Using Picture Books to Teach Global Competence


Our young children are inquisitive. 

They are trying to understand the world around them by asking questions, LOTS of questions, about their immediate world, their neighborhood, and their larger global society.  Children also want to know how everything works and why, and some children want to change the status quo or simply something interesting and relevant to them. We've seen this with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; a movement for change.  But teenagers aren't they only ones who want to help others or change their local or global community.  Young children do as well.

Teaching children to love books and reading, to be excited by reading and discussion, to be engaged and questioning and interactive in their reading and in their responses to books, is what I love to do. And in that work I am animated by a humanitarian love of democratic practices and by democracy itself…
— Roche, M. (2015). Developing Children’s Critical thinking through Picturebooks, p. 1.

A couple years ago, I was teaching struggling readers in an RTI pullout program in California.  The students read a few books about children and teens who were inspired by a book, news article or experience to help others, but one student was deeply affected by one story centered around an 11 year old, Ana Dodson, who was adopted from Peru as a baby.  She went back to visit with her family and was deeply affected by the severe poverty and reflected on what could have been her fate.  So she founded Peruvian Hearts at just 11 years old.  The charity focuses on gender inequality by educating young women and envisioning a life beyond the conditions from which they were born in. 

My young charge had many questions after reading the book, so I helped her with a little online inquiry of Ana and Peruvian Hearts.  Afterwards, she took the book home and shared it with her mother.  She was so touched and inspired by Ana's story that she decided she wanted to help children in Costa Rica, where her family sometimes went on holiday.   With the support of her family,  she bought a few essentials and basics we take for granted, like backpacks, crayons, toothbrushes and toothpaste.  However, not everyone has this ability to take action globally, but we can start locally. 

What is Global Competence?

The short answer is that it is the disposition, knowledge and skills to understand and act on issues of global significance.

It is building empathy, compassion and curiosity.  It is understanding multiple perspectives and intercultural sensitivity, effectively and respectfully communicating ideas, and problem solving within our diverse society. 

Within the four domains there are 24 Indicators, which are K-12 interdisciplinary to develop knowledge & understanding of global issues.




Below are some ways you help your students or child develop global competencies:

Helping stds dev GLB competence
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Global Book Bags

I am part of a team of inspiring educators with the International Studies Teacher Education Project (ISTEP) at San Diego State University (SDSU).  ISTEP promotes global education through professional development for educators, learning opportunities for K-12 students, and collaborations among San Diego State University and other community partners, in San Diego, Imperial Valley and now expanding to Long Beach/LA and Orange County.  I work on projects based on CCSS reading standards, Social Studies standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

One of those projects that I want to share with you are the Global Book Bags (GBB).  They are learning resources for students to take home to develop global competencies, practice literacy skills, and engage parents or guardians in learning activities.  Each Global Book Bag consists of an age-appropriate book, a set of instructions, and any materials necessary to complete the learning activities described.  Each book identifies one global competency indicator at the top of the activity sheet.  The global book bags are designed for primary grade students to take home for 4-5 days and share with an older family member.  Here's some typical GBB excerpts: 


Why Picture Books?


Picture books are powerful and they are full of endless teaching and learning possibilities.  Let's look at the metaphor "mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors", coined by Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita at Ohio State University, in her 1990 article.  Picture books allow children to see themselves, their traditions and culture.  They also invite readers to see the similarities and differences of others in our diverse society.  Last but not least, picture books can open doors for children to step out of books and take action, like my young charge in 5th grade.

Photo via Emily Schell

Picture books are a wonderful medium for developing global competence in the primary grades.  They transform lives by families reading together and promote engaging conversations around global topics.  Children become world travelers by exploring and investigating other people and their cultures.  Picture books can extend their thinking and answers many questions they have about their local and global community.  Children can develop tolerance, understanding and empathy towards others, and generosity, much like the 5th grader I mentioned earlier.  She took action by 'going through the sliding glass door' with an initiative to improve someone else's life.  Using picture books invites the reader to new or unfamiliar world views, and enables teachers and families to interact and connect in new meaningful ways.  They can also offer your child or the children you teach very different perspectives, new ways of thinking and extend their ideas, promote prosocial behaviors, or understand how they can be an excellent influential source, locally and globally.

ISTEP and the GBB's also provide books and book lists for the the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Global Goals.  Developed in 2015 by the United Nations as a 15 year plan to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

Which goal resonates with you? Does it affect you or your community?

If you scroll down the ISTEP's Global Book Bagpage you'll find book lists on: 

ISTEP’s Global Book Bags provide my students the opportunity to learn about important community leaders, peek into cultural dynamics that may differ from theirs, hence a better understanding the bigger picture of this wonderful world of ours. They then impart this knowledge to others, all from the comfort of their own homes.
— Angelina Scull, 5th Grade Teacher

    Interested in learning more about GBB's and live in California?  On April 10th, there will be a workshop at San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) with representatives from ISTEP, and on May 19th, there is a presentation at CSULB.  I encourage you to contact for further information.