The Sketch


Last week, I had the pleasure of coaching teachers in one of the 3-5 schools I work with.  This is their first year with balanced literacy and the teachers are doing an amazing job trying to implement the various structures I have shown them. This coaching round focus was on whole group teaching.  The teachers could choose from Interactive Read Aloud, Shared Reading, or Close Reading for me to coach them on.  In this fifth-grade classroom, the teacher decided to try doing a close reading lesson for the very first time.  (I love how brave and bold she is!)

When the teachers and I had discussed the characteristics of close reading, we discussed the text had to be short and complex. This teacher selected the lyrics from Garth Brooks’ song “The River”.  She thought this would be a good fit for her kids because they had just finished a unit on figurative language and this song would give them the opportunity to apply what they knew.

The River

As you can see this text is full of figurative language, which makes it a very complex text for ten and eleven-year-old brains. The teacher did a great job introducing the close reading lesson the day I coached and after her teaching, we sat down to talk about the lesson and where she was going next.  She knew her students were going to have trouble understanding the text and “getting” the true meaning of the author’s words, but she wasn’t sure how to get them to the point where they could even have a general understanding of the text and look deeper than the surface level.  After some discussion, we came up with the idea of sketching the stanzas and labeling the sketch with both the literal and figurative meaning.  The thinking was if they could really see what the text was about, then they could have the basic understanding needed to go deeper into author’s purpose, etc…

The teacher, who is amazing, decided to try it the next day.  I came back a couple of days later to do more coaching with other teachers.  The secretary gave me a note from Mrs. A asking me to stop by her room if I had time that day. I made my way down towards the end of the day.

When she saw me, she lit up like a Christmas tree.  “I did it!  I did what we talked about after you saw me with my kids.  We sketched the song, and you have got to come see what they did!”  The words tumbled out in a rush.  There was no way I was leaving without seeing what her students had done.

When the kids saw me enter, there was the usual, “Hey, you’re back again.  I bet she wants to check out what we did,” comments flying around the room.  They started opening up their reader’s notebooks so I could take a peek.  This student’s sketch caught my eye.


Next to the paper of the sketch, I read what he had written about the text each day.

3/17:  Like a bird upon the wind these waters are my sky

3/18:  The author is saying that in life there are opportunities and people

3/19:  The author is saying take chances in life don’t let good people or good opportunities go by there are obstacles in life some can weaken your dream but don’t give up life is a river you don’t know how far you can get but you are fighting for your dream and that’s worth fighting for.  life is rough like a river. 

I read this and cold chills went up and down my arms.  I looked up and he was looking at me trying to gauge my reaction.  I asked him, “I noticed your thinking about this text changed quite a bit the more you read it and worked with it.  What happened to get your thinking to this point?”

He said, “Well, Mrs. A showed us how to sketch what the words were saying.  Once I started doing that, everything just clicked and it all made sense.  It’s a pretty cool message, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I think,” I smiled and nodded. “Do you think it was worth putting in the extra time to read this over again and sketch it out?  Do you think Mrs. A chose this piece of text for a reason?”

“Yeah.  At first I didn’t get it.  I didn’t know why Mrs. A wanted us reading about birds flying. I thought it was just because Garth Brooks is like her favorite.  But now I see what she was trying to tell us.  I think this song is going to help me in my life.”

All I could think was, “Wow!”

I share this because I am so impressed with this young man’s thinking.  He is not the kid who “gets it” all the time in class. But he more than “got it” here.  Maybe you have a student in your life who doesn’t always “get it”.  Could sketching be the key to his success?


3 thoughts on “The Sketch

  1. Wow! That’s some great thinking! I love that the teacher wanted to share the follow-up with you. Sketching is a powerful strategy that helps get ideas solidified.

  2. This is the kind of teaching teachers really want to do…this student has something he will take throughout life, not test prep he will forget as soon as the test is over. No wonder it was so exciting!

  3. Such a great, inspirational anecdote! Both you and the classroom teacher need to remember this over the months and years to come – print this blogpost! Wow! You witnessed profound learning. Love how sketching opened up and expanded his thinking.

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