Recurring Lesson

Guided Comprehension: Visualizing Using the Sketch-to-Stretch Strategy

4 - 6
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 60-minute sessions on consecutive days
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A majority of students in grades 4 to 6 are beyond decoding instruction. Strategic reading allows students to monitor their own thinking and make connections between texts and their own experiences. Based on the Guided Comprehension Model developed by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen, this lesson introduces students to the comprehension strategy sketch-to-stretch, which involves visualizing a passage of text and interpreting it through drawing. The strategy encourages diverse perspectives and fosters open discussion of various interpretations. Sketch-to-stretch is first introduced, demonstrated, and applied in a whole-group session. Students are then placed in groups with similar instructional needs to practice the strategy through teacher-guided small-group instruction and student-run comprehension centers. At the end of the third session the class gathers to reflect on how the visualizing strategy can help them understand texts.

NOTE: This lesson is intended as an introduction to the visualizing strategy. With continued practice, students should be able to apply the visualizing and sketch-to-stretch strategy independently to other texts.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Guided Comprehension is a context in which students learn comprehension strategies in a variety of settings using multiple levels and types of text. It is a three-stage process focused on direct instruction, application, and reflection.

  • The Guided Comprehension Model progresses from explicit teaching to independent practice and transfer.

  • Visualizing involves picturing in your mind what is happening in the text.

  • Current studies demonstrate that when students experience explicit instruction of comprehension strategies, it improves their comprehension of new texts and topics (Hiebert et al., 1998).

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 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).
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles (Atheneum, 2001)

  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam, 2001)

  • Three instructional-level texts (see Friendship Bookfinder)

  • Various art supplies (markers, crayons, paint, paper, etc.)




1. Sketch to Stretch (summary of strategy), Teacher Tool: Sketch to Stretch, and the Summary Sheet: Student-Facilitated Comprehension Routines to become familiar with the sketch-to-stretch strategy. Another recommended resource is the book Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3–8 by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen.

2. Read Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson to become familiar with the stories used in this lesson.

3. Gather three instructional-level texts that match the needs of three levels of reading in your class (see Friendship Bookfinder).

4. Make one copy of the Visualizing poster for use in class. Make two to three copies of the Sketch-to-Stretch template for each student.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Become familiar with the comprehension strategy of visualizing

  • Learn and apply the sketch-to-stretch strategy as a way to better understand and interpret texts

  • Visualize the descriptions and events in texts and describe how this strategy helps enhance their comprehension

Day 1: Stage 1–Teacher-directed whole-group instruction (40 minutes)

1. Explain the strategy. Explain to students what visualizing means and show them the Visualizing poster. As an introductory activity, read the following passages aloud and ask students to visualize a "picture" of the reading in their heads. It may be helpful to describe this activity as "brain T.V." As students listen to the readings, they should close their eyes and create images in their heads as if they were watching a television show.
  • "There is wind here," said Caleb happily. "It blows the snow and brings tumbleweeds and makes the sheep run. Wind and wind and wind!" Caleb stood up and ran like the wind, and the sheep ran after him. Sarah and I watched him jump over rock and gullies, the sheep behind him, stiff legged and fast. He circled the field, the sun making the top of his hair golden. He collapsed next to Sarah, and the lambs pushed their wet noses into us. [From Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (HarperTrophy, 1987).]

  • The turtle swims around, flapping her long front flippers like wings. She is flying underwater. She pokes her pinprick nostrils through the silver surface to take a quick breath, so fast, blink and you'll miss it! [From One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies (Candlewick Press, 2001).]
After reading each passage, ask students to talk about what they visualized. Emphasize that each student has his or her own ideas of what the images look like, and point out that no two images are exactly the same. Explain to students that this strategy of visualizing can help them to better understand what they are reading in a text.

2. Demonstrate the strategy. Tell students that they are going to listen to a story read aloud. Ask them to visualize the events of the story as it is read. Read Freedom Summer aloud. When you are finished reading, tell students that you are going to do a quick sketch of what the story means to you. Draw (quickly) a picture on poster paper so that the students can see it. Ask students for their interpretations of your picture. Why do they think you drew that picture? What do they think it means? After students have discussed your picture, give them your own interpretation of your drawing.

