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Sketch to Stretch: Visualizing Vocabulary Study

In this excerpt from Vocabulary Strategies That Work — Do This, Not That!, Kent State professor of education Lori G. Wilfong brings a visualization strategy called "Sketch to Stretch" to vocabulary study.

The original intent of Sketch to Stretch was to allow students to visualize what they were reading. Students read a short passage in a longer text or story (or listen while a text is read aloud to them) and then are given a short amount of time to draw their reaction to the story or what they think just happened. When students have finished reading or listening to the story, they have created a series of drawings to help them remember the text (McLaughlin & Allen, 2002; Rasinski & Padak, 2000).

Sketch to Stretch accomplishes many things for the reader:

  • It chunks the text so that students are concentrating on one short passage at a time rather than trying to digest an entire text.
  • It forces students to stop and think about the text periodically, ensuring that meaning-making is happening throughout reading.
  • It allows students to apply the theory of nonlinguistic representation of text in a fun, natural way.

To bring this strategy to vocabulary study, invite students to read a short passage in a longer text or story. At the conclusion of the passage, ask students to select one word to examine closely. This word should be pertinent to the meaning of the passage; modeling which word to choose and why it is vital! Students then draw what they think the word means in the passage. Students continue on, stopping periodically to select and sketch important words in the text. These words can then be added to a class word wall, nominated for study in Vocabulary Self-Selection, or simply discussed with a partner as to which words were selected and why. To teach this strategy to students, use the following gradual release of responsibility steps:

  1. Modeling: Present a shared text to students. Designate a few paragraphs to use for the first instance of Sketch to Stretch. After reading the first section, present to students statements that can be used to help determine if a word is worthy of investigation (Figure 6.1). Once a word is selected using these statements, model for students how you puzzle through your sketch of this word. Emphasize that students have only two to three minutes to do their sketch; no Picassos expected!
  2. Nominating: Read through the next section of text with students. Stop and allow students to nominate a word for study, using the statements in Figure 6.1 to qualify their choices. Select a word, and invite students to sketch the meaning of the word in context for two to three minutes. Allow students to share their drawings with their neighbors, comparing their different approaches to the word.
  3. Stopping to sketch: Ask students to finish reading the passage. Remind students to stop periodically throughout the text to sketch the meaning of important words (designate a number, or set up the page so that students are visually reminded to stop reading and select a word to sketch — see Figure 6.2).

Figure 6.1 Is a Word Worthy of Investigation?

  1. I won't understand the entire selection if I don't know what this word means.
  2. I see that this word is used again later in the text.
  3. The use of this word in context is different from the definition I usually remember with this word.
  4. This word interests, puzzles, or delights me!


Figure 6.2 Sample Sketch to Stretch Passage and Template

Floors shook. Books toppled off shelves. Ceilings fell. The power went out. That's what happened in Chile recently. A powerful earthquake struck the South American nation. Hundreds of people were killed. Millions were left homeless.
"It was the scariest experience of my life, just a violent shake. My thought was the house was going to come falling down," Sarah Botkin, 27, told a reporter in her home state of Washington. She teaches English in Santiago, Chile's capital city.






Meaning in context:


The news of what happened in Chile was all too familiar. The quake came not long after the Haiti earthquake. That disaster devastated the poor Caribbean nation. Officials now estimate that 230,000 people were killed.
As people worldwide work to help the victims of these natural disasters, many are wondering why nature is acting up — and if it will continue to do so.





Meaning in context:


The earthquakes in Haiti and Chile occurred where earthquakes usually do — on the edges of huge plates on the Earth's surface. Called tectonic plates, these giant slabs of earth fit together like a puzzle (see map). As they move, the plates pull apart from, collide with, or slide against one another. Sometimes pressure builds up, causing pieces of the plates to break. This releases energy that can cause the ground to shake violently. Earthquakes are often followed by related quakes, called aftershocks.






Meaning in context:


Source: Excerpted from Scholastic News, 2010.

Reprinted with permission from Lori Wilfong, Vocabulary Strategies That Work — Do This, Not That! Copyright ©2013 Eye On Education, Inc. Larchmont, NY. All rights reserved.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday December 18th 2012, 10:36 AM
Comment by: keith M. (Kula, HI)
This excerpt is such a refreshing glimpse into the crucial need to encourage the development of mental picturing. This ability to picture what we read and hear is of great importance. When so many school children (not to mention the rest of us) are spending enormous amounts of time in front of screens that provide all the pictures and sounds, we need to be reminded by articles like this that there are other alternatives.

Why is this so important? With this ability to create mental pictures, we can imagine the past vividly and perhaps learn from it. We can picture the present situation with more clarity. And more importantly, we can visualize a future that hasn't happened yet. We can imagine steps to a better, more peaceful time, and then we can begin to "see" how to bring about needed change. We can "bend history," shape it for humanity's sake.

Thank you Lori Wilfong.

Keith Mac of Kula, Maui

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