Let’s Talk Some More About Drawing

Hi again! We are back with a bonus mid-week post to give some more tips on drawing for your charts that will help every child in your classroom achieve independence in learning. We have also noticed quite a few new visitors, so before we get to the drawing bits, we would like to take a moment to reintroduce ourselves. Chartchums is made up of Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine (Kristi) Mraz.

Marjorie Martinelli is currently a literacy consultant at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which works in schools across New York City, the country, and the world. Marjorie is also an artist and was formerly a New York City public school teacher.

Kristine (Kristi) Mraz is a current kindergarten teacher at PS 59 in Manhattan. She was a literacy consultant with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project before returning to the classroom. Kristi is a crafter, which means she has a lot of yarn taking over her apartment.

Together we have written a book called Smarter Charts about building independence through effective charts (available now-click on the picture at the right!). We also consult in schools, present at conferences, and lead workshops, all on charting, independence and accountability.

One aspect we ALWAYS cover is drawing, (no matter what!) because drawing is a quick way to bring our words and concepts to life. Our new book has lots more on the importance of visuals and their role in memory, but for this post we want to cover one more quick and easy art lesson: figures!

The Basics

Call it a bias, but we don’t do stick figures. There is nothing inherently wrong with a stick figure, but more well rounded figures (pun intended) are more expressive, easier to manipulate, and more like what children do naturally and thus able to do independently. Even if you never explicitly teach drawing (through we think you should!) children will learn from watching you make these simple figure drawings capture complex acts.

So first, warm up:

Can you draw an O shape? Yes? Great. Make a few quickly.

Can you draw a stick? Yes? Perfect! You now know EVERYTHING you need to draw people.

The Body and Beyond

Draw one O on top of another O so it looks like an 8. Don’t worry about a neck, simple is better.

Now come the arms:

Lots of times arms are drawn sticking straight out of the ribcage (as shown on left). Look at your own body, wave your arms around and you will see that your arms really come out at the very top of your body (as shown on right), which is good because otherwise you could never scratch your head.

Once you have the figure on right, you can move to legs:

Again, this is a place to slow down and study your body again. If you have a history of drawing stick figures, you will likely draw legs like the figure on the left. Be kinder to yourself, your legs do not shoot out at funny angles from the middle of your body. Instead they come straight down at about the width of your head (see the figure on the right). That is pretty much it! If/when you teach this to your students, it is helpful to do lots of studying of bodies to really see how arms and legs fit together. It is also a great opportunity to build language and vocabulary, not just of body parts, but words like: above, below, longer, shorter, and so on.


Once you have the basic figure, you can bend the arms and legs to show basic movements.

On the left is Kristine trying to find the adult scissors she knows she put somewhere under the pile of math manipulatives that still need to be sorted. On the right is Marjorie enjoying a little time off to practice tree pose (before she is back in the hustle and bustle).


Figures can easily be turned around:

Add feet at an obtuse angle (larger than 90 degrees) on your forward facing figure (on far left). To turn a figure sideways, start with the same double O body shape, but only add one arm and one leg, both in the middle. Add one eye and a foot facing the direction the figure is looking and the body is now in profile (in middle). Last, draw the same exact body, arms, and legs as the front facing figure. Now, draw the feet at an acute angle (less than 90 degrees) and color in some hair. You are now looking at the back of the figure (far right). Voila!

Near and Far

Perspective begins with setting a horizon, for most instances, that can be the middle of your paper. Anything drawn below that line is “near” and therefore larger, anything on or above the line is “far” and smaller:

Usually the near figures will take up most of the frame, and extend above the horizon line.

For More Information

Here is another favorite book to teach you and your students more about drawing figures:

Make a World by Ed Embereley

Here are a couple of books about teaching and using drawing:

Talking, Drawing, Writing by Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe

Smarter Charts by (us!) Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

We will be back again soon with another new post. In our upcoming installments we will be tackling charts at the beginning of the year, charts across grades, adaptive charts for students with special needs, and more!

Until then, happy charting!
Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

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Let’s Talk About How to Draw!