Be sure to emphasize that students should not be concerned with their artwork. Sketches should be done quickly. The point of the strategy is to get their interpretations down on paper without using words.

3. Guide students to apply the strategy. Pass out a copy of the Sketch-to-Stretch template to each student. Read The Other Side aloud and ask students to quickly sketch their interpretation of the story while listening.

4. Practice individually or in small groups. Divide students into groups of three. Ask students to share their sketches of the story with their group. The author of the sketch should hold back his or her own interpretation until after the other group members have had a chance to share their thoughts on the drawing. Continue until each group member shares a drawing, listens to the group members' thoughts on the drawing, and then offers a personal interpretation.

5. Reflect. Come back together as a class and discuss sketch-to-stretch as a visualizing strategy.
  • How did visualizing help them understand the texts?

  • How is visualizing similar to or different than watching television?

  • How does reading differ when they do not visualize in their heads as compared to when they do?

Day 1: Stage 2–Teacher-guided small groups and student facilitated independent practice (40 minutes)

Before beginning Stage 2, students must be divided into three instructional-level groups. Students with similar instructional needs should be grouped together. This does not necessarily mean that students in each group are on the same reading level. Instead, they may have similar needs for comprehension instruction (e.g., students who have trouble making inferences or students who need extra practice making connections between texts).

Students are working in three different areas during this stage:

  • Teacher-guided small-group instruction

  • Student-facilitated comprehension centers

  • Student-facilitated comprehension routines

Classroom management is at the discretion of each individual teacher. You may want to assign students to small groups and set up a rotation schedule, or you may want to allow groups of students to choose their own activities. Regardless, each group of students needs to visit the three areas at least once in the three-day period.

1. Teacher-guided small group instruction. Choose one group to begin with you as follows:
  • Use the poster to review the visualizing strategy and discuss how sketch-to-stretch was used when reading Freedom Summer and The Other Side.

  • Guide students to read a text at their instructional level using the Sketch-to-Stretch template (see Friendship Bookfinder). Have students share their drawings and interpretations with the group.

  • Have students reflect on using the visualizing strategy and how it helps them monitor their own comprehension of a story.
2. Student-run comprehension centers. Students may be assigned to centers or choose activities on their own.
  • Drama center. Have students gather in small groups to play a visualization game. One person should choose an object to describe. The rest of the group should close their eyes as they listen to the description and visualize the object in their heads. Students can then guess what the object is and then switch roles.

  • Writing center. Ask students to write newspaper articles describing the importance of visualizing. Students can share their writings with a partner and then revise the articles to compile in a class book or newspaper.

  • Poetry center. Have students find or listen to a poem from While reading or listening to the poem, ask students to visualize the meaning and then use the Sketch-to-Stretch template to draw their interpretations. Students can share their drawings with a partner, discuss what the drawings represent, and then read the related poems together to see whether the meaning is more easily understood.

  • Art center. Have each student select one photograph from the websites National Geographic: Underwater Photo Galleries or Barry S. Goldberg's Amazing Nature Photographs and write a short, detailed description of what they see. Students can then trade their written descriptions with a partner and have the partner visualize what the photograph might look like based on the description. Students can then compare the partner's visualization to the actual photograph and work together to revise the written description to more accurately reflect the photo.
3. Student-facilitated comprehension routines. Working in small groups, students engage in three different literacy strategies. Students should already be familiar with each of the strategies and have practiced them over time. For more information, review the Summary Sheet or refer to the text Guided Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3–8 by Maureen McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen.

Days 2 and 3

For Days 2 and 3, pick up where you left off the previous day. The suggested time for each session is 60 minutes; however, since the group on the first day only had 20 minutes in small groups, you may want to meet with them for another 20 minutes and then switch groups for the last 40 minutes. The rotation should