The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Writing with Pictures

I started field testing a Writers’ Workshop program in my classroom last week. For the first few weeks, we spend a lot of time building routines and discussing different ways to write. Later in the program we will focus on different parts of the writing process, editing, different writing styles, and publishing. But this week we are focusing on how to start writing.

We have explored different ways to brainstorm, such as making a list of topics to write about, identifying a source for story seeds, such as favourite places, people, hobbies, and memories, and using what you know to start a topic, whether it is something you have done or something you have read or seen.

A story-starter technique I shared today is one that my wife will be the first to tell you is not my strong point: using pictures. When you are trying to write a story, sometimes it can help to make a sketch or draw a picture. I wanted my students to understand that the pictures don’t have to be high quality artwork that could appear in a museum. In fact, the pictures are just for the writer to use to help generate ideas. To illustrate this I did the only thing I could do: I illustrated it. Literally.


I asked the students if they could read my story by just looking at the pictures. I was glad to learn that they really were paying attention this morning when I told them about coming to school, because that is all my picture was. I left my house this morning and while it was cloudy, it wasn’t raining, so I was able to ride my bike. (I wore my helmet, of course!) I was happy to be able to bike at long last, but as I rode, the clouds got darker. I rode underneath some trees and when the wind blew, it sprinkled water on me. After I got to school, I went outside to do my morning car drop-off duty and it started raining, so I had to wear my bright yellow-green poncho, which didn’t make me very happy. My student teacher, on the other hand, had her umbrella and she was as happy as could be as she greeted children arriving for school! Our custodian was outside helping, too, playing a game with a student who always stops at the stop sign and waits until the custodian moves it or lets him walk by.

For the next twenty minutes, the students had the opportunity to work on their own writing, drawing pictures or sketches to tell their stories or just working on other pieces they had already started. At the end of twenty minutes, we gathered on the carpet and a few of them got to share with the class, sitting in the author’s chair (the chair I reserve for myself or other adults at my back table). I asked if anyone wanted to share and was shocked to have a student who has previously avoided writing at all costs be the first to volunteer! He came up and shared a great start of a story with the class and then selected someone else to share. Only three students got to share before we had to stop, but it was a wonderful way to end our Writers’ Workshop!

(On a completely different note, we started using our Chromebooks this afternoon, which is why there was no math homework or Today’s Topics. I wanted the students to have as much time engaging with the new learning tools as they could get!)


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