Category Archives: Visual Thinking

Today’s Visual Lesson Plan for First-Year Comp

Visual Lesson Plan ENG 1301 10-2-2013

Here is the visual lesson plan I’ve mapped out on a large index card for today’s class.  We will start with in-class freewriting in our composition notebooks, and today I’ll be asking students to write about the times in their lives when they felt most free.  Next, I’ll ask students for any questions they may have about the class and assignments coming due.  Then I’ll review the homework for Friday, which will include a handmade response to the 3rd chapter of Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Blankets.  Next I’ll give a brief overview of 9 strategies for responding to literary texts (see below).  Then, a review of complex sentence strategies via sentence combining.  Next, students will share their written responses to Chapter 2 in Blankets, and we will conclude with a focus on the ways Thompson uses form by way of panel, line, and setting to highlight the themes of freedom and oppression in Blankets.

9 Reading Response Strategies copy



First Year College Readers Draw The Glass Castle

This morning, Carol Becker at Columbia University School of the Arts referred me to a recent piece in the New York Times titled “Writers as Architects” in which the author Matteo Pericoli, an architect and teacher, describes a class he taught recently at the M.F.A. writing program there at Columbia, wherein he asked writing students to reconstruct, with the assistance of architecture students, three dimensional models of an essay, short story, or novel they felt they knew well.

Here is an example response to Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

When I assign my students to draw their responses to essays, stories, poems, and novels, I provide them with 21 visual formats as “thinking guides” so that they have some options for how they might depict their responses in two dimensional color drawings.

Here below are some recent examples from a first-year writing class in response to pages 9-47 in Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle.  These drawings are students’ first attempts of the semester at what I’ve termed “handmade thinking.”  Some are simple portraits, and some are more complex depictions of ideas in relationship.

Walls 9-47-09092013081912Walls 9-47-09092013082251Walls 9-47-09092013082519Walls 9-47-09092013082714 Walls 9-47-09092013082800 Walls 9-47-09092013082939 Walls 9-47-09092013083052

Walls 9-47-2pm-09092013130059

Walls 9-47-2pm-09092013130214

Walls 9-47-2pm-09092013131009

While my first-year writing students probably did not expect to practice drawing as a reading strategy in my class, they are performing a very similar kind of visual thinking exercise introduced by Pericoli.  They are being asked to translate textual information into visual information, to re-see and create images that reflect and re-imagine a scene, characters, journeys, or the overall structure of a text.  In my classes, however, I am providing students with guided practice and choice among common visual formats for critical thinking.  Still, in both cases, it is through that making that students are prompted into fuller engagement and comprehension and memory, developing more intimate visual, emotional, physical, and cognitive relationships with texts.

Picturing a First-Year Comp Agenda

Preparing agenda Day 2Here is a photo of my open three-ring binder for the two sections of first-year composition I’ll be teaching this fall term..

From left to right:

  • two post-its with the agenda I’ll draw and a sentence I’ll write on the whiteboard for tomorrow’s classes
  • my composition notebook for freewriting at the beginning of each class with photos of William Stafford and Peter Elbow
  • the first text we’ll be reading in class, Jeanette Walls‘ memoir The Glass Castle, sitting on top of the Grammar Diagnostic Exam I’ll also be giving students tomorrow

Here below is a detail photo of the two post-its.  Beginning this semester, I will draw the course agenda for students on the whiteboard prior to each class session.  In the past, I projected numbered or bulleted slides to walk students through the class agenda, but I’ve decided to illustrate the agenda with simple icons to lead me and my students through the class tasks.  (More here on how I began developing this strategy during a visual thinking course I taught this last summer.)

Detail Preparing agenda Day 2

The pencil = We will free-write together at the beginning of each class to focus our energies on writing and on the topics of the class.

?s  = I will ask students if they have questions about the assignments, our schedule, or any aspect of the class.  I will repeat that questions are always good things.

The house = Homework for the next class period.

The line with period = Students will take a Grammar Diagnostic Exam to draw their attention to one aspect of the class: improving their confidence and versatility on composing sentences.

The key and ukulele = I will preview some key terms of the course (Reading, Writing, Drawing Leads to Improved Thinking) and demonstrate how the four strings of the ukulele serve as another reminder of how these four abilities work together to enable us to achieve other purposes.

The line with period again = I will briefly introduce a basic vocabulary of sentences.  I believe “less is more” when it comes to learning sentence grammar.

APA = Students will submit the course Academic Performance Agreement — a signed agreement demonstrating their understanding and acceptance of the course requirements.

?s  = An opportunity at the end of the class for students to ask questions about anything related to the class or work coming due.


Writing and the Body

This weekend, I’m preparing for a summer grad course on composition studies I’ll begin teaching in a couple of days, and I sketched out the chart below.

Developmental Writing

As an introduction to the course, I want to share with my students some ideas about how writing can be seen as an integrated performance dependent upon one’s ability to orchestrate other performances in the language arts, intellect, emotions, and the body.   In the teaching of writing, we tend to leap into a focus on grammar or process or grading or rhetoric or selecting the right textbook without acknowledging the foundational structures that influence and build upon one another to make possible our development as writers.  I take these to be universal and local conditions.  There are other conditions of course, such as social, political, and economic conditions that influence our abilities and desires to write, but here I wanted to focus on what we share and how the physical and sensing self is at bottom rarely recognized as the literal stage and apparatus of all writing.