This summer as we traveled across the country presenting at Reading and Writing Institutes and giving chart workshops, the one lament heard universally, regardless of gender, generation or grade taught, was “I can’t draw!” To borrow an idea learned from Peter Johnston in Opening Minds (2012), we would like to reframe this statement to sound more like this: “You can’t draw, yet!” Why? Because the ability to draw is not only a natural talent a few lucky ones are born with, it is one that can be learned by anyone if they are shown how, expect they can learn, engage in the process, and practice. Drawing is about learning how to look, to see the world as shapes, and then sending those observations down to the fingertips and onto the page. We thought we would start by showing you how to draw a few icons we use a lot when we are making charts to use with our students.

Icons are universal symbols that can be “read” by anyone. We talk about this in some detail in our book, Smarter Charts, where we have a section called “Use Icons, Drawings, and Color as Shorthand for Text.” (p 16). Icons are designed specifically for important information to be accessed quickly and accurately. We tend to notice them most often when we find ourselves in new situations, like a foreign country, where the universal symbol of a woman means we are safe to go into the correct bathroom. Not using these icons can also get you into trouble. During one workshop break this summer, an embarrassed participant returned and whispered that she had enter the restroom with the sign “Faculty” only to come face to face with a row of urinals. She quickly ran back out and took another look at the sign. Above the word “Faculty” was the universal symbol of a man. The ability to read the words was not enough in this case. It was the icon that held the meaning.

Below is a chart designed to introduce children to some key concepts of talk in the classroom, whether talking with a partner or in a whole group setting. It is also meant to be useful no matter the subject being talked about, reading, writing, social studies, science, math, and so on. You could be talking about a published book, your own writing, or a math problem. The chart makes use of some standard icons we use to make the information easily and quickly understood. The eye stands for look, see, or watch. The ear stands for listen or hear. The mouth symbolizes talk, say, or speak. The finger illustrates point, touch, or show an example.

Talk Chart

This chart reminds children of some key talk behaviors.

But now to the nitty gritty: How to draw the icons used on this chart (and on many other charts you will make this year). We will show you each step to drawing these universal symbols. Don’t be afraid, the more relaxed you are the better. Go for simple, not perfect (drawing is all about making simple shapes). And if you make them on sticky notes or paper made into sticky notes (using restickable glue sticks), changing one is not such a big deal. Remember, the goal is to create simple images that can be accessed quickly. Your students will very quickly understand your symbols and the way you make them. They will learn to “read” in your language. So, get ready, here we go…

How to draw an eye.

The steps for drawing an eye to symbolize “look.”

There are four steps to drawing an eye. First make a half circle. Then draw the bottom half so it becomes almond shaped. Inside the almond shape make a “U-shape” that just grazes the bottom of the eye. Finally, make a black circle in the middle of the “U” for the pupil. (You can leave a little white speck of space if you want to add a bit of sparkle to the eye). You can draw another one if you want a pair of eyes looking at you. Now, for the ear…

How to draw an ear.

How to draw an ear. This icon means to listen or to hear.

An ear looks a bit like a question mark, so start with that. Make a question mark that has a hook at the bottom. Then draw another one just like it, just a little smaller. Lastly, add a small left parentheses mark. Only three steps and you have it. Your eye might go in the opposite direction if you are left-handed, but that is perfectly fine! Ready for the mouth and some real fun? Here we go…

How to draw a mouth.

Here are the steps to draw a talking mouth.

The top part of the mouth is like a stretched out letter “m” or a rolling mountain range (choose the image that works best for you). Make one, then make another. (Curl the ends up a bit if you want a happy talking mouth). The bottom portion of the mouth is like a half circle or a quarter moon shape, drawn twice. Step 5 is to add laugh lines, but if you turn these into quotation marks, you will be doing a little subliminal advertising of how and when to use quotations marks. Cool, right? You can also color the mouth red if you want the mouth to pop out more.

Now for the feast de la resistance, the finger… 

How to draw a finger.

The finger icon is useful for pointing things out, direction, or emphasis.

