Looking Back at NCTE14

There have been quite a few amazing NCTE reflection posts around the internet, and we here at chartchums would be remiss if we did not add ours in to the mix. There were so many things that made the NCTE convention special, not the least of which was the incredible community of educators we were among.

So much of our profession is about giving. We give time―to planning, to parents, to meetings, to a special lunch date with a kiddo. We give energy―to our students, to our schools, to our runs up and down flights of stairs. We give our hearts―to everyone. There comes a time when you can feel all given out―when you look around and think, “That’s it, I’ve got nothing left.” For Kristi, that was the week before NCTE. She was fighting a cold while trying to meet data deadlines, finishing up long nights of parent teacher conferences, and finalizing overdue writing projects. Kristi felt she had reached a point of tapping out. Going to a conference on literacy seemed about as desirable as sticking hot knives in her eyes.

Yet, she went. As did so many of you―just as tired, just as empty-feeling.

But here is the thing―every second of NCTE, whether listening to amazing and powerful presentations from people like Kathy Collins and Matt Glover, browsing the booths to see the latest and greatest books, meeting people you fell in love with over twitter (Hi Shawna!!!), falling in love with new people (Hi Katie and Sara!!!!), or seeing friends that fill you with hope and joy (Hi Kristin!!!), NCTE is about filling ourselves up. Filling ourselves up with knowledge, filling ourselves with hope, filling ourselves with joy and energy.

And it is important that we take time to fill ourselves back up, so we can give everything back once again.

Since all of you were not able to attend the conference, we are giving you a summary of our workshop, so you can virtually experience the benefits of NCTE, but as far as the laser light show and ice slide, that you will have to imagine!

The Art of Capturing the Story of Learning Through Teaching Charts – and Changing the Narrative of Children’s Learning in the Process

We (Kristi and Marjorie) were lucky to present with a brilliant writer, editor and friend, Zoe Ryder White. Zoe brought the critical (and sometimes overlooked) parent perspective to our work with charts, and shared how charts can empower children at home, as well as school.

Our presentation focused on the “meta” aspects of charting, specifically that charting is a way to teach types of thinking and that charts underscore a growth mindset.

We spoke about how we believe that certain types of charts help promote certain types of thinking:

  • routine charts promote organized thinking and problem solving
  • repertoire charts promote flexible, yet tenacious, thinking
  • process charts promote strategic thinking
  • exemplar charts teach that thinkers look to models and analyze them
  • concept charts promote the idea that thinking is grown and revised over time

Some questions we asked our audience, which we ask you also, is: What is the thinking that you demonstrate in your charts? Do you tend to show just one way? Or do you have a varied menu of ways of thinking that you are (implicitly or explicitly) teaching  children?

We also spoke a bit about how (smarter) charts are automatically oriented towards a growth mindset. By making and using charts with children, you are showing a path in which to grow. By encouraging goal setting and flexibility, you are helping children realize a positive association between effort and outcome.

Zoe shared some of the ways her child’s incredibly reflective teacher, Maureen Crowley at PS 29 in Brooklyn, has been sending charts home as part of her action research, and how those charts have created feelings of agency in children. No longer adrift with a pile of a books and general ideas, reading charts sent home can anchor children in the work of school, even when they are at home. Zoe also spoke about how the use of charts (and teaching children about the purpose and power of charts) has motivated her own child to create charts to help herself with challenges that arise at home―like getting everything done in the morning before school. Some ways to send charts home/share with parents:

  • tweet them out
  • post them on a class blog
  • add them to a class newsletter
  • put them in reading baggies
  • put them in folders: math, writing, homework
  • use them as shared reading

We hope this helps you in your charting journey and look forward to hearing from you as to the ways you are using charts to help your children think flexibly and independently.

Happy Charting!

Kristi and Marjorie, and Zoe, too!

Charts as Pathways to Success

In the NCTE position paper on Formative Assessment (October 21, 2013) there is a handy list of ten elements that make up formative assessment. Number five on the list reads:

Requires development of plans for attaining the desired goals.

