Standard Lesson

Color My World: Expanding Meaning Potential through Media

3 - 6
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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This lesson is not about markers over pencils; it is about developing a relationship between students and media and how such nurtured connections can support students' ideas in what they write and how they write it. Through in-class discussions about writing/drawing materials and carefully observing how an illustrator uses media to communicate ideas, students will see how materials can extend knowing. This lesson provides opportunities for students to explore and experience the meaning potential of everyday writing and drawing tools in their own writing. The lesson can (and should be) adapted for older students.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

"Traditional K-12 classrooms are notorious for privileging pencil over other writing tools, especially in the elementary grades.  Instead, we should be pushing for a process-oriented mindset where daily access to drawing/writing media makes it possible to respect process, to value experience."

In this lesson, students examine the work of an illustrator and experiment with writing/drawing materials to discover how different media affect the outcome of a drawing or piece of writing, and help construct meaning.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Drawing/writing materials (markers, crayons, pencils, color pencils, pens, pastels, paint trays, etc.)
  • Paper (lined and unlined)
  • Writer’s notebooks
  • Tool bins
  • Sharpeners (manual and/or electronic)
  • Fox by Margaret Wild (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2006) or The Red Tree by Shaun Tan (Simply Read Books, 2003)
  • Storage unit for tool bins (optional)




  1. Obtain a copy of the book Fox by Australian writer Margaret Wild and illustrator Ron Brooks.  A book about friendship and loss, Wild draws the reader in with Dog, Magpie, and Fox while Brooks keeps the reader engaged with his stark, emotional illustrations and scratchy, bird-like print. If you cannot find a copy of Fox, try to locate The Red Tree by Shaun Tan. These illustrations are equally evocative, the print text powerful and purposeful.
  2. Provide each student with a writer’s notebook (e.g., store-bought or assembled using folders and a variety of lined and unlined loose-leaf paper).
  3. Acquire quality writing/drawing materials (e.g., crayons, pastels, pens, pencils, color pencils, markers, watercolor pencils, paint, charcoal, etc.).
  4. Before beginning the lesson, make sure each student has access to each kind of writing tool available.
  5. Make copies of the Expressing Moods handout and the Using Media in Writing rubric for each student.


Student Objectives

Students will

  • experiment with and discuss writing/drawing materials as a means of sharing and extending ideas about media and writing.
  • discuss the connection between the printed text and the character in a picture book.
  • write their own stories, practicing writing with different materials as an opportunity to develop and extend ideas for writing.
  • demonstrate the use of different materials in their writing to express moods, emotions, and ideas in their writing.


Session One

  1. Invite students to a large area in the classroom where everyone, including the teacher, can come together (e.g., meeting carpet). Ask students to bring their writer’s notebooks with them.
  2. Sitting with students, spread out the writing/drawing materials you acquired (markers, pens, crayons, charcoal, etc.) on the floor (or large table) and identify the tools you have brought to show them.
  3. In the whole group setting, ask students what they think about different writing/drawing materials. Initially, students will probably share what they like/do not like to write/draw with or tools that they own. Record these answers on the board or on a large piece of chart paper.
  4. Engage students in a discussion about writing/drawing materials by asking questions that require some reflective thinking about tool use. Questions you may ask:
    • We know this is a pencil, but what are some of our thoughts about pencils?
    • Do we feel differently about regular and mechanical pencils?
    • Do we get excited about particular tools, like gel pens?
    • Does our excitement affect what we write? Or our mood toward writing?
    • Is color important to us?
    • How do we use color in ways that show their importance or significance?
    • How can we use pastels, for example, to communicate our ideas?
    • How might our story ideas change if we use markers instead of pens? Pencils instead of pastel?
    • How does font size affect our reading of print text?
  5. Record students’ reactions to these reflective questions on a large piece of chart paper. One way of organizing this chart is to create three columns: “Good For”; “Not Good For”; and “Other Observations.”
  6. Distribute tools among the class. Ask students to experiment with them in their writer’s notebooks and talk about what they notice. For example, which tool do they use for creating squiggles, sketches, doodles, letters, words, etc. Record these responses on the chart, too. Keeping this chart accessible to students invites them to add to it during the day as feelings toward and uses for particular tools may shift and/or change.
  7. Tell students that the next day they will have an opportunity to look at how tools can be used in writing to communicate particular ideas in a story.


Session Two

  1. Begin a new conversation about writing/drawing media by asking the questions below.  These questions will generate a discussion about writing, story, and the tools we use to communicate particular stories.
    • Which tools do we generally not write with and why?
    • Do writers use only one kind of writing tool?
    • What kinds of tools can we think of that would be enjoyable to write with on paper?
  2. Read Margaret Wild’s Fox, asking students to carefully observe the printed text in the story.
  3. Talk with the students about the scratchy ink writing and how it is used to communicate Magpie’s story. As students respond, write their answers on a large blank piece of chart paper for them to refer back to as they write their own stories.
    • What do we notice about the printed text?
    • Whose voice is represented by the print? Dog, Fox, or Magpie?
    • How do we know that the print is used to communicate Magpie’s story?
    • What kind of tool did illustrator Ron Brooks use to tell Magpie’s story?
    • What makes this tool effective?
  4. Keep the conversation about the writing in Fox going as it is intended to lay the foundation for thinking about what kind of story they would like to write.
  5. Invite students to share ideas or examples they may have where there is a connection between tool and character. Initially, students will probably share how a particular color can express a feeling or mood (e.g., red for anger). Encourage students to go even further in their thinking (e.g., If a character, like a cat is angry and the dialogue is written in red, is there a difference between reading dialogue in red marker or red color pencil?). Going deeper in the conversation, as readers does a red, catlike script affect our understanding of a cat in a story?
  6. Ask students to participate in a few quick-write exercises using the Expressing Mood handout, making sure that each student has a variety of tools to work with at his/her desk. Students will practice writing to express their mood/feelings with examples such as:
    • Write with anger
    • Write with sadness
    • Write with joy
    • Write with love
    • Write with creativity
    • Write with excitement
    • Write with anticipation
    • Write with a soft voice
    • Write with a hurried voice
  7. Ask students to share/show/explain their examples as well as write down in their notebooks those from their peers that are interesting to them (quick notes). These notes will help serve as a reference for future writing.  Students should tape this handout into their notebooks for future reference.  Tell students that they will have an opportunity to develop a story the next day.

