Visual Literacy using the CBCA Short list Picture Books

The CBCA Short List Picture Books provide many opportunities to explore and engage with quality literature. This term Year 5 will explore the short list books in relation to visual literacy or visual grammar.

Visual literacy helps us understand and describe the features of a picture that create visual meaning. We learn who or what is in the picture, the activities involved, interactions between characters, emotions, and how the image catches our attention. We can learn to discover by looking deeper and thinking about what we see.

As advised by Callow, 2016 “Talking about the various features of picture books before, during and after reading allows us to teach children about their various features.” Using the CBCA Short List Picture Books offers a perfect way to introduce or extend on visual literacy. Exploring the themes and issues and applying visual grammar elements allows students to deepen their engagement with the books. Furthermore, providing instruction and direction to recognise, discuss and label visual techniques will ensure students enhance their visual literacy skills (Forrest, 2017).

What is planned?

  • Introduce one of the CBCA Short List books and highlight visual grammar elements
  • Provide students with the Visual Literacy Guide
  • Group students into small groups and allocate one of the picture books. Working with a partner create a sub-group where each sub-group selects one page (image) to focus on
  • Take a photo of the image and using Word or a simple photo writing App such as Phonto annotate onto the image
  • Post work to class Blog and share findings

Below is an example applying visual grammar following the guidelines that I created for student use. Goanna by Jenny Wagner is one of the first picture books I purchased in my early teaching days, I found it on my bookshelf and so loved reading it again.

Where does visual literacy fit into the and NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum?

Although specific reference to visual literacy can be challenging to locate in the Outcomes and Content of the Stages, there is a more generalised reference to the importance of visual literacy including:

NSW Education Standards Authority Stage Statements:

By the end of Stage 2: students “integrate a range of skills and strategies efficiently when reading, interpreting, analysing and evaluating texts and visual images…they explain some ways in which authors and illustrators engage the interests of audiences and achieve a range of purposes. Students explore the structural and grammatical features and purposes for a range of written, visual and multimodal texts”

By the end of Stage 3: “Students independently read and view an extensive range of complex texts and visual images using a comprehensive range of skills and strategies…They identify, critically analyse and respond to techniques, literary devices and language features used by writers to influence readers.”

Such understanding assists students to “create well-structured and well-presented written and multimodal imaginative…for a wide range of purposes and audiences.”

Definition of Visual Literacy from the NSW Syllabus English Glossary:

“The ability to decode, interpret, create, question, challenge and evaluate texts that communicate with visual images as well as, or rather than, words. Visually literate people can read the intended meaning in a visual text such as an advertisement or a film shot, interpret the purpose and intended meaning, and evaluate the form, structure and features of the text. They can also use images in a creative and appropriate way to express meaning”

Visual Features definition:

“Visual components of a text such as placement, salience, framing, representation of action or reaction, shot size, social distance and camera angle.”

Board of Studies NSW NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum English K-10


Board of Studies NSW. (2012). NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum: English K-10 Syllabus. Retrieved from

Callow, J. (2016). Viewing and doing visual literacy using picture books. Practical Literacy, 21(1), p.9-12. Retrieved from

Callow, J. (2013). The Shape of Text to Come. How Image and Text Work. Primary English Teaching Association of Australia, NSW, Australia.

Forrest, S. (2017).  How does it make me feel? Using visual grammar to interact with picture books. Literacy Learning in the Middle Years, 25(1), p.41-52. Retrieved from

McDonald, L. (2013). A literary companion for teachers. Primary English Teaching Association of Australia, NSW, Australia.

NSW Education Standards Authority. (2017). Stage Statements. Retrieved from

Wagner, J. (1988). Goanna. Puffin Books, Australia.

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