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

International Appeal

Hello again! For this week’s post, we will celebrate powerful charts in classrooms from the exotic locale of Taipei American School, located in Taipei, Taiwan.

Before we start looking at charts, a word or two about the school. Taipei American School (TAS) is a pre-K to twelve school located in the Tien-Mu area of Taipei. The bulk of their students are Americans of Asian Heritage with a smaller percentage from around the world. The teachers have been using readers and writers workshop for the past four years, led by a fearless and brilliant coach: Carrie Tenebrini. All the teachers at the school are warm, lovely, passionate educators and their quest for student independence and clear explicit teaching is evident in the charts they make.

As a visitor in Taipei, the teachers made sure I was well fed and cared for, but there were times when I found myself alone with another colleague. Rather than give in to panic surrounded by a language we did not know, nor could we read, we used the one thing readily available to us: symbols and visuals!

Directions on the Airplane

It was striking again and again, how critical visuals are in helping one function in the world. From the above example of “do nots” when flying (Although, who exactly, is operating remote control cars is not clear to me) to the below icons for exit and slippery, we were able to maneuver our way through the country.


Slippery when Wet

The same is true for the charts in our classrooms. Especially in a school with a large percentage of English Language Learners, like TAS, visuals and icons are the linking language for students. They may not know the word in English, but they know the concept and a visual or an icon helps them interpret the charts in your room.

Using Photographs

Rereading chart with student images from the classroom

The first grade team at TAS has long been talking about getting more student images on their charts. From sample post-its to photographs, using student work and pictures makes the chart instantly more accessible. Even if I am not sure of the language, the pictures show me the behavior that I can replicate on my own. As an aside, this team also color codes their charts- anything green is reading, anything blue is writing… so smart!

Using tools

Amanda, a wise second grade teacher at TAS, used a photograph in this chart to help her readers get and stay organized with their materials. The photograph allows a touchstone for children to refer back to, as well as a prompt for what to do every day. The annotations around the side support the work that readers should be doing with these tools!

Using Shared Texts


Jennifer, another thoughtful second grade teacher at TAS, has been working with her students around fluency. This chart takes a text that the students know well through shared reading experiences and annotates it with post-its. On each big sticky note there is an icon to show what to look for and an explanation on how that will change your reading. Since children spent a long time working on this text, there is no new instruction happening on this chart, rather a powerful reminder of all they know, so they can use it again and again.

Holding Students Accountable, Even the Littlest Ones

Kindergarten rereading chart

Carlee, an amazing kindergarten teacher, is the source of this chart. Before we look at how she is holding five year olds accountable, a quick word about the symbols. The book lets the children know this is a reading chart. The symbol for rereading was spoken about and made with our fingers before it was put on the chart, and each section of the chart has a clear picture to remind students of the strategy. This chart was built over several days, but Carlee took this chart one step further when she had her five year olds put their name on the strategy they were going to try this day. This small act of goal setting holds children accountable for the teaching you have done and creates a purpose to the work they are tackling back at their own seat.

Thanks again to the incredible teachers at TAS for a week of hard work, smart thinking, and powerful practice!  Until next time, Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz