Scaffolding Writing: Sketching

Humanity values creativity. We thrive upon both being creative and enjoying what others have created. That includes the arts, of course, but also the written word. We consume writing for many purposes, including learning new skills and topics, and for the pure pleasure of reading someone else’s thoughts or stories. Writing is all around us; on billboards and on social media, at the grocery store and in restaurants, and in the texts we utilize in schools. Writing, by definition, is a creative process. We are creating something when we write; a tool for communicating to others what we have learned, what our thoughts and feelings are, our stories, our experiences, and more.

For some students, writing is an instant love. They are happy to wrestle with coming up with the right words, learning to be playful with syntax, and using the rules of grammar to their advantage. For others, writing can seem laborious and challenging. For those students who find writing challenging, it may be because we have either not taught students to write explicitly, not provided them with sufficient scaffolding in the writing process, or both.

Scaffold Writing using Sketching

There are several ways we can scaffold writing for all students, including multilingual learners and students with disabilities. One such scaffold is to use sketching. Sketching differs from drawing, at least how we define it. At Be GLAD, we define sketching as making our thoughts visual. We use stick figures and rudimentary shapes to quickly represent our ideas. There is no need to add additional artistic elements, such as shading, for example, to our sketches. While artistic elements are not discouraged, the idea is to make your thoughts visual for both a quick reminder to us, as writers, what we are thinking or what we want to remember, but also to the teacher or others.

Sketching is a beginning form of writing. Anytime students get a writing instrument to paper, it can be considered writing. As young children, we begin “writing” by scribbling. We move to drawing images, and later we add words. With students of any age, we can encourage a similar process.

How to Implement:

Begin by having students make sketches based on the content being studied. These can rudimentary in nature. Again, the idea is representation. Students can then begin adding labels to their sketches. Younger students, and students just learning English, might begin by adding the letter or letters for the initial sounds they hear.

As students progress in learning content and building their writing skills, they can use sketching to plan their writing in a low stakes way. For example, for narrative writing, students can begin with the sketch to plan strategy. Essentially, students use sketches to plan out their story, much as authors use a story board. This simple, low stakes activity allows students to plan without being overly formal. They can sketch out the characters, the setting, and add some key events. If a blank paper is too overwhelming, encourage students to fold up the paper into six or eight sections. They can then create one or more ideas per box.

For informative writing, students can create their own mini input chart based on a topic they have researched. Students can create their own graphic organizer, pictorial input, or comparative input chart to plan out what they want to write. They can then utilize the visual facts and details contained in their input chart, along with key words and phrases, to build their writing.


The Listen then Sketch strategy utilizes sketching as a way to build and reinforce visualization and listening skills. In this strategy, highlighted in the video below, students listen to a section of text being read aloud by the teacher, and sketch what they visualized as the text is read aloud. This can build comfort in the act of sketching while at the same time providing an insight into students’ listening comprehension.

Watch a video

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