Read and Draw activities are a great way to engage children in reading and enhance reading comprehension. The method can be particularly helpful for reluctant readers and visual thinkers.
The Rise of Read and Draw Activities
Drawing is a joyous activity for young children, and parents treasure those early pictures of cars, flowers, and houses, proudly displaying them on the refrigerator. However, what we usually want to know about our children’s school performance is how well they are reading, writing, and doing math. It is easy to view drawing as a fun and perhaps frivolous activity; but more and more, some educators are relying on drawing as a tool to aid in reading comprehension.
“For many years in education, drawing has been described primarily as having self-expressive motives,” explained Misty Adoniou, associate professor in language, literacy, and TESL at the University of Canberra in a 2012 research study. Educators believed drawing could reveal a child’s personality and emotional development but did not regard it as a “communicative” activity, she said.
“Drawing is increasingly seen as a decorative, but not necessary, adjunct to writing and learners are instructed to ‘get on’ with the writing, and they are ‘allowed’ to do accompanying drawings if they finish their writing first.” Adoniou found, however, that drawing can be a helpful tool, and in particular it can be a valuable pre-writing tool.
“Drawing is a means of closely observing the world around us, recording what we observe and using that as the basis for further enquiry,” she explained. “It can be an important player in our internal dialogue as we work through conceptual challenges.”
Today’s educators are increasingly on board with this outlook, and you can find a plethora of read and draw worksheets and other drawing-based reading comprehension activities online, especially for elementary school students.
How Read and Draw Activities Help Visual Thinkers
For those who automatically think in pictures, drawing can be a great way to aid in comprehension. It is believed that 60 to 64 percent of people engage in visual thinking, but a smaller percentage, about 30 percent, rely on visual thinking almost exclusively, meaning they think in pictures. When they read a word, they translate it into a picture.
Visual thinking happens quickly and is “holistic, non linear, intuitive,” according to Bette Fetter, an educator and author of Being Visual, a book that explores the value of visual thinking.
“The brain processes up to 36,000 images an hour, so there’s a lot happening over there—all the time. When it’s time to read, a visual thinker has to shift gears,” she explained. “They have to slow down and turn off the right side of their brain and engage the left side to process words, one at a time, logically and sequentially.”
Processing words one at a time and focusing on details, such as names and places, does not come naturally to highly visual thinkers.
For visual thinkers especially, drawing can help them further hone in on and understand what they have read. Encouraging a child to read what he or she draws can help him or her focus on the meaning of what he is reading and gain practice translating words into pictures for better understanding.
Why Young Children Today May Be Wired Visually
Visualization is good practice for all children, not just those who are highly visual thinkers.
Also, some suggest that as today’s children are increasingly exposed to technology at a young age, children have become increasingly visual in their thinking. However, as technology provides our children with fast-paced, quickly changing, moving images, many children may not have enough practice creating their own images in their mind.
Being able to visualize what we read is important, and children who spend a lot of time with technology may not have enough practice. Reading regularly is a good way to mitigate this. Read and draw activities are a next step in promoting reading comprehension for today’s children.
How Read and Draw Activities Work
Read and draw activities can vary in length and complexity. For young children or struggling readers, you may even start with a listen and draw activity.
Draw a Sentence
Describe something in one sentence, and ask your child to draw it. For example, “I see a brown dog chasing a blue and yellow ball.”
You can build up complexity over time.
Draw a Story
Read a passage, a paragraph, or even an entire short story—depending on the age of the child. Do not show him or her any illustrations while you’re reading.
Then give your child time to draw out the story.
Next, let him or her tell you the story while showing and explaining the pictures he or she drew.
If you read a picture book, show the child the illustrations. Discuss the differences between the child’s illustrations and those of the story. If there were any misunderstandings, discuss those with your child, elaborating on any vocabulary the child might not know.
Start out with simple passages or stories, and then increase the complexity over time.
Read and Draw Worksheets
You can find many read and draw worksheets online. Some are set up like a comic strip with captions. There are boxes with a sentence, and an empty box for children to draw what they read.
Some are a short sentence, while others may present an anecdote or short story for the child to illustrate.
Sketch to Stretch: Enhancing Reading Comprehension
Education expert Trevor Cairney explains on his blog that “Sketch to Stretch” helps students to go beyond a basic understanding of the plot and read “deeply.”
“‘Sketch to Stretch’ is essentially a strategy that involves asking children to sketch in response to reading, hearing or even viewing a story. It requires them to use drawing to ‘stretch’ or enhance the meaning as they are reading,” he wrote.
Instead of depicting the plot of a story, he asks students to draw out their inferences and predictions based on what they are reading.
“Sketch to Stretch does do as its name implies, it stretches children’s understanding, and their knowledge and appreciation of literature,” he says. “It also offers an alternative to word-based strategies for heightening engagement.”
Students may be asked to draw what they think will happen next in a story, an item a character wants or needs, or their own emotional response to a story or character.
Draw 1-2-3: Another Drawing for Reading Comprehension Method
For children who can write—even early writers—the “Draw 1-2-3” method is a great way to practice reading comprehension. Blogger Martina from the Comprehensible Classroom says the method “is very simple and can be used to move students from comprehension to expression with no stress.”
Here’s a quick look at Draw 1-2-3, and you can read Martina’s full explanation here.
First, read a book, passage, or chapter. Then children can complete these three steps.
- Draw a picture based on what was read.
- Add two speech bubbles to the picture.
- Describe the scene in three sentences.
Reading-based Drawing Prompts
Here are a few reading-based drawing prompts for you to try out with your own children or students:
- Draw the main character.
- Draw a picture of what the main character wants or needs.
- Draw your favorite character, and show what makes him or her your favorite.
- Draw a picture of what happened in the story (or a particular scene from the story.)
- Draw what happens next.