Category Archives: illustrations

Teach students sketchnoting to help them remember

Ever hear of sketchnoting?  It’s a way of taking notes which is part words and part pictures, arrows, colors, and any other kind of graphics that help students remember what they are learning.  According to a 2018 study,* students who used sketchnoting were almost twice as likely to remember compared to students who wrote words only.

 Suppose a teacher is explaining the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.  Here is a sketchnote  of important facts to remember.   Notice how sketchnoting takes advantage of a student’s visual learning skills and in this case, artistic learning skills.

For more about sketchnoting, go to 

*The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory by Myra A. Fernandes, Jeffrey D. Wammes, Melissa E. Meade.













For kids with sensory integration issues, choose picture books with pared down shapes, colors, focus

If your child resists using certain picture books to retell a story, it could be the pictures themselves that discourage writing.

3rd grader writing an essay.

Choose picture books with plain or no background, solid colors, one or two characters and a single, focused idea in each drawing

Picture books with detailed backgrounds or with copious patterns can turn off children with sensory integration issues.  Such children have difficulty focusing if there is too much pattern, noise, motion, or texture in any experience.  They prefer plain painted walls and plain bedspreads, not papered walls and patterned bedding; low, instrumental music by a single instrument, not loud music or music with lyrics; sitting or standing still, not rocking or dancing; and loose knit clothing, not clothes with tags or clothes that are tight-fitting.

When you choose books for children who show sensory integration issues, search for picture books with these characteristics:

  • Pictures with no backgrounds, or just the hint of background—a wash of green to represent grass and trees, for example, or one or two birds in the sky, not a whole flock.
  • Characters dressed in solid colors without shading or patterns in their clothes. If you have seen Pippa the Pig books or cartoons, with their simplistic images, that is the kind you want to show your child.
  • Pictures using flat shapes and limited colors, the kind that children themselves produce. (Think of the way Peanuts cartoon characters are presented—Charlie Brown with his round head and Lucy with her dress of a single color.)
  • Pictures focusing on one or two characters, not groups. Look for pared down, minimalist images which have removed everything but the essential elements.

When you look for picture books for children with sensory integration issues to write about, search for picture books with the features just mentioned.  Some wordless picture books offer these kinds of pictures, but not all do.

Finding such books in your library or book store is not easy.  A section labeled “simplistic art” doesn’t exist.  I have had to scour shelves to find what I am looking for.  But the search is worth it to entice a reluctant child writer.

Next blog:  A list of books with the kind of art which appeals to children with sensory integration issues.

Try adding words to comic book art to lure young writers

Looking for a lure to get younger kids to write?

I’ve found something that works great for kindergarteners through third graders:  retelling comic book stories.

In the back of an old comic book, I found three pages telling the story of Aesop’s Fable “The Lion and the Mouse.”  I photocopied the three pages and cut out the words, taping blank paper over the cut-out sections.  I labeled each frame with a letter.

Aesop Lion and Mouse cartoon

Then I told my student writer the story, pointing to each frame as I went along.  The last frame contains a moral, so we discussed what a moral is, and what might be appropriate for this story.

On notebook paper, the child wrote his own version of the story, labeling each sentence or group of sentences with a letter corresponding to a frame from the comic book.

Next, we revised, substituting better verbs and making sure sentences began with variety.  One third grader was learning figures of speech, so to her version, we added alliteration, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, rhyme and hyperbole.

When the words were ready, I typed them to fit in the blanks, printed them, and taped them to the photocopy.  My students were dazzled by their own work, and set right to work on the next comic book story “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Try it.  Page through some old comic books or the Sunday funny pages for appropriate stories.  I recommend stories which are two or three pages long, with no more than five frames per page, or a total of ten to 12 frames.  Writing words for that many frames can be done in a half hour to an hour—not long enough for a child to get discouraged.  And once done, the rewritten story plus art can be displayed easily on your refrigerator, or copied and emailed to Grandma.

Should students illustrate their writing with drawings (like in the Wimpy Kid)?

Many of my students do. And here’s why.

  • Illustrating encourages students to write. The drawings become the carrot that entices the students to write words.
  • Information gleaned from the drawings can later be added as details to the writing during revisions. Some students add few details in their writing but add rich details in their illustrations. A teacher can encourage the student to transfer some of the visual details into words.
  • The internet has changed the language we use to communicate to a much more visual and less textual language.  Students live more and more in a visually designed online world, using icons, videos, tables, photos and cartoons. Why not let their school work reflect their real world?
  • Drawings can be an icebreaker between a teacher and a poor student writer. “Wow, Adam, I love the way you drew the expression on that guy’s face. Your art is really well done! Now let’s see how we can get that feeling into words.”
  • When students read one another’s work, they love the illustrations. Students may be more willing to accept peer criticism of their writing if they receive peer praise for their drawings.

Below is a narrative with illustrations made by a fifth grader.  The illustrations were in his first draft on notebook paper, but we added them to his final draft.  Click on the graphic below to enlarge it.

Illustrated narrative by a 5th Grader.