share their images.  This will engage them in the story.  It will also help them develop their own pictures to hear other students’ visualizations.

5. The next thing we will do is read Chapter 2 silently. When we read silently, it is important we don’t disturb our neighbors.  We also must make sure that we understand what we are reading.  What should we do if we come across a word that we don’t recognize?  Be sure there are classroom dictionaries for students to have access to.  They should be able to look up words they don’t recognize and reread the sentences in the story so it makes sense.   In Chapter 1, it says that there is an “ancient peach tree.”  If I didn’t know what the word ancient meant, it would be hard for me to picture it and understand what was going on in the story.  I might picture something completely wrong!  However, instead, I can go and look up ancient in the dictionary.  Look it up to model for students.  It says “very old.”  Now I will reread that sentence or paragraph to help me understand, and now, I can see the very old peach tree that is growing in the garden.  That is probably why the peach tree never gave any peaches—because it was so old.  Do you see how understanding the meaning of words is essential to understand the story?

6. Students will silently read Chapter 2.  I want you to read carefully so you can develop very clear pictures in your head of what is happening in the story.  Then I want you to go back to your desks and draw what you see.  Be as detailed and specific as possible.  Remember, use your imaginations!  If Roald Dahl says “an enormous angry rhinoceros,” you have the opportunity to create that rhinoceros exactly as you wish!  I see him as a purplish grey beast with an agitated face and a gigantic horn charging through an open fence. Students may draw a character, an action, a situation, etc.  It is important that they include as much detail from the book as possible.  Things they might include:  Aunt Sponge, Aunt Spiker, the way that the aunts view themselves, James chopping wood.  Students also need to include a description quote from the book along with their pictures.

6.  When all students are finished, have them come back to the floor and bring their picture to share with the rest of the class.  Why do you think a lot of us drew Aunt Sponge the same way?  Why do you think some people drew James chopping wood so differently?  In what ways do you think that creating these pictures in your head helps you to understand the story?  Students should recognize that when we visualize it keeps us engaged with the plot, it helps us to understand the characters, it helps us to remember specific details of the text, etc.  Take up the pictures to assess students’ comprehension of the text.  Each picture should have details and quotes from the book to support their illustrations.

7.  Students can continue reading the book over a period of time (depends on reading level and class time).  Ask them to keep a Visualization Journal to record illustrations of all the main characters and at least three main events from the book.  Each illustration should have cited text to back it up.  Include a few comprehension questions that the students can answer in their journal.  How large does the peach eventually grow to be?  What kind of friends did James have while inside the giant peach?  What does the mayor give to James?  This journal will be used as an individual assessment.  Students should be able to share their favorite images with the class.



Dahl, Roald.  James and the Giant Peach.  Penguin Group © 1961.  146 pages.

Faucett, Lauren.  Picture Yourself There!  Take a Look into Your Book!


Simmons,Chelsea.  Picture a TERRIFIC Pig. http://www.auburn.edu/academic/education/reading_genie/odysseys/simmonsrl.html

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