Sherry’s Writing Weblog

November 5, 2008

Drawing as Thinking

Filed under: Writing Lessons — sdoherty @ 2:38 pm

I recently read a chapter in a book called Adolescent Literacy, Turning Promise into Practice, which is a collection of chapters written by the some of the brightest minds in education (Janet Allen, Nancie Atwell, Kylene Beers, Harvey Daniels, Ellin Oliver Keene and Jeffrey Wilhelm to name a few).  This book has become my new favourite read.  Thank you so much to Sharon Seslija for recommending it! 

Linda Rief is one of the editors of Adosescent Literacy, but has also written a chapter called Writing:  Commonsense Matters.  In this chapter she writes of drawing as thinking and offers an idea that I think is so fabulous that I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

I think that we underestimate the power of drawing in writing.  After all, good readers visualize to construct meaning while they are reading, doesn’t it make sense that good writers visualize as well?  According to Rief’s chapter Einstein admitted that he did not think in words, but visual images.  Who can argue with that?

Linda Rief asked herself, “What if students who struggled with writing were invited to use visual tools to tell their stories?  Would that help all kids come more easily to words?  Would that also help them as readers, if they were invited to draw?  Encouraged to draw? (p. 202)”  She invited artisit Roger Essley into her classroom, who taught her students how to use a tellingboard.  (I love this!)

A tellingboard is simply a large piece of paper with many squares drawn on it.  Students are invited to draw their stories on sticky notes, using stick figures and key words.  They place their sticky notes on the tellingboard and tell the story to their classmates who offer suggestions or pose questions.  Then the students rearrange, add, or delete their sticky notes and tell the story again.  When the tellingboard is complete they are ready to write.  What a fabulous idea!

Rief writes that this activity worked with even her most reluctant writers.  What a powerful tool–for all ages.  For more information and an illustration of this tool as well as visual examples of how students used it, see her chapter in Adolescent Literacy (ISBN:  978-0-325-01128-8).



  1. Isn’t it wonderful when you come upon something so simple yet so logical. I was blown away by tellingboards and how they may be a way to help our struggling writers.
    You can read my response to this chapter at

    Comment by Sharon Seslija — November 8, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

  2. Many primary teachers have their students write in their journal first, then they can draw the picture, almost as a reward when their work is complete. But what researchers have found (and don’t ask me who, because I don’t remember where I read or heard this), is that when we have the students draw first, then talk to a partner about their drawing, and then write, their writing is much richer.

    Comment by Lisa Cranston — November 9, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

  3. I’m hearing more and more about “Telling boards”. I love this idea for kids who love to draw, however I have found that many of my reluctant writers are also relucant to draw. I like how this stresses “stick figures”. I think this would take some of the pressure off and also be more efficient. Great idea!

    Comment by irene — November 11, 2008 @ 4:06 am

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