Picture It: A Drawing-Based Pre-Reading Activity

 2013_Heyer_Sandra Sandra Heyer
In the last newsletter, I shared drawing tips that make it possible for any teacher, even one as inept at drawing as I am, to convey meaning with simple sketches on the board. In this newsletter, I’ll share some ideas for making drawings the centerpiece of a pre-reading activity.
Many textbooks at the lowest levels have pre-reading drawings built right into the book. For example, each unit at the Very Easy and Easy levels in the True Stories reading series begins with comic-strip-style drawings like those below, which are from Unit 11 in All New Easy True Stories. (The story, titled “The Best Doctor,” is about a woman in Alaska whose knee problem was finally resolved after she was chased by a bear.)
Sandra_Heyer_Feb1Appropriately, textbooks beyond the entry levels do not give students the extensive visual support that picture-based readers do; however, I have found that students above the first levels still benefit from seeing just a few drawings before they read. Where do I find these drawings? I sketch them myself on the board, using drawing tips I learned from the late Norma Shapiro and from her resource book Chalk Talks. I’ve seen the positive effects of this picture-based approach so many times that now I always preview a reading selection with drawings.
How does the preview work? I simply tell students the beginning of the story they’re going to read, all the while drawing simple illustrations on the board. (I usually draw about five sketches.) For example, Unit 10 in the Beginning-level reader True Stories in the News, “Love or Baseball,” is about a guy named Joe who fakes a broken leg to get out of taking his girlfriend to a dance; he’s a baseball fan, and his favorite team is playing in the World Series the night of the dance. I set up the reading with sketches like these:
The key to this technique’s success is to tell just enough of the story to set the stage for the reading selection but stop short of giving the story ending away, ideally stopping at a “cliff-hanger” point. In the case of “Love or Baseball,” I don’t tell my students how Joe manages to fake a broken leg or how his scheme works out for him—they read the story to find out.
You might also want to try these variations of the basic technique: Continue reading

Drawing in the Classroom: It’s Easier than You Think

2013_Heyer_SandraSandra Heyer

When I first began teaching beginning-level English, I was surprised at how many times I found myself at the board, trying to draw a picture for my students. The key word here is trying. I am one of those unfortunate people who literally can’t draw a straight line.

But while I had the misfortune of being an inept artist, I had the good fortune of being a contemporary of the late Norma Shapiro, a gifted teacher who made it her mission to help teachers like me enhance their lessons with passable drawings. At a TESOL conference many years ago, Norma gave a presentation billed as a crash course in drawing for teachers who can’t draw. I came early for a front-row seat and took away drawing tips that have served me well over the course of my career. With the help of Norma’s tips, you might discover, as I did, that drawing for your students is easier than you think. Here are six quick tips:

1. To represent people, don’t draw stick figures — draw figures Norma called “blobs.” Most of the time, you’re just trying to get across the idea that your drawing is a human being and not, say, a fish or a can of soda. So it is usually not necessary to draw ears, arms, or legs. A basic blob has only a head and shoulders:

Drawing in the classroom images 1a

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