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

Life Imitates Chart

Hello Again!
This week chartchums has been all over the map, metaphorically and literally. Marjorie attended the annual NCTE conference held in Las Vegas, and chartchums guest posted on the amazing blog: Two Writing Teachers. You can check it out here. We posted some charting thoughts on Non-Fiction writing, which many teachers will be beginning soon. Two Writing Teachers also has a review of Smarter Charts and a Smarter Charts Book giveaway! Check out the blog for tons of useful information about the teaching of writing.

Since we touched base on some of the upcoming literacy work in that guest blog, we decided to dedicate the post this week to other types of classroom charts, and ways they can be used to create an independent, active, and inspiring classroom.

Community Building and Classroom Management

A few weeks ago Kristi posted some charts from her classroom to help with classroom management, most notably the “Glitch-Bummer-Disaster” chart (which was so thoughtfully created and shared by Kat Cazes, another kindergarten teacher at PS 59 in Manhattan). Many teachers asked to see a better picture, so here it is again:

Children come to the area where this chart is posted and decide which kind of problem they have, then select which solution they will try. Underneath the “bummer” ask a teacher is listed as an option of last resort, and one that has not been used lately. There were many class discussions around what constituted a disaster, and there has yet to be (knock on wood) any classroom disasters. In a case of “life imitating chart” a parent told Kristi that when her son and another child from the class were playing over the weekend, they encountered a “glitch” and created a solution center in the corner to talk it out.

In the weeks since the creation and usage of the “Glitch-Bummer-Disaster” chart, one issue has arisen, which is that children are having a hard time communicating how someone’s actions have affected them. Often the talk in the solution center  was a list of what happened and the recurring prompt was, “and how did that make you feel?” To help children gain more language and comfort with expressing their feelings, some of the read alouds in the intervening weeks have been about feelings, and the ways to talk about them. The Pigeon Series and The Elephant and Piggie Series (both by Mo Willems) are classroom favorites, and clear examples of feelings that become too big to handle. The class began to create scales of feelings (for more on this see the post on vocabulary). This was the resulting chart:

The pictures come from the above-mentioned series and go in order of least intense to most intense from left to right. The class started by first trying to use this chart to talk about feelings that resulted from particular actions. Next the class is working on ways to change feelings. On this blog we talk a great deal about helping children feel like active participants in their academic life; the same is also true of their emotional life. It is important to Kristi that her students see that one can change how they feel and name what they need to make that happen. This is the beginning of that chart:

This chart is in the beginning stages. Children are co-creating  signs of things they may need to feel okay. Among the ideas generated by the students are: a hug, you to stop, and a drink of water (the miracle cure!). Currently these two charts are hanging by the rug, where they can be used for role playing and during class community meanings, but soon they will head to the area by the solution center, where they can be used in the context of problem solving. The big idea here, the one we want to stick, is that everyone will have problems, but you have the power to solve them and to make your life and the classroom community a better, happier place.


For the past five years, Kristi has eaten, drank, and dreamed literacy, so it was a bit of shock to be teaching math once again. She was helped along a great deal by the wise folks at Math in The City (a math professional development organization based at the City College of New York) Math in the City adheres to many of the principles of workshop teaching, and focuses on building number sense and problem solving, not just the memorization of algorithms. One way to do this is through meaningful daily routines, especially attendance. This is Kristi’s attendance chart:

It is a laminated piece of posterboard with thirty squares. The squares are in rows of ten, with five red and five white making up the row. This is based on a tool called the rekenrek, which was designed to help children understand the relationship between numbers. Every day children come in and put their first initial in one of the boxes (it is partially erased in this picture) and Kristi asks, “How many friends are here today?” In the beginning children said things like, “64!” But in the last few weeks, these kindergarten children have begun to develop different strategies to help them answer this question more efficiently.

In an attempt to help other children sample these alternate strategies, Kristi charted them. The strategies are named for the children who used them (the chart now has photos of the children next to their names). The first strategy, named by the child who tried it, has a speech bubble saying, “Count by 1’s” and then an illustration of what that looks like. When children use this strategy they say they are using ____’s strategy. The strategies then become more sophisticated, with the next strategy involving jumps of ten, and the final one counting back from 30 (since there are ALWAYS thirty squares, according to the student). Just like literacy strategy charts, we have one big skill: counting the number of students, and several strategies to do it. Just like in writing or reading, children select the one they understand and are ready for, and there is room to add new ones as they develop.

Writing… Because We Could Not Resist

Last, but not least, lets look at a few writing charts. Right now in Kristi’s kindergarten classroom, children are writing for many purposes. The most exciting part of this unit has been the increased independence and reliance on the charts and tools in the classroom.

First up: types of writing. The class went on a walk and took photos of different kinds of writing in the school. Children use this as a constant resource for what they will write.

Types of writing in the school.

A child using the samples to think about what type of writing he will make next

Symbols to make sign making more effective

The most popular of all the types of writing has been signs and charts, so to support students, a chart was created of popular symbols that students could use to help their signs and charts become more effective and readable to the public. This teaching resulted in signs that overran the classroom, home and school:

  • No smoking (now hanging on the school gates)
  • No Moms Allowed (hanging on a child’s bedroom door)
  • No running (hanging in the hallways outside the classroom)

And the ever useful:

  • No kicking in the penis (to hang up during wrestling matches at home)

Since signs have become so very popular, it has been a great opportunity to work on adding letters and sounds into writing, since most signs have pictures AND words. To help children do this, a variety of strategies have been taught and charted:

Just like the math chart above, there is a big skill and a variety of options for children to select from to create powerful writing. As children turn to charts across disciplines, times of the day, and for a variety of purposes, they learn that help is often just a glance away. Now granted, there are always hard days and easy days in any classroom, but bit by bit when we create and use tools that empower children, we help them learn to help themselves. Across reading and writing, across the day, and hopefully in life. And that is one way we want life to imitate charts.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, safe travels, and of course: Happy Charting!
Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

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