• Margie Marc

Selecting Picture Books (It’s a Monkey Puzzle)

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

There are many attractive picture books available to use in the CLIL classroom, but how do we decide which to use? What are the key features to keep in mind when selecting the most appropriate picture book to use with learners?

There are a number of factors we should take into consideration when choosing a picture book for our learners. The learners' age, interests and developmental level should always be taken into consideration, but picture books for CLIL should also have the following features:

  • A clear storyline that allows children to follow and understand the story without being entirely dependent on language input while allowing them to use their existing knowledge of the world.

  • Plenty of natural repetition rather than repetition that is artificially manufactured for language learners. This will offer children opportunities to hear and see the language in a variety of contexts.

  • Opportunities for participation so that children can participate in order to keep them engaged in the storytelling process, to maintain their attention and to check their understanding. Suitable stories might involve guessing what comes next, talking about the pictures or repeating language chunks.

  • Helpful illustrations that support understanding of the text by offering valuable visual information about the context.

  • Appropriate linguistic level: within the level where children can understand most of the story. Research shows that children need to know about 95% of the vocabulary in a reading text in order to understand it (Nation, 2001). However, this percentage would not have to be so high if teachers support understanding by adapting the language of the story and use facial expressions, gestures, visuals and enhanced intonation.

  • CLIL potential: the potential the picture book story has for capitalising on learning in the different curriculum areas and how well it links in with the existing curriculum.

A classic picture book, and all-time favourite, which satisfies all these considerations for selection is Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler (3 to 8-year-olds).

Story summary

Monkey is sad because he's lost in the jungle, so he asks Butterfly to help him find his mum. However, Butterfly cannot seem to understand that Monkey and his mum look alike, so attempts to reunite Monkey with an elephant, a parrot and even a snake! Eventually, they find ... Dad!

It's just as well that he knows exactly where Mum is, and she's waiting with a well-deserved cuddle for Monkey.

Language work

The story contains the key animal species vocabulary (monkey, butterfly, elephant, snake…), colours (grey, black, green…), size (bigger, fat…) and animal body parts (trunk, tail, legs, wings…), in addition to repeated language chunks that children can join in with during the storytelling (No, no, no, that’s an elephant! My mum hasn’t got …).

Moreover, the rhyming words in the story (this, hiss, eggs, legs …) make the language play in rhyme both fun and memorable for children.

Suggested ideas for CLIL

Natural Science

With older children, discover more about the world using the Internet by keying in questions such as where do bats live? Or investigate the lifecycle of a butterfly. Younger children can match body parts to the animals and categorise animals according to their physical characteristics.


Make a jungle scene so children can make their own animal characters to stick onto the scene. This can also be exploited for re-telling the story. Alternatively, children can make mini-books to take home and talk about the story with their carer(s).

Music and Movement

Older children can sing the Monkey Puzzle song and join in making the Makaton actions as modelled by Julia Donaldson.

The lyrics and video clip can be found here.

Afterwards, children could choose some words to sign to their partner or the rest of the class to guess what word it is. For younger children, play the song so children can mime the animals and join in the singing along to the parts they feel most comfortable with.


Find the animals in the story and put them in order from smallest to largest. Make a picture of one of the animal characters and cut it up into pieces to make a jigsaw for another child to put together.

For older children, look out for jigsaws which feature some of the animals from the story to piece together. Count particular items from the pages of the picture book. For example, can the children spot the crocodile in the river or the caterpillars on the leaves? How many are there? Hide a flashcard of Mother Monkey and encourage children to find it by using positional language such as next to, under, on top of, etc.

Social Science

Talking to children about emotions might help them to process some of the incidental vocabulary related to feelings such as anxious, nervous or scared.

It also provides an opportunity to talk about what children should do if they are lost and who they can ask for help.

Finally, the fact that Monkey assumed that Butterfly would know that Monkey looks like his mum, provides an opportunity to look at how easy it is to think that everyone thinks or looks the same as us. For example, "Because I like pears, you must like pears" or "Because Butterfly has wings, Caterpillar must have wings," but we know this isn’t true!

There is a huge range of picture books available for us to choose from, so fortunately the task of selection is relatively easy.

However, if we keep clear selection criteria in mind in the early stages, the task of choosing suitable picture books for CLIL such as Monkey Puzzle becomes even simpler!

By Margie Marc

Bio: Margie has been working in the field of education for many years. She loves the positive change that can be provoked through learning, for both students and teachers. Margie currently works as a teacher and teacher trainer.