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Leaning on Illustrations to Strengthen Reading Comprehension Skills

While, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” may be an old adage that holds true in some cases, it turns out that when it comes to actual children’s books, illustrations may play a bigger role in early literacy than we think. Everyone knows that illustration does wonders for capturing attention and engaging the minds of our little ones. But did you know that they also support reading skills such as comprehension, inferencing, and decoding, as well?

Reading Comprehension 

Before your child can read, he or she is leaning heavily on pictures to gain an understanding of what’s going on. From the facial expressions of the characters to the action pictures that illustrate the plot, being able to “read” pictures is the first step of reading comprehension. That’s why many teachers begin a story with a “picture walk”. This simple practice gets the gears going and primes children to receive the story and understand it appropriately.


Believe it or not, pictures can be a huge help to your child when they start reading and sounding out words. When they happen upon a word that they don’t quite know yet, looking at the illustration can give them a hint. In other words, the picture provides context that helps them to make an educated guess about an unfamiliar word. For example, if they see a word that begins with a W and ends with an R, and the illustration depicts the characters splashing around, they may come to the conclusion that the word is “water.”


Inferencing is making an educated guess about something you don’t know based on the information that you have. It makes use of prior knowledge, textual information, and, you guessed it: visual information in the form of illustrations. Inferencing includes things like predicting what comes next and discerning how a character feels. While later readers will be able to do this based on text alone, young readers can and should use illustrations to strengthen this important skill.

Using Illustrations to Strengthen Reading Skills at Home

Teaching your child to use illustrations to help them during reading is great because it encourages them to make connections and use their resources. Follow a few simple practices whenever you read a book together to build these healthy reading habits.

  1. Do a picture walk. As mentioned earlier, teachers often have their classes engage in picture walks before starting a story. Look at the cover with your child and ask questions like, “What do you think this book is about?” or “Where do you think the story takes place?” This urges them to make connections.
  2. Point out facial expressions. As you read and come across characters showing emotion, bring your child’s attention to their facial expressions. Ask them, “How do you think he feels?” and “Would you feel the same way?” Making connections is an important part of reading comprehension.
  3. Teach them to lean on the pictures when they’re stuck on an unfamiliar word. When they come across a word that they don’t know, let them try their best to sound it out. If they’re still having trouble, urge them to look at the picture and make an educated guess based on what they see and the word’s beginning and ending sound.
  4. Ask them to make predictions. Every once in a while, before turning the page, ask them to tell you what they think comes next. Be sure to praise them on their great inferencing skills if they get it right!

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