9 Picture Books to Master Making Predictions

“Making predictions” is a key skill for readers of all ages. It wraps together a lot of smaller skills. In order to make a prediction, a reader must…

  • Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
  • Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges. (fiction)
  • Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text. (informational)
  • Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
  • Use information gained from the illustrations and words to demonstrate understanding.

And readers in middle and high school must…

  • Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision. (fiction)
  • Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories). (informational)

So, making predictions involves noticing details, inferring information, identifying patterns, and drawing conclusions. Phew! That’s a lot of work to answer the question, “What do you think will happen next?” And things get really interesting with the follow-up question, “Why do you think that?”

Teaching Tools: Making Predictions

Fortunately, like all reading skills, making predictions gets easier with practice. Picture books are a tool to build reading muscles. There are plenty of additional free tools to help emerging readers make predictions. I like this Reading Response Graphic Organizer by Rikki Brown because it can be used with any book. For advanced readers, I like this pre-reading activity on Observation and Making Inferences by Simply Novel. It could be used across many class subjects like language arts, science, and art class.

“What do you think will happen next?”


Of course, some books are better than others for exercising the prediction muscles. The following are nine picture books with good features to help readers master making predictions. Click each book cover for a read-aloud.

1. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Audience: elementary, middle

Summary: Zookeeper Amos McGee, who is adored by all the animals, gets some unexpected guests while home sick one day.

Making predictions: Repetition helps readers see patterns and make predictions. Any book with repetition is a good prediction muscle builder. Encourage students to guess what each animal will do and to flip back to through the book to get ideas. Looking for clues to support a prediction is important. Looking back through the pages for clues is a great reading strategy.

2. Life on Mars by Jon Agee

Audience: elementary, emerging readers, language learners

Summary: A young astronaut sets off on a mission to find life on Mars. He brings cupcakes, but he finds no one to give it to. Finally, he sees a flower- proof of life! As he flies back to Earth, he notices someone has eaten the cupcakes.

Making predictions: This book has dramatic irony. The reader sees the alien throughout the book, but the astronaut keeps missing it. Questions like “Do you think he’ll see the alien on the next page?” encourage readers to notice patterns. The cupcakes are a foreshadowing clue of what’s to come. Any book with foreshadowing is a great book for making predictions.

3. Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting

Audience: elementary, middle

Summary: A homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal to terminal and trying not to be noticed, is given hope when he sees a trapped bird find its freedom. 

Making predictions: Another book with foreshadowing. The bird gets free from the airport. Do you think the boy will find freedom? This book has a lot of conflict (problem, problem, problem) and that structure becomes predictable so that readers can ask themselves “What will the boy do next? ” and “What will happen to the boy?” Realistic fiction keeps predictions grounded.

4. Spencer’s New Pet by Jessie Sima

Audience: elementary, middle, high, emerging readers, language learners

Summary: Spencer’s new pet appears to be a balloon dog on an ill-fated journey toward popping, but in the end the pop is a surprise. 

Making predictions: Readers of all abilities can make predictions for this wordless picture book. Wordless books rely on a reader’s ability to make connections. The patterns in this book prompt readers to anticipate what will happen next. Experienced readers who know story structure might even predict the twist ending.

5. Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis

Audience: elementary, middle, high, emerging readers, language learners

Summary: As a plant grows, two damselflies peer at it in wonder. The plant grows until bugs wrangle a ladder and build a tree fort. The flower and bugs cycle through the seasons.

Making predictions: Background knowledge in science or bugs will be more helpful to readers than English for predicting events in this invented-word picture book. Prompting questions like “What could happen to bugs and plants?” can spur predictions. A cyclical ending spurs readers to predict what happens next.

6. Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

Audience: elementary, middle

Summary: Left on their own for an afternoon, two bored and restless children find more excitement than they bargained for in a mysterious and mystical jungle adventure board game. Caldecott Medal 1982.

Making predictions: Maybe learners have seen the movie, but predictions should be based on textual evidence. Can readers support their educated guess about what will happen with evidence from the book?

7. Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Audience: middle, high

Summary: Chronicles the friendship of Pink, a fifteen-year-old African-American Union soldier, and Say, his poor white comrade, as one nurses the other back to health from a battle wound and the two of them are imprisoned at Andersonville. Based on a true story.

Making predictions: Patterns and foreshadowing help readers make predictions despite the advanced language and historical context. Readers interested in history may have more accurate predictions than others, but there are plenty of clues to go around. Questions like “What will happen next?” and “How will each character feel about that?” can help.

8. An Angel for Soloman Singer by Eve Bunting

Audience: high

Summary: A lonely New York City resident finds companionship and good cheer at the Westway Cafe where dreams come true. 

Making predictions: This picture book for older readers has some subtle clues (a character named “Angel”, visual clues in the pictures). A picture walk- flipping through a book to look at the pictures before reading- is a good way to make predictions about the themes of the book. Learners can make predictions based on the title, a table of contents, a cover image… all kinds of book features.

9. Flotsam by David Wiesner

Audience: elementary, middle, high, emerging readers, language learners

Summary: A young, science-minded boy goes to the beach to collect and examine anything floating that has been washed ashore and discovers an underwater camera that contains a collection of unusual pictures. Caldecott Medal 2007.

Making predictions: If your learners have strong prediction muscles, this one is a good challenge! Wordless, surreal, and cyclical, readers at all ability levels can try to predict what will happen next as long as they have a reason to back up their prediction. When a book is wild, predictions can be wild… and fun!

Making predictions is a valuable skills in reading, math, science, social studies… every subject area! It comes down to noticing details, seeing patterns, and using logic. These are real-world skills that everyone needs, regardless of their reading level.

Great educators share! Share your ideas of picture books and activities to teach making predictions in the comments.

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