A Visual Final

Cade Final

What would happen if you had students draw their final exam?

In lieu of a traditional final exam or paper, I asked students in my course “Visual Thinking, Narration, and Explanation” to create a comic, sketchnote, or infographic that represented the most significant things they learned in the class.  As you will see above and below, most chose the sketchnote format–which is logical given that they were drawing two sketchnotes daily in response to the reading assignments.  (For more on sketchnoting, see Mike Rohde’s book The Sketchnote Handbook here.)

Addison Final

Anokye Final Breedlove Final
Crenshaw Final Gardner Final Holly Final Hwang Final Sides Final Spratley Final

Connie Riddle Final

For more on what happened in this course, see here and here.  The syllabus is here.



Exam vs. Comic

Holland A Folk Tale Detail

OK, so I taught this course in the first summer session I called “Visual Thinking, Narration, and Explanation.”  It was a mashup English course focusing on visual thinking theory, infographics, sketchnoting, and comics.  (See the previous post here on the books I used and how the course changed the way I now think about presenting the class agenda.)

Anyway, I designed this short 4 1/2 week summer course with an exam about half way through just after we would have finished reading Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.  But as we were approaching the week of the exam and seeing how successful students were with sketchnoting their responses to McCloud’s ideas, I thought I’d offer them another choice.

“Rather than take an exam on Understanding Comics,” I asked, “would you rather draw a comic instead?”

I could see their minds working:  Well, let’s see, “take an exam or draw a comic?”  They chose the latter.

“But there’s one catch,” I said.  ”You have to draw the comic based on one of my recent poems.”

Even with this condition, they still wanted to draw the comic.  So here below are all of the amazing comics from my students on the poems “Only,” “A Folk Tale,” and ”Leaning.”

(One last thing: These are English majors and minors, not art students, with some training in the art of sketchnoting and reading in Understanding Comics–plus of course whatever training they brought to the class.  But I think these comics demonstrate the power of McCloud’s book, the dedication of these students to the course and the project, as well as the potential for such an assignment in a range of literature courses.)

“Only” by Yun Jin Hwang:

Only by Yun Jin Hwang

“Only” by Chelsea Crenshaw:

chelsea only comic

“Only” (24X48 in) by Bobby Gardner

Only by Bobby Gardner

“A Folk Tale” by Kim Sides:

Kim Sides A Folk Tale

“A Folk Tale” by Kwabena Ayoke:

Anokye A Folk Tale

“A Folk Tale” by Holland Vanden Bossche

Holland A Folk Tale

“A Folk Tale” by Morgan Brooke Addison:

“A Folk Tale” (25X30 in) by Cade Tatsch:

Tatsch A Folk Tale

“A Folk Tale” by Ashley Spratley

Spratley A Folk Tale

“A Folk Tale” by Connie Riddle

Riddle A Folk Tale

“Leaning” by Maxine Breedlove

Breedlove Leaning

Now that I think about it more, maybe I should have titled this blog entry “Taking vs. Making.”

A Visual Agenda

During this first summer session, I taught a special topics course I’ve been wanting to teach for some time.  I titled it “Visual Thinking, Narration, and Explanation.”  In the next couple of days in later posts, I’ll share some of the outstanding work created by students in the course, but first I thought I’d show how I presented lesson plans to my students.  This is a very simple and mundane idea, but I spent some time before each class drawing up an overview of that day’s activities so that students could see the narrative arc of the class.   I generally make a numbered list to help students see what I intend for us to accomplish.  But because this course was going to focus on visual thinking and communication, I decided to rethink those daily lesson plans and attempt to create “visual agendas” that would more clearly and memorably communicate what was in store.

VTNE Day 19 Agenda

 The change in imagining these course agendas was affected by the work of the course, but particularly two of the main course texts: The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.


Most days started with practice in lettering and drawing simple icons before moving on to questions and sharing responses to the reading assignments.  And on some days, we would move into a computer lab to work on infographics or comics.  (The other two texts in the class included Infographics by Lankow, Ritchie, and Crooks, and Visual Thinking by Rudolph Arnheim.)

Here below is the progression of my 22 daily class plans from the purely linguistic day one agenda to the final class comic agenda with shapes, color, and images dominating the linguistic aspects.

VTNE Day 1 Agenda184 VTNE Day 1 Agenda VTNE Day 2 Agenda VTNE Day 3 Agenda VTNE Day 4 Agenda VTNE Day 5 Agenda VTNE Day 6 Agenda VTNE Day 7 Agenda VTNE Day 8 Agenda VTNE Day 9 Agenda VTNE Day 10 Agenda VTNE Day 11 Agenda VTNE Day 12 Agenda VTNE Day 13 Agenda VTNE Day 14 Agenda VTNE Day 15 Agenda VTNE Day 16 Agenda VTNE Day 17 Agenda VTNE Day 18 Agenda VTNE Day 19 Agenda VTNE Day 20 Agenda VTNE Day 21 Agenda

These agendas, and all student work for the course, were uploaded to a Google + Community site I created for this class, and I began each class displaying this agenda from that platform.  Then we moved on to look at what other students had uploaded from their sketchnotes, infographics, or comic projects.  I’d be happy to invite you to take a look if you send me your gmail address.