Hallelujah, we say! So often all we think about is what kids need, or what we need, without quite figuring out how to get there. Its like saying, “I need a million dollars” without having any actual plan to save money, increase your income, or play the lottery. Sad to say making a wish or stating a need alone does not get you the million dollars (but if it does, we will leave our contact information in the comments). Carol Dweck, author of Mindset (2007), and all around intellectual crush of Kristi’s and Marjorie both, speaks to this idea as well. She cites research from Peter Gollwitzer that finds just declaring you will change results in no change at all. Knowing how to get what you need is as critical as knowing what you need. More from Mindset:

                       What works is making a vivid, concrete plan: “Tomorrow during my break, I’ll get a cup of tea, close the door to my office, and call the graduate school.” Or in another case: “On Wednesday morning, right after I get up and brush my teeth, I’ll sit at my desk and start writing my report.” … Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront. What is it? Now make a concrete plan. When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Think about it in vivid detail….These concrete plans – plans you can visualize – about when, where, and how you are going to do something lead to really high levels of follow through, which, of course, ups the chance of success (Dweck, p. 228).

This, dear friends, is where charts come in!

Co-creating a personalized or class chart helps children visualize the attainment of whatever goal they have, which in turn will lead to increased follow through and success. We write down recipes and directions for a reason. It is not enough to know you want to make lasagna, you need the steps to be successful. Once your formative assessments have helped you and your students identify areas of need, charts help everyone get there, they provide the steps. We refer to these particular charts as process charts, and have more about them in our upcoming book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies.

Some Tips:

1. Use your goal (or destination) as your heading. This keeps the focus on the big idea, not the ticky tacky bits that make it up.

2. Use numbers or arrows when appropriate, these small reminders help children be organized in their thinking and their work.

3. Co-construct the chart so that the children visualize alongside you, using their language as much as possible to make the chart meaningful and personal.

4. Use visuals that break down the steps quickly and easily.

Some Examples:

Supporting an Individual  Child’s Growth in Reading

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Step 1: The Formative Assessment:

Kristi found that this student had a host of snap words he knew by heart in isolation, but when it came time to reading books, all that knowledge flew out the window. His running records showed many miscues for words that he knew on sight. Usage of these words as he read would help his comprehension and his accuracy. As an English Language Learner, this child was at a disadvantage in relying on his syntax, but sight words could be a strength for him to depend on.

Step 2: The Plan

Kristi sat with this child to explain the conundrum, ending with the reason why snap words matter to readers. It helps us understand and read the book, saving our brain energy for the tricky words. The child and Kristi co-constructed a plan: first warm up to remember all the words he knows, then take a book walk to see if he could find any of those words in the book he wanted to read, then read the book.

The when: Before you read

The where: On the snap word list, and in the books

The how: Warm-up and then go!

Supporting Whole Class Growth in Comparing and Contrasting

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Step 1: The Formative Assessment

Marjorie asked a group of students to compare and contrast two photos of classrooms from long ago and today and found that many children struggled. Some did not know what to write, some just wrote about one photo, some described what they thought was happening.

Step 2: The Plan

Marjorie designed lessons around the lenses children could use to look at photos, emphasizing that when you look between two items, you always want to ask yourself: what is the same? what is different?

The when: Whenever you have two things in front of you, it is a worthy endeavor to figure out out how they are the same and how they are different.

The where: In social studies, science, reading, writing, math – any of these times could work for comparing two things.

The how: Go slowly and systematically, when you try to see everything you see nothing. Choose one lens at a time and repeat the plan as needed.

Just One More Reason To Love Charts!

Charts are not just descriptive: here is how we did something, they can also be prescriptive: here is how to do something. In a classroom you may have charts that represent both ideas, but the important thing is that you have charts. Charts serve as a way to grow independence, but also as models of ways to achieve success. A thoughtful recording of the where, when, and how is a skill that will help children (and teachers!) for a lifetime.

