Tag Archives: students

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.

A revised first draft showing cross outs, arrows, circles and erasures means the student has truly improved the essay

Every professional writer knows that the real work of writing happens during revision. But this is an idea that students—and parents—need to learn. If a student says she has finished revising and her copy seems little altered, then she has probably not done a good job at revision.

On the other hand, if a student looks at her copy, noticing cross outs, arrows to side margins or to the back of the paper, words squeezed in, circles to identify verbs and first words of sentences and perhaps even sections cut apart and taped together in a different order, the student has truly revised.

Below is an example of the first page of a fourth grader’s messy but revised essay.

draft showing revisions 001

Revising is not editing. Revising means making substantial changes in the writing in order to improve it. Editing means looking for finer details such as correct spelling, apostrophes in the right spaces, and hyphens used appropriately. Unfortunately, in many school classrooms, students don’t learn to revise; they learn to edit.

Parents can be dismayed if they see the writing of my students while revising is in progress. Parents expect me to make the student edit too early on in the writing process. “Shouldn’t he change the spelling now?” a parent might ask, looking over his child’s shoulder.

When I work with children of parents like this, I show them examples of other students’ work, including the final draft. I let them see that the tiny errors will be corrected eventually. Usually this suffices until they see their own child’s finished work. Then they are sold on this writing process.

Perfectionist students might never reach the stage of good revising unless they learn to tolerate a degree of mess. I worked with one student who needed to start over so many times that she never completed a single essay. I have worked with other perfectionists who learned that the mess increases their chances of a higher grade, and so they set their sights on the perfect grade and begrudgingly accepted the interim mess.

Next we will talk about flow and how to make it happen.