5 Tips to Support Emergent Writers in the Drawing Stage

Teaching writing can be hard, especially in Kindergarten! I often see the initial focus of writing workshops placed on text as opposed to spending the necessary time supporting emergent writers in the drawing stage. I think this can be one of the things that makes teaching writing to these littles so hard.

If you’re new to writing workshops, make sure to read this Beginner’s Guide to Writing Workshops in Kindergarten and First Grade. And, check out 6 Steps to Launching a Smooth Writing Workshop in Your Classroom to make sure your writing workshop gets off on the right foot.  

Teaching writing can be hard, especially in Kindergarten! I have five tips for you to support your young writers through the drawing stage.

Too often, the early focus in writing workshops is placed on text. Students are rushed into writing words without taking the appropriate time to learn about storytelling through pictures. 

It’s important to me to never rush these emerging writers through this drawing stage. They may be 5, 6, or possibly even 4, and they’re all at different stages of writing. That’s why I always put a strong focus on writing through pictures. 

As writers, each student’s drawings have meaning. They can use pictures to tell stories, add words (labels) when they’re ready, and revise as they progress through the drawing stage! As the teacher, you can support your writers through the drawing stage. And it can be easy, fun, and rewarding to do so!

Here are 5 tips for how you can support your emergent writers in the drawing stage: 

Tip #1: Show them that drawing IS writing!

Drawing IS writing and kids need to know they are writers, even when in the drawing stage. Their pictures are important and represent messages and stories. 

A great way to demonstrate this is through the use of wordless books as mentor texts. Using wordless books as mentor texts will show your students that pictures can tell a story, even without words. 

One of my favorites to use is Chalk by Bill Thomson. It’s a beautifully illustrated book that really sparks the imagination!

Wordless book can be a powerful tool for your emergent writers! Teach students oral storytelling skills and how to read pictures and they'll be better-equipped for writing later. Read more tips on helping your emergent writers during the drawing phase in kindergarten and first grade.

Read this post to see how you can use this book to teach oral storytelling, another important skill for early writers.

For student wordless texts, check out my Wordless Books for Writing Bundle. You can check it out in my TpT store or in my Tejeda’s Tots shop.

Tip #2: Use Shapes to Draw Hard Things.

When it comes to drawing hard things, kids can do it more easily when they think of each part as a shape! Ask them to think of what they want to draw and picture what shapes it is made from. Then draw those shapes and add the details. 

Here’s an example: Think about drawing a pig. You might use rectangles for the legs, an oval for the body, a circle for the head, triangles for the ears, and a loop for the tail. 

All of a sudden, drawing something hard becomes fun and easy! Just remember to talk your students through the process and reference your anchor chart so kids can see each shape as you mention it.

You can even spend some time turning shapes into different things. Ask your students to imagine all the things they could make a circle into.

Teaching your kindergarten or first-grade students to use shapes when drawing can help even the most reluctant artist! When kids can draw their stories with detail, they'll be better equipped to write with detail later. Read tips for supporting your emergent writers during the drawing stage of Writing Workshop.

Tip #3: Let Students Know They Are Color Experts!

Kids love being experts at anything, am I right?! If you have students who need a little encouragement to use appropriate colors, tell them they are Color Experts! They know what colors things really are and can use their expertise in their pictures.

My top two lessons for being a color expert are to use realistic colors and to use more than one color. Make sure your students know that using realistic colors helps their readers to understand the stories and know what a picture is showing. While they are making art and we always want to encourage creativity, they also want to do everything they can to help the reader understand the story. 

Bonus Tip: Have students outline their drawings with a black felt tip marker. Sometimes when kids color in their pictures it’s hard to tell what it is. A black outline can help to emphasize the shapes!

Tip #4: Teach Students How to Read a Picture

It’s not a given that your students will automatically know how to read a picture or how to use their pictures to tell a story. 

There is a difference between naming everything they drew in a picture and telling an engaging story with the picture. When we read pictures, we tell what happened, like in a storybook. We can point to the different parts of our pictures as we tell our story.

In order to read a picture, they’ll need to show the WHO, WHAT, and WHERE of the story. When you read a picture, you read it like you read a story. You start with something like, “One day…” and use other words like, “Then…” and “Suddenly…”

Practice with wordless books! My next blog post will have lots of tips for teaching oral storytelling, including how to model with wordless books.

Teach your students how to READ a picture, not just point and tell what's in the picture. This is an important oral storytelling skill that will help your kindergarten students later in writing!

Tip #5:  It’s All About Revision.

Just because they’re drawing does NOT mean they aren’t learning important revision strategies! There are SO many great revision lessons that can be done in the drawing stage.

Your students can learn the writing process and how to improve their writing for their readers through revising pictures! These revisions will help to better convey their story.

Some revision lessons to teach include:

  • Adding details to the setting.
  • Bringing characters to life by showing feelings and actions.
  • Zooming in on a particular feature to show emphasis.
  • Breaking up a story into parts across pages.
  • Using color in important ways.

These revisions will add detail and context to your students’ stories!

Kindergarten Writing Unit 1 – Drawing and Labeling

Not sure how to sequence or plan your lessons for supporting your students through the drawing stage? I have an entire drawing and labeling unit for kindergarten. It has 22 lessons, teacher notes, student material, pacing calendars, conference forms, rubrics, and more!

Check it out in my Tejeda’s Tots shop or in my TpT store.

Teaching writing can be hard, especially in kindergarten and 1st grade! My goal is to help guide you through the first 5-6 weeks of launching your writing workshop with ease.

I also have a labeling for emergent writers yearlong set that would be great for those students who are ready to begin labeling their drawings!

Check it out in my Tejeda’s Tots shop or in my TpT store.

I hope these tips help you to feel confident as you support your emergent writers in the drawing stage! Every teacher brings his or her own flair to their lessons, and I know you’ll make these lessons great! Remember, writing through pictures is SO important in Kindergarten!

If you have any questions about supporting kindergarten writers in the drawing stage or unique ideas for the drawing stage, please leave them below!

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