Session Three

  1. Brainstorming in groups of three or four, ask students to talk about which tools and colors may be used to best express moods, emotions, and ideas. Questions to guide students, particularly for those who are unsure of how to start the conversation:

    • What can we communicate with particular writing/drawing tools?
      • Wide tipped/extra fine markers?
      • Wispy color pencil strokes?
      • Graphite?
      • Charcoal?
      • Waxy crayon?
      • Creamy pastel?
      • Paint?
      • Gel pen?
    • What do certain colors mean or represent to us? Does the shade/intensity matter? (It may be necessary to explain shade and intensity to students first).
      • Green?
      • Dark/light green?
      • Chartreuse?
  2. Invite students to share their ideas with the whole group, adding new ideas to the chart created on the first day.
  3. Ask students to open their notebooks to revisit their experimentation with different writing/drawing media and their notes from the small group discussions.
  4. Have students begin writing a story where the reader can see how the print (e.g., marker print, ink print, pencil print, etc.) communicates something about a character, a scene, a setting, or a mood. Initial story ideas will probably need to be fleshed out. The rubric should be discussed prior to assigning the lesson.  Use the following questions to guide students:
    • Who is the main character in your story? (e.g., a name, a person, an animal)
    • Think about who your character is (e.g., a villain, a hero, a friend, etc.)
    • Write down a tool that you think would best communicate your character’s voice to your readers (e.g., a basketball player = jersey colors, bold tools like felt-tipped marker; a dancer = whimsical colors, airy, dreamy tools like color pencil and pastel).  (You may want to create an example ahead of time to help explain to students what you are trying to communicate.)
  5. Tell students that they will have an opportunity to continue to develop their story the next day.


Session Four

  1. Ask students to share first with two peers and then another two different peers how they are using tools to support their written ideas.
  2. Invite students to share with the whole group what they are working on in their writing and the tool(s) they are using to help tell their story. If new ideas are presented, add these to the chart from the first day.
  3. Offer students the remaining time to continue developing their written ideas.
  4. Tell students that the next day they will have an opportunity to rewrite a part of their story using a different writing tool. Using a post-it note or sticky flag, ask students to mark the part in their story where they may consider changing the writing tool.


Session Five

  1. Revisit the scratchy writing in Fox by asking students to consider how our interpretation of the story might be different if the story were told in a different writing tool (i.e. not scratchy, black ink). For example, if we feel connected to Magpie through print text that looks like something Magpie, a bird, could have written, would we still feel that closeness if the printed text were in a different color? A different typeface? A different medium?
  2. Choose any two of Magpie’s lines from the book and ask students to rewrite them using different writing media. Ask the students to share what they notice about how the tool affects how we see the print. For example, how might we read the black, birdlike scripted words “Jiggety-hop, jiggety-hop” differently if it were in say, red marker, Times New Roman font?  You may wish to create a visual example of this to show students the difference in the different fonts/colors.
  3. Ask students to silently reread the section they marked with a note/flag to make sure that is the section they want to work on.
  4. Allow time for students to rewrite the marked part of the story using a different tool.  Remind students of the examples at the end of Session 3.
  5. Invite students to share their rewritten sections with the class.
  6. Ask the group:
    • What happens to the story when we use a different writing tool?
    • Does our reaction to the story change?
    • Does the tool affect how we see our characters?
    • Does the tool draw the reader closer to our characters?
  7. The importance of rewriting is about making connections with media, writing, and ourselves.  Encourage students to offer their peers glow feedback (what worked well) and grow feedback (what the writer may consider reworking).



  • Look critically and reflectively at print and visual text in picture books. Discuss the print by asking questions such as, "how does this font, size, and color affect my understanding of the character’s voice?"  Discuss artist techniques by asking questions such as, "how does this brushstroke influence my understanding of this visual text?" You may also choose to assign these questions as a writing assignment for students to reflect on the lesson and ideas.
  • Develop a text set of these books so that students (developing writers) have an in-class reference source for books whose print and art speaks.
  • Invite students to experiment with different fonts and size of text on word processors or using the Doodle Splash interactive.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Informally observe students actively writing with various writing/drawing media.
  • Collect completed written drafts where the connection between media and written content is developing or self-evident. The option of using a rubric is provided.
  • Students can reflect and respond to the following questions in their writer’s notebooks:
    • What am I coming to know about the connections between writing/drawing tools and writing?
    • How is access to different writing/drawing tools affecting my writing?


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