Share your thoughts in the comments below! Happy Charting!
Kristi and Marjorie

Whether Gearing Down or Revving Up…Setting kids up for independence

For some of you the 2012-2013 school year has come to a close, for others this week will be the last, and here in the northeast many schools won’t finish until the end of June. And then there are the many year-round schools across the country and lastly, summer school. So whether you are gearing down or revving up, here are a few ideas to encourage your students to practice what they have learned with increased independence using charts and checklists to help them along.

Setting kids up to have the mind frame that they can be in charge of their own learning and can help themselves solve problems as they arise is a life skill that will carry them far. At PS 176, an amazing school in Brooklyn where the majority of students are ELLs, Marjorie set the first graders up in Valeria’s class to ask themselves questions whenever they got stuck or weren’t sure how to solve a problem when reading and to use the charts and other resources in the classroom, not only as needed, but with flexibility as well. Bringing some of the strategy charts down and putting them back in front of the children also helps children reorient themselves to what you have taught. At this time of year, it is not so much new learning, as it is maintenance learning and review.

The left side highlights the questions, the right is one of the reading strategy charts.

The left side highlights the questions, the right is one of the reading strategy charts.

This idea of asking questions was extended to the writing workshop and used when the children were given a checklist to reflect on the poems they had written. The two key questions were “What have I learned about writing poems?” and “What do I still need to work on?” Putting the questions inside of speech bubbles was a visual reminder that these were questions that were to be spoken both to themselves and to their writing partners. The checklist includes examples and space for children to make tally marks each time they find a poem where they have used one of the strategies on the checklist. Rather than one “check and I am done!” it becomes “look how many times I have used repetition!”

Questions to ask when using a checklist.

Questions to ask when using a checklist.

Close-up of the checklist.

Close-up of the checklist.

Another area to build independence is with book clubs and conversations. Setting up a checklist to remind club members of how to get ready for a conversation and then to keep it going is one way to do this. In Florence’s first grade class at PS 176 Marjorie showed the children a system to get their talk going by having each child choose one of their big idea post-its and put it on a talk mat (in this case it was just a piece of paper with a star drawn in the middle). Then the club decides on which idea they want to start with and moves that post-it to the middle of the star. The goal is to talk as long as they can about this idea before moving on to the next big idea. The photo below shows what it looked like at the end of the lesson once the children had tried this out on a shared class book, Worm Builds by Kathy Caple (Brand New Readers). Some of the ideas generated by the class were, “Worm used to be worried, but now he is confident,” “Worm learned not to give up,” and “Friends should say sorry,” which they chose as the one to start the conversation with. Each club was then sent off with their own star talk mat and checklist to remind them of the steps without the need for a teacher nearby. The children in each book club were focused and intent, the talk energetic and dynamic.

Make your book club ROCK!

Make your book club ROCK!

In Pamela’s kindergarten class at PS 176 she was revving her children up for first grade by showing them ways they could post-it in their books during their final unit of study on character. The first lesson Marjorie taught was on noting character feelings and when a character’s feelings change. Once again she used some of her favorite books from the Brand New Readers series to model and practice with (Worm Builds and Piggy and Dad “Play Ball!” by Frank Remkiewicz). The photo below shows the beginning of a strategy chart. The chart includes not only visuals, but some sample post-its kids can refer to as examples. Pamela did a follow up lesson on revising some of the feeling words that were very general like “happy” and “really, really happy” since one of the goals of this unit was increasing vocabulary for her large percentage of English Language Learners. Another follow-up lesson was on using the post-its to do inferential retellings of stories.

Post-its help track when a character's feelings change.

Post-its help track when a character’s feelings change.

We hope this helps whether you are gearing down or revving up for the days ahead!

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi

A New Year, A New Start

Hello Everyone!

Happy New Year! It’s been a while, we know, but we are back and so appreciate your sticking with us through our absence! As happens, life happened, and the hiatus gave us a chance to get some things in order. Actually, it was because of life that Kristi had to miss a few days with her kindergarten class which got her really thinking about how important independence, routine, and expectations are for children. No one loves the day after a substitute, and that feeling forced Kristi to ask: “What do I ‘own’ in the classroom and what do the children ‘own’?” This lead her to explore this question with her colleagues and we are all the fortunate recipients of all they tried.