To draw a finger that will impress friends and family alike, begin with the fingernail and draw an oval shape. Then, take a moment to look at your pointer finger. Take your other pointer finger and trace under the bottom of the finger. Do you see the indentations? Count them. 1, 2, 3. Now you are ready for step 2. Starting at the top of the oval shape, make a soft, scalloped edge, counting 1, 2, 3, as you do this. For the top portion of the finger simply draw a straight, parallel line from the top part of the oval. (Don’t worry about knuckles, the simpler the better!).

Wow! You did it! Congratulations. We knew that you could draw. Your students have always thought you could draw too, and now, hopefully, you think so too.

If you are interested in learning how to draw more things with shapes, we recommend some books created for children. Ralph Masiello is an illustrator who has a series of drawing books that each focus on a topic, such as Bugs, Dinosaurs, or Oceans. Usborne books has one titled, What shall I draw? by Ray Gibson that shows how to draw anything from a pig to a princess, from a cat to a castle.

How to draw books.

Some simple how to draw books that can be enjoyed by students and teachers alike.

Have fun drawing and continue to have fun charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

Here! Hear!

In full disclosure, this post comes with heavy coaching from an amazing teacher we met at the August Reading Institute,  Alli Newell. Alli teaches in California at a school that values and supports technology in the classroom. She generously shared her tech knowledge with other first grade teachers in her section, and we wanted to pass on one tool that has huge applications in the primary classroom, for charts and beyond. Thank you Alli!

You know those codes – they are black and white – and are everywhere! You can scan them with an ipad or iphone, or just about anything with an app. And those codes bring you to some sort of content (usually trying to sell you something). They look like this:

A Sample QR Code

Alli taught us how we can make those codes and attach them to audio content.

Consider this for a moment… All one has to do is scan this code with some sort of device, be it an iphone, ipad, or other app-enabled piece for equipment and it will talk to them. Now imagine: what if you put this code next to a display of children’s writing, so parents could scan and hear their children reading the story? What if you placed it next to a display of student art and someone could walk by and scan the code to hear children talking about the process? What if you attached it to a book and made every book a book on tape? Just imagine, what could you use it for in reading workshops? Writing workshops? Homework?

The one catch is that to create and listen to the QR codes, one needs access to some sort of smart phone, tablet, or computer. Think though for a moment. How many families in your school have access to a smart phone? We know in some communities, computers and tablets are not as accessible to children outside of school, but smart phones may be more common. On the other hand, in some schools iphones may be banned, but many schools now have a bank of tablets that classrooms can borrow, and if not, there are many grants available to support technology in schools. We have worked in a number of schools that have gotten ipads through grant writing.
We imagine this first as a powerful tool for parents, QR codes on homework, student writing, bulletin board displays, etc, and as the year goes on, finding other smart ways to make this a meaningful scaffold for students: directions in a center, an audio post-it, a book on tape, an additional reminder on a chart… the possibilties feel endless! We are sure you have even better ideas, so once you learn how to use these tools, let us know what happens!

Step One: Download the Apps

You will need two apps: QRafter Pro ($2.99) and Audioboo (free)

Download these two apps

Step Two: Record Audio Content

Open audioboo and click record on the homescreen, it will bring you to this screen:

It will only record about 3 minutes at a time, and you can pause and resume recording at any point. Once you have captured the audio you would like (say a child reading his or her writing), hit publish. You will be prompted to name it, let’s say “Kristine’s Book” and then save and upload the recording. You then go to ‘My Boos’ and select one of your recordings. It will bring you to this screen: (Kristine recorded in Greenpoint- hello to fellow Brooklynites!)

Click on the upper right hand corner (box with arrow shooting out) to save it online. You will get several options, Alli suggests saving in Safari. To get there, clink on “More…” and choose Safari.

