Check the Picture!

I have heard the phrase “check the picture” many times in my career, and always as a prompt for a beginning reader.  We often ask our kindergarten and first grade readers to “check the picture” in an attempt to solve an unknown word.  They derive content and context from the use of the picture supports.  But today, I watched my teacher friend, Shelley, prompt her students to “check the picture” in math.

The students had just practiced representing numbers in a variety of ways.  They had drawn base-ten blocks, groups, arrays, tally marks and more in attempts to demonstrate their understanding of numbers like 30, 24, and 42.  Then Shelley put a picture on the board and asked the students to create some number sentences to prove or disprove her thinking.  Immediately, the students began creating a wide variety of sentences about the number Shelley had shown them.  And all of the number sentences were correct as far as representing the number itself.  But they didn’t further the understanding that Shelley was seeking with them.  Rather than getting into a guessing game with the children, she simply prompted them: “Check the picture.  Make sure your sentence goes with the picture.”  Suddenly, a flurry of new thinking developed.  Many of the number sentences did NOT match the picture.  Students had to evaluate each of their sentences against the visual on the board.