Charts and tools are one way we look to transfer ownership over to children, as well as to provide opportunities for self-reflection and goal setting. The teacher can not be the regulator, corrector, and director at all times. Children learn to become responsible when given responsibility. With this in mind, Kristi and her colleagues dove in using that idea as a guiding principle. Below are some of the things that resulted from this inquiry.

Helping Reading Workshop Become More Independent

Self-assessment is a tricky thing – for adults too! – and so creating a rubric that would help kindergarten children assess their reading time seemed like a daunting challenge. Kristi first tried this:

IMG_0505(For all the inquiring minds – the hamburger in the speech bubble represents talking about lunch during reading workshop!)

Almost every child immediately selected “Superhero,” with a few exceptions who labeled themselves as strong. Kristi realized that self-assessment without some practice was going to be hard, so then she created this chart with her class:


To make it even more concrete, the class decided that more than 3 reminders from the teacher to read books would make it an “okay” day. Between 1 and 3 teacher reminders would make it “strong” and no reminders would make it a “superhero” kind of day.  Alongside this chart was a chart that listed ways to stick with reading even when you felt tired or hungry. After a week or two of group assessment, children were ready to self-assess with more honest, reflective results.

This time of year is also the time when many teachers are working on partnerships. The always wise team of kindergarten teachers that Kristi works alongside at PS 59 in Manhattan developed some playful tools to help partners be productive and stay engaged.

Front cover with pictures of the partners. The partners are either apples or bananas to help with turn taking.

Front cover with pictures of the partners. The partners are either apples or bananas to help with turn taking.

Inside of folder with options for partners. One side says: to do, the other says: "done"

Inside of folder with options for partners. One side says: to do, the other says: “done”

The folder made partnerships feel a bit like a game and the partner activities inside were taught a few at a time, then the process of working with a partner was revisited throughout the unit.


Helping Writing Workshop Become More Independent 

Kristi’s mom, who was a teacher for many years, always advised her to “teach yourself out of a job”. It is a beautiful concept, but one that can feel frustrating when you have 24 five year olds clamoring for your care and attention. Kristi used her all about unit in writing (a genre many of her children had been dabbling with since September) to teach towards independence. This happened in several ways. First, Kristi stopped teaching children how to write, and started teaching them how to teach each other. Children who had experimented with something that would be great for the whole class to know were invited to teach alongside Kristi during some minilessons. Then the class reflected on who they learned from, what the apprentice teachers did to teach them, and how they did it. The chart below shows how Kristi made this public with her students.


After that, Kristi started getting children ready to lead small groups. She selected a few children who had something they could teach and met with them in a small group. The first step was to identify HOW to teach. The children thought through WHEN writers should do what they did and HOW to do what they did. Then the other students signed up for these student led seminars (keep in mind that these are Kindergarten students).


The “teachers” showed their own work and taught the others how to do it. Kristi coached in to the seminar teachers with prompts like, “Ask her to try it” and “Say your steps again.” It was incredible to see how the children rose to the occasion of being teachers, and how much more likely children were to use what they were taught when it was presented by a peer. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, but it was a start. Kristi is planning to do student-led seminar workshops every Friday, starting with writing and extending to reading and choice time over the next month. She’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Making Choice Time Matter

Kristi’s brilliant assistant principal, Alison Porcelli, wrote the book on choice time – literally – with Cheryl Tyler. It’s called Language Acquisition in the Choice Time Workshop and everyone should buy it and read it RIGHT NOW. One BIG idea in the book is that children should be setting goals and reflecting on them within choice time. Since Kristi’s kindergarteners are staying in the same centers for 3-5 days, they were ready to take this on. First planning a project was modeled, and then the children took it on. Goals ranged from building on to a city in the block center to throwing a wedding in the drama center. Art center caught wedding fever and decided to spend the week making decorations, cakes, and clothes for the event.