This will bring you to the internet where your recording now happily lives, and you are ready for the next step – generating a QR code that will play this recording for people. Before you open QRafter, take a moment and copy the whole URL from the top of the webpage. URL codes start with http://

Step Three: Attach a QR Code

Once you have copied the URL, go to your home screen and open up the QRafter Pro app. It opens with option to scan an already existing QR code, go to “create” on the bottom menu instead. It will want to know where the content is:

Click on URL, and it will prompt you to enter the URL. Just click in the space and paste the URL you copied from before:

Delete the extra “http://” and then select “preview content” from the upper right hand corner. This will show you all sorts of technical information that no one really needs to know, but from there, hit create in the upper right hand corner. This will generate a unique black and white QR code. Alli recommends saving it to your photos, and from there you can print it or email it. That’s it!

To see what happens when you scan it, use your Qfactor app on the one below (You can do it on the computer)

It will let you know you have lined the code up right by bringing you to the URL page. Click on “Go to URL”  under actions and hit play once you get there.

So, just to recap how to:

“Make it talk!”

  1. Open audioboo & click “Record”
  2. Record (3 mins)
  3. Publish
  4. Name it, save it, upload it!
  5. Go to MyBoos & click arrow (upper right corner), then “More…” & save to Safari
  6. Copy URL

“Make Your Own QR Code!”

  1. Open the QRafter Pro app
  2. Click on URL & paste URL
  3. Delete extra “http://” & select “preview content”
  4. Hit “create” (upper right corner)
  5. Save it to your photos

We’d love to hear how you innovate with this technology in the upcoming year. Our deepest thanks to Alli Newell for teaching us about this tool. Until next time, Happy Charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

Going for the Gold: Creating Charts that Challenge and Rally Children

As the new school year quickly approaches (or for some, has already begun), teachers are thinking and planning for those first weeks in school. Teacher stores are overflowing with welcome banners and signs announcing the arrival of caring kindergartners, stupendous second graders, or the next crop of quality first graders.  In each of these cases the ultimate goal is to set the scene for creating a community of learners by labeling them in positive ways. The banner titles that keep popping into our heads have been influenced by the recent Olympic games and sound something like, Welcome World Class Students or Class 1-141 is Going for the Gold! or Meet the Next Dream Team! But there is more at play here than simply coming up with catchy titles or headings. The Olympics can provide a backdrop for what teachers always want for each year’s class: to become a great team and to aspire to be the best they can be.

The motto of these Olympics, Inspire a Generation, is one we can carry forward with us into this new school year. In event after event, what kept being highlighted was how, regardless of the sport, each participant had a passion that they pursued, saw in themselves potential and possibility, and with the help of others, persisted and practiced intensely. This combination of process and effort is what we want to instill in all young people. The 2012 Summer Olympics can help us do just that.

They are also called the Olympic Games and games are supposed to be not only challenging, but fun. One of the most memorable aspects of the games was the shear joy on the faces of so many of the athletes. Sports Illustrated (Aug. 13, 2012) even dubbed the women’s U.S. swim team “The Fun Bunch,” because they hugged and smiled before their races! They approached each race with “joy and camaraderie.” This may be an even more important lesson to learn from these games considering the current climate in education. Competition is tough and rough, but when done with joy and a positive attitude, it can also become a positive, life changing experience. Providing children with challenges to aspire to, while coaching them along every step of the way, and bringing some fun into the mix can change their lives as well.  With this in mind, we will show you a few ways the Olympics have inspired our own joyfully made charts, that will hopefully inspire you and the students in your classrooms.

Last week we had the pleasure of working with teachers from around the world at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s August Reading Institute. Perhaps it was because the Olympics had just started and the games were playing in the background as we planned for our sections, but Olympic lingo kept seeping into our lessons and our charts. The first part of preparing a chart is to think about the big idea you want to teach and to find a heading that captures that idea. One beginning lesson was about encouraging readers to set themselves up for reading by getting their minds on fire. Watching the Olympic athletes prepare for their events, we noticed that they too got themselves psyched up. Michael Phelps put on headphones, hood up, head down. Jordyn Wieber acted out each move of her gymnastic routine prior to beginning. We want our readers to psyche themselves up in similar ways. This lead to the chart below with the heading, World Class Olympian Readers Psyche Themselves Up to Read! Now, rather than writing this heading in front of the students, especially if you want to include photos or pictures, you can prepare this part of the chart ahead of time. If you fear crooked writing and messy mistakes, you can also prepare the bullets ahead of time, as well, and then reveal the parts that match each day’s teaching point as you go along.

