Drawing in Writing Workshop

Every year, without fail, I am confronted with the dilemma of how to encourage my students to write a lot without compromising drawing as a form of expression during writing workshop. While I understand that drawing is important to writing at this stage and that a drawing can be as intricate and detailed as a piece of writing without pictures, I am still conflicted when I see children who draw flowers, candy canes, and the like just because they have the choice. At the same time, I have to remember that I must take the children where they are in order to get them to go where they can go next. But, should I limit the amount of drawing the children do? Should I “require” writing to happen before drawing? And, what does all this seemingly aimless drawing tell me about my lessons and my students’ grasp of what I’ve been trying to teach? As I write this I remember a wise teacher once saying that we need to eliminate the shoulds and musts from our vocabulary. Hmmm…

Last month, this issue rose to new heights as I read my students’ writing folders and their writer’s notebooks in preparation for writing report card narratives. I discovered that while their writer’s notebooks were full of great writing, most of the “writing” in their folders was actually drawing. In addition, many of the illustrations had little to no detail, didn’t convey a story or message, and seemed like doodling – what you might do as you chat with friends about everything and anything under the sun. The writer’s notebooks are a place where I prompt the children to try out different kinds of writing or topics that they wouldn’t normally choose on their own with the hope (maybe this is where I’ve gone awry) that they can transfer this into their own writing projects. The dearth of writing in the writing folders was true regardless of a particular child’s stage of writing development.

So, I panicked. Usually by this time of the year the majority of the kids are writing lots of stories and there are just a few that I may need to encourage so that they can increase their fluency as writers. So, I did what I always do when I identify a problem or concern in the classroom: I talked to the children about it. By this time, they had noticed the lack of writing in their folders as well because they were getting ready for student-led conferences. This awareness prompted lots of talk about setting goals to write more and to write first and then draw. I became aware of the importance of referencing mini lessons where we talked about writing that is meaningful to the writer and the reader. And, rightly or wrongly, I did encourage them to write first as a way to balance all the drawing that had been happening for the last three months.

What makes this somewhat easy is that my students love writing workshop. They love that they can sit anywhere they want, work with a friend or not, choose what they’re going to write or draw about that day, and share their pieces of writing with everyone. This is not a minor accomplishment as I wouldn’t be able to talk to them about increasing the amount of writing they do unless they already loved the idea of writing.

Over the last few weeks I have noticed more writing and increased talk about new ideas for stories. My favorite has been the Mommy Jail series. And, the other day one of my most challenging (to me) students said, “Señora Waingort, you know what? I get a lot of ideas from the class.” And, he mentioned how a read-aloud I had done recently had sparked an idea for a story.

Sometimes I just need to be patient. It will come. It will come.

8 thoughts on “Drawing in Writing Workshop

  1. HI, I AM SO GLAD I FOUND YOUR BLOG. I TEACH 1ST GRADE IN NC. COULD YOU SEND ME SOME INFO. ON HOW YOU DO YOUR DRAWINGS IN YOUR WOEKSHOP.AND DO YOU HAVE YOUR STUDENTS KEEP JOURNALS. AGAIN I AM SO GLAD I FOUND YOU. MY EMAIL IS fw278@aol.com

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  2. Hi fw278,
    Glad you found me, too.

    I have done a variety of different things to get kids to balance writing and drawing during writing workshop. For example, I will hold a conference with the child as we look through his/her writing folder together. We'll talk about the amount of writing vs. the amount of drawing. Then, I'll suggest that they select a drawing they've already worked on that they want to add words to. Next, I'll have the child talk to me about their drawing; I'll ask questions, as appropriate. Finally, I'll tell the child to write down what they just told me. Before I leave I ask them what they're going to say first on their paper. I will let them know that I'll come back and check on them after a few minutes. (It's important to do this if you say you will!) Other times, I'll say something like: “Well, you've spent about 10 minutes drawing now you need to spend the rest of the time writing. I'll check back on you in a few minutes.” Still other times, I will scribe, on a graphic organizer of some kind, what the child tells me about his drawing and then leave this with the child to use for writing.

    I hope this helps and it's not too obtuse!
    Cheers!
    Elisa

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  3. HI, ITS BEEN AWHILE. HAVE HAD SOME HEALTH PROBLEMS. I LOVE YOUR POEM. SPEAKING OF POEMS, CAN YOU SUGGEST ANY WEB SITES FOR POETRY FOR 1ST GRADERS? ALSO, WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR MORNING MESSAGES AND HOW DO YOU DO THEM? HOPE NOT TO MANY QUESTIONS AT ONCE. BEST, FRAN FW278@AOL.COM

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  4. Hi fw278!
    Sorry I haven't responded but I've been very overwhelmed with teaching and my doctoral work.

    As far as a site for poetry for grade 1 children, I would recommend Sylvia Vardell's blog. You can find it at this url http://poetryforchildren.blogspot.com/ She makes good recommendations and you can subscribe and get periodic updates.

    As far as drawing in the writing workshop…I still struggle with that. When I see a child who is mostly drawing I sit down and have him/her talk to me about what they drew then I scribe what they said on a web or chart of some kind so they can refer to it later. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. I also tell children who have spent most of the writing workshop drawing that they need to spend the next session writing and I check in with them to see how they're doing.

    These are just a couple of ideas I have used. I hope you find them useful!
    Cheers!
    Elisa

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  5. THANKS ELISA, I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN ABOUT BEING BUSY. I STILL WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHERE YOU GET YOUR MORNING MESSAGES AND WHAT DO YOU USE FOR JORNALS AND WHAT KIND OF PAPER TO WRITE ON. HUGS, FRAN

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  6. Hi Fran,
    Morning messages come from whatever we are doing at the time. Usually I put in something about a goal that we'll be working on that day. I also try to use morning message as a teaching tool by highlighting particular vocabulary or asking the kids to read it and answer a question that we can then talk about as a class. For example, I might ask, what's your favorite season?

    I primarily use notebooks for writing.
    Hope this helps,
    Elisa

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