This hung in their center while they worked. At the end of the week they told Kristi what to take a picture of to show how they had met their project goal.



Kristi’s next step is to hand the camera to the children so they can capture the work they did that meets their project goals.

A Final Word

This has all been messy and, at times, terrifying – but it has always, always been fun. Kristi’s colleagues at PS 59 have put their brains together to develop ideas, put themselves out there to try it, and laughed when the results were a disaster (most of the disasters were happening in Kristi’s room). Kristi cannot say enough about the brilliant team she works with: Kathryn Cazes, Valerie Geschwind, Mollie Gaffney, Katie Lee and Andrea Mackoff who are incredible teachers and incredible people. Anything you see here that catches your eye was always the result of a team effort, and Kristi wishes to thank them for letting her share them all with the world. Thanks guys!

Grab your team close and dive in! Until next time, Happy Charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

Chartchums, Not Just For Literacy Anymore

Hello again! Thank you everyone for your warm wishes and positive feedback on our webcast on Education Talk Radio with Larry Jacobs! If you did not have a chance to hear it, or would like to hear it again (and again and again) you can find it archived here.

We here at Chartchums have been busy; Marjorie just presented at a literacy conference in Boca Raton, Florida and Kristi has been ear deep in fingerpaint and emergent literacy. One of the wake up calls for Kristi as she moved back into the classroom has been the world beyond literacy. Social studies? Math? But there is one constant that carries through them all: if you want children to remember what you have taught, and work independently, you need charts. As you look through these charts, you will see many of the themes we have discussed in literacy charts: clarity, use of visuals, and color. The fundamentals of useful successful charts remain the same regardless of content.Here are some thoughts, ideas, and snapshots from Kristi and her wonderful Kindergarten classroom at PS 59.

Choice Time Workshop

PS 59 in Manhattan operates under the wise direction of principal Adele Schroeter and assistant principal Alison Porcelli.  Along with being brilliant, thoughtful, and ethical leaders, Adele and Alison are former early childhood educators that believe strongly in the power and impact of play. Play is not separate from learning, play IS learning. You can learn more about making the most of play in Alison’s book, coauthored with Cheryl Tyler, entitled A Quick Guide to Boosting Language Acquisition in Choice Time available for purchase here. Part of the beauty of choice time is the way it mirrors the work happening in reading and writing. We use the same words: plan, revise, build stamina, and it follows the same structure: short lesson, followed by ample time to create, then a share at the end.

Choice Board

Children select their center on the choice board (the photo shows the top half, cardboard construction is an additional center on the bottom half – not pictured). The top section has the rug colors and matches the children’s rug spots. The order of the color squares indicates the order of the children choosing centers and rotates daily. Children stay in their center for 45 minutes. The pictures, routine, and daily  use of this tool make it one that can be used independently by children.

The Play Routine

What makes choice time different, is that we ask children to plan with their centers before they play. Children in the same center gather on the rug and decide what they will create, what they will need, and who will take each part. In the cardboard construction center children recently made a 6 foot long double decker bus, with one child working on the outside, one working on the steering wheel and buttons, one working on seats, and the final child making signs for each stop: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, etc. These plans often undergo revision, which is a wonderful analogy to share with children in writing. “Remember when you realized you didn’t have enough room to make the zoo in blocks so you moved it? That’s kind of what we do in writing workshop when we add more pages!” The simple language and accompanying text make it easy for children to use. It also mirrors the reading and writing routine charts in the room, making it three times as successful.

Building a Skyscraper

Social Studies

Part of the kindergarten curriculum is learning about community. One aspect of community is finding ways to work and live together. I learned about the “problem scale” from my brilliant colleague Kat Cazes. Kat is incredibly thoughtful when developing tools and charts for children.

