Yes, you really can draw!

Summer is a great time to decompress, smell the roses, and try new things. Whether you canoe on a lake, plant a garden, or attend a workshop, you most likely are using these summer months to get to square one, to rediscover the person you really are deep down, and to relax. But then August comes along and with it the new school year, right around the corner. But the new school year also provides teachers with a sense of renewal, a fresh start, a feeling of renewal.

We have heard from many teachers that they would like to start the new school year feeling better equipped to create the tools and charts that will support the instruction they plan to teach with increased ownership and individuality. But then there is always a big “but.” “I don’t know how to draw.” “It takes me too long to make the charts.” “Clip art is great but it takes so much time to find and print out.”

We hear you and in this post we offer some earlier drawing tips and some newer ideas based on what has helped us create the thousands of images and icons we use to create the visual images that support each teaching point we introduce.

Drawing is about learning to look closely, observe shapes, and practicing matching what the eye observes with the hand that holds the pencil. Continued practice increases your eye-hand coordination.

We often use universal icons to represent look, listen, say, and point. Above are some step-by-step visual how-to’s that will help you remember how to draw eyes, ears, mouths, and fingers.

The circle is the most basic shape, the one most young children draw first. The circle is the foundation of drawing people as well as some of the icons you see above, like binoculars, eyeglasses, and a magnifying glass.

If you don’t think you know how to draw, remember to add to that statement, “not yet.” Try following the models we have shared with you here and before you know it, you too will be drawing! The idea is not to draw like DaVinci, but to draw images that simply and clearly convey the messages you are trying to teach. Then you can teach your students how to draw which will open up a whole new world of expression for them as well.

Never worry about perfection, enjoy your trials, and have fun!

Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

The Power of Ō Can Help You Draw

At Chartchums we use yoga as a way to stretch our bodies and calm our minds. Many yoga classes we attend begin with the chanting of ōm, a mantra that helps bring the mind, body and spirit together for the individual and a sense of combined purpose for all those in the class. The sound of ōm is one of the basic mantras and is a building block for many other mantras used for meditation and enlightenment.

What does this have to do with charts? Well, the power of ōm made us think of the power of ō, which is the primary shape we rely upon when drawing many of the icons and figures that show up on our charts. You are all familiar with the way we use circles to draw people from our past posts, especially the ones on drawing. But there are a few more icons that we find ourselves using quite often that start off as an ō (or circle) so we thought we would share some with you here.

A single circle is the start of a magnifying glass, which often indicates some kind of inquiry. It is a visual reminder for children to “look closely” or “take another look” when they are reading, writing, or doing problem solving of any kind, in any subject. The how-to below shows four steps, but you could very easily stop at the second step, especially when speed and simplicity is of the essence.

The magnifying glass is a symbol that can be used on charts for any subject matter

The magnifying glass is a symbol that can be used on charts for any subject matter

A single circle is also the start of the international no symbol which signifies “do not” or “warning” or any action not permitted or wanted. Teachers often use the “no symbol” to indicate “do not” or “be careful” as in “do not run” or “be careful not to slam the door.” The official universal symbol is red with the diagonal line dissecting the circle from the upper left down to the lower right, although black is also typically seen. In the example below we are letting you know not to use a square when making a “no” sign.

This universal symbol is a favorite that works for a variety of purposes

This universal symbol is a favorite that works for a variety of purposes

Two ō’s or circles can be used to make anything from bicycles to people, but here we show how two circles can be turned into a pair of eyeglasses and a set of binoculars. Eyeglasses work well to indicate when you want kids to “look” or “see.” The binoculars are a fun symbol to use when the action you want is “zooming in” or looking really closely. As before, you can stop at either step 2 or step 3 depending on your purpose and desire.

The arms of the eyeglasses can be angled inward for a slightly different look

The arms of the eyeglasses can be angled inward for a slightly different look


Bringing in an actual pair of binoculars will help kids understand just how much this cool tool can aid in seeing things up close

Bringing in an actual pair of binoculars will help kids understand just how much this cool tool can aid in seeing things up close

Of course, as with any drawing lesson, these step-by-step drawing tips are meant to help jump start you to get you going. You will quickly find yourself adding your own details and personality to the drawings you use on your charts. And never worry about a picture or icon being “perfect.” Clarity and purpose should always take priority, as should consideration of time and effort.

With practice, drawing will become easier and faster, as well as more fun. And we all need a bit more fun in our lives. Let us know how it goes, as you use the Power of ō to create charts for and with your kids.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

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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