Sketching Helps Students with Writer’s Block

Okay, so I’m about to get really real with you. I do not like drawing in my class. I don’t know if it’s because I can’t draw or that I’m worried my students may get off task or concerned with the amount of time it takes. Either way, I guess I thought my students were too old to be drawing in class.

Until one day… I attended an AVID training where we learned how to sketch. I was hooked!

I realized that this was a way to help my students overcome writer’s block. I always find that my gifted students and at-risk students can really suffer from writer’s block. So much so that they will cry or become very anxious when we have to write.

But now when I say, “Okay. Open up your Writer’s Notebooks and let’s begin to sketch out our story before we write” they are excited about getting their thoughts on paper. Let me walk you through the sketching process.

By the way, this may look different if writing an expository, persuasive, argumentative, etc. text. We used this strategy when writing personal narratives.

First off, I taught my students the difference between a drawing and a sketch. This helped me to overcome the fear that this strategy would take them forever and possibly cause them to get off task. I told them that my two boys love sketching and all they needed was a pencil and a piece of paper.

Your students will also need to choose a watermelon or seed story to write about. If you are unsure of how to do this, then I included a link to take you to another post I wrote on this topic. Seed Story vs. Watermelon Story

We used our Writer’s Notebooks (spirals) and I had them turn their notebook horizontally. They had to draw three large rectangles and label them BME showing me that they had a beginning, middle, and end to their story. If you see the top photo then you will see that I wrote First, Next, Last.

I modeled for them how I chose a seed story and then I talked through the story while sketching. I then told them to begin sketching their story in order. We started out very basic. Here is my first sketch.

I modeled how to sketch for my students before having them go off on their own to sketch. I walked them through the story of when my husband and I went horseback riding for our honeymoon and he fell off a horse. I made sure to include story elements like characters, setting, problem, etc.

After modeling how to begin sketching, I had the students go off on their own and spend about 5-10 minutes just sketching anything they could think of regarding their seed story. I would throw out questions like “Did you include your characters? Where is your story taking place? Is there a problem in your story?”

Something that our art teacher once told me was that boys always tend to make their drawings and sketches show action and use a lot of verbs. Girls tend to draw or sketch mostly using nouns.

This is why we share our sketches consistently. We share after sketching and we share the next day before sketching. This enables them to think of more details to add to their sketch and allows all students to add in those action verbs.

At the beginning of the year, I teach them how to use A/B partners. A does the sharing, B does the listening. I model this religiously with a student before sending them off to share. Otherwise, they might be talking about who knows what. I also model how to look at the A partner while they are speaking, otherwise we’re not believing that you are really listening.

As a way to peer edit, I also coach my students on how to ask each other questions and critique the work of their peers. I love hearing those conversations when a student reminds another students that he/she left the problem out of their story or telling them that there’s a part of their story that doesn’t quite make sense.

I am also very big on affirming one another, so before leaving the partner they are sharing with I always have them give a verbal affirmation to their partner or they write it on the back of their sketch in their Writer’s Notebook. Affirmations might include “Nice sketch. I like the part where you ___.”

I am telling you, this sketching is a game-changer. Maybe you’re a master pro at sketching. I wish you’d share your ninja skills with this newbie! Feel free to leave a reply telling me how you use sketching in your classroom.

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