Problem Scale

The problem scale has two parts: the type of problem (glitch, bummer, and disaster) and ways to solve these problems. This scale is hanging in the Solution Center (salushen chenter). When two or more children encounter an issue, they bring it to this area and talk it out. There is a classroom job called “Peacemaker” who assists in solving problems. There are clear pictures, and color coding to help children understand the severity of each problem. Glitch is green because it is simple to solve. Bummers are yellow/orange, because you have to slow down and take some time to solve them. Disasters (like a volcano) are red because everything stops to solve them. Each step to solve problems is simply illustrated to assist in independence in this area.

Above are two children sorting out a “bummer” in the solution center. Nearby are speech bubbles with kind words and pictures that might be helpful when solving problems. This helpful reminder is just to the left of the two boys:

“Use Words”

This sign was made during choice time at the art center by a child who wanted to make a gift for the class. Interestingly enough, she made a companion sign that said “No grabbing” in red (the opposite of this green sign), already using some of the color cues in the classroom and the world.

Social Studies and Science Inquiries

Another beautiful aspect of PS 59 is the emphasis on learning through inquiry. Valerie Geschwind, an incredibly smart, talented and accomplished teacher sets a beautiful model of using inquiry in the primary classroom. In her school study she has taken her class on several trips to the main office, even bringing back a walkie talkie the children can study and sketch over time. Valerie also has recurring “Think Tanks” where her kindergarteners gather around and talk about what they are learning about the school. Together she and the other members of the K team developed a chart for children to teach them more about the process of inquiry or investigation. Accompanying this version of a chart is an arrow that helps the class track their way through their investigation.

The Inquiry Process

The simplicity of language, clear and consistent picture cues, and color choice helps this chart become a tool for children. For more information on the inquiry process in the primary classroom, you may want to check out Young Investigators, available for purchase here.

Writing Workshop

Below are a few classroom charts emphasizing the importance of drawing in writing workshop. We at chartchums cannot emphasize enough the importance of spending time studying and teaching drawing to writers. The work children do when representing a scene in pictures is no different than the work they do when composing with words later on. Katie Wood Ray has a beautiful book on this subject called In Pictures and In Words.

The “We Can Draw” Chart

Each of these lessons was taught on the dry erase board, and then the chart was made from student work that was generated during writing workshop. These skills are on paper with restickable glue so they can be removed for close study by the other writers in the room. Once children began attending to the subtleties of the illustrations in read alouds and in their own books, they began innovating in their own books. “Dreaming” came about this way when a child saw it in a book, and recreated it for herself with no direct instruction besides, “Writers study other writers for ideas”

This student is an English language learner who does not yet write conventionally, but through an emphasis on drawing as a  representation of ideas, she has clearly communicated a scene. This book was made after several short lessons that emphasized drawing. Note the movement up the stairs, the backs of the people watching, and the thoughtful and intentional use of color. Many of these things were modeled repeatedly on class stories, taught in short lessons, and noticed in books.

This  chart deals directly with writing stories. The big ideas are simple and uses one word for easy reading. The color coding helps children identify what the big idea looks like in context. The post-its were put up by children to indicate the thing they wanted to work on that day. This chart has been reread many times in shared reading and also referenced during reading workshop to increase “stickiness”. Katie Lee, Mollie Gaffney, and Kat (three lovely and smart teachers) also have pages from read alouds on their charts. It is beautiful to look at their charts and see a child’s work right next to a a page from Caps for Sale! Kristi also added a photo of this chart in her parent letter as an easy way to let parents know what their children are working on in writing.

And last but not least, developing independence! The above chart started as just drawings and the children helped determine what should be green and what should be red. Accompanying it is a hat that Kristi wears when children need to be working independently: one side is red (closed for business) and that side is up when the she is conferring and meeting with small groups. The other side is green (open for business) which indicates the teacher is available to meet with anyone who needs her. The hat is almost now always worn on the red side, as children’s independence and confidence in their own problem solving has increased substantially.
Keep your eyes peeled for future math charts, guest posters, and even a book giveaway! As always, send us charts so we can share them with the world.

Until next time, happy charting!
Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

PS: For all our Canadian friends and followers you can now order Smarter Charts from:  pearsoncanadaschool.com

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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