The heading on this chart was inspired by observations made watching Olympic athletes prepare for their events. This chart was prepared ahead of time in anticipation of the series of lessons the teacher planned to teach.

The next series of chart photos show how the chart was unveiled and used to reinforce the teacher’s teaching focus each day. It is important to point out that while the overall chart was prepared ahead of time in this case, it was not shown as a whole to the students. In fact, each bullet was taught into explicitly on separate days by breaking them down into steps.

Step one of introducing the chart.

The teacher uses the heading of the chart to help her introduce what she wants to teach and to engage the students in the topic by using a metaphor they might connect with.

Next, the teacher folds down the chart to reveal the first strategy she plans to teach for setting up to read.

The first strategy is revealed, but not the “how” to do it.

The small sticky notes were added as the teacher demonstrated each step a reader goes through to prepare to read any book. For example, readers prepare by “thinking about the book right from the start.” They do this by first looking at the front cover, title, and back cover. Then they wonder about what will happen or ask questions. Finally, they read with their minds on fire. Notice how each sticky note reminds readers of these steps.

The “how” to do the strategy is added showing the steps involved.

As the teacher explains how to think about a book right from the chart, she demonstrates how to do it with a book of her own, while adding the steps with icons onto sticky notes and putting those up on the chart next to the strategy. Each sticky note reinforces the teacher’s words and actions: look, wonder, read.

The rest of the strategies and the steps involved are unwrapped as each one is taught explicitly by the teacher. The second teaching point is to ask, “What kind of book is this?” This strategy is important at the beginning of the year when children are reading a variety of books with various forms and genres. “Finding time and space to read” is another important lesson when you are trying to set children up to read with increased stamina and independence. And all along you can emphasize that this is just like what Olympic athletes do to build stamina and independence.

Here is the chart with the second strategy shown.

This is the chart in its final form.

Now, you won’t always prepare a chart ahead of time. You need to consider your purpose, all that you want to include on the chart, and how you will use the chart to support your teaching. You can always go back to a chart and add photos or have children illustrate pertinent parts. But back to our Olympic theme.

The Olympics can provide a fresh look at an old or familiar subject, such as partnerships. Partnerships take team work, and no place was that more obvious than at the Olympics. Whether you watched Beach Volleyball or Synchronized Diving you saw inspiring examples of athletes who worked together tirelessly and supported each other every step of the way. This is something our students can strive towards with their partnerships. This idea of teamwork came into play when creating a chart around reading partnerships.

Some photos of Olympic teams help illustrate the point.

The heading, “Partners work as a team!!!” is meant to excite and engage in the prospect of working together with a reading partner. Partnerships are often challenging, so anyway we can generate enthusiasm for this essential element of any workshop, the better. Photos of kids looking, listening, and talking to each other can add another dimension to the chart. During another lesson, some specific prompts kids could use when trying to “point out examples” was added.

Some sample prompts have been added to help partners provide examples as they talk.

In addition to the amazing teamwork seen at the Olympics, there were many  individuals who achieved extraordinary results through hard work and strategic planning. Michael Phelps was one very familiar figure the world watched intensely. Seeing him come back again and again, even after a few disappointing events, made him the poster boy for resiliency. He did not give up, so we had to include him on at least one chart so he could inspire a few of our upcoming writers.

The metaphor of being a gold-medal winner is used to remind students what it takes to be a gold-medal writer.

The 2012 Olympic Games provided us with two weeks of entertainment, but also showed us how to be in this world. The athletes approached each task as a challenge, saw failure as a chance to learn, and felt proud of their efforts that got them to London among all the other countries. Whether you use the Olympics or not, we know you will continue to find ways to inspire another generation of students excited to learn and try things out.

And as always, happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

Just One More Thought…

Hello again, just a quick note… we received word that the Introduction from our upcoming book, Smarter Charts, is up and ready for free viewing online  here.  You can also view the color sections, the table of contents, and more. Click through and let us know what you think in the comments below.

We look forward to seeing some of you at TCRWP’s August Reading Institute. Stop by and say hi!

Happy Charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

Getting Back in the Groove

Chartchums is back after a bit of a rest, and we are excited to once again be sharing classroom stories, charts, and ideas with you. Now, if you are like us (quick check: Have you already started lingering over school supplies at Target? Then, yes, you are like us.), you probably never stopped thinking about teaching and are already imagining the myriad of possibilities for the upcoming year.

This year will be a slightly different one for Chartchums. Our book comes out September 1 (click on the picture to purchase it), and we are already thinking about the next one. Kristi is heading back into the classroom to be a kindergarten teacher and Marjorie will continue to work in schools across the country and world as a seasoned staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. As we both prepare for the year ahead, we find ourselves talking constantly about plans and systems and routines for the upcoming year to keep ourselves (and the teachers and students we work with) successful.

Routine is an essential component to any teacher’s classroom. Think about your own life and the routines that sustain and comfort you on a daily basis. For us, it is turning the coffee pot on BEFORE stepping into the shower so it is ready to greet us once we emerge. It is laying clothes out the night before to avoid the “I have nothing to wear” conundrum in the early morning hours, and finally it is finishing up emails before dinner, so we can truly be present with our partners and families for the rest of the evening.

Principles of Management and Routines

The same is true for the students in your classroom. Routine is calming, comforting, and sustaining, especially for students who may have less consistent routines at home. Our brilliant colleague at TCRWP, Shanna Schwartz, has some words of wisdom when it comes to teaching management and routines to students. Shanna speaks of five principles of management:

  • Be consistent: Once children learn a routine it becomes automatic and takes none of their mental power to execute it. Each time you change a routine, it requires learning and brain power from students. Choose one way to do things and stick with it, so children can attend to the important parts of your teaching.
  • Have reasonable expectations: Seventeen-step routines might be a bit complicated for first grade. Create routines with 3-5 steps and children will be more successful in learning (and remembering) them.
  • Teach the routine, don’t just tell it: Give children the opportunity to practice the routine again and again until it becomes automatic. As with all things, the learning is in the doing.
  • Practice what you preach: If one routine involves walking quietly from one space to another, keep your own voice quiet as well. Students are learning far more about the rules of the classroom from what you do, than what you say.
  • Put yourself out of a job, foster independence: Sometimes it feels like it will be faster and easier to do things yourself: hand out the paper, collect the markers, pass out the books, but part of what every teacher is teaching is how to be a citizen in the world. Children learn responsibility and active problem solving when they are given responsibility and chances to solve problems independently. This can be supported with the work you capture on charts.

Sample Routine Charts

A chart on the Smart Board to support routines and behaviors during independent reading time

A chart that captures for children the routine of goal setting in readers workshop

A chart that captures for children the routine for meeting with partners in reading

A chart capturing the set up routine for writers workshop

Charting Routines

Routine charts are likely the most common chart teachers make in the first few weeks of school. There are a few basic principles that will help you tackle these charts in ways that will support student learning and develop independence.

1. Make them with the students.

2. Use student photographs to make them stick.

3. Write them in steps, like a how-to.

4. Reread them daily as a part of shared reading.

With all things charted, once the majority of students know the routine – retire the chart. You will certainly need that space for charting the next bits of your powerful teaching.

Other “Starting the Year Strong” Supports

Want more beginning of the year charts and ideas? Then check out these posts from earlier in our history:


Classroom Set Up

Starting the year off in Reading

Setting the Stage

Last, but Not Least

Chartchums is available to do work in your school to support you and your colleagues in creating powerful charts, independent students, and memorable teaching. Contact us directly at: chartchums@gmail.com or through the Heinemann website.

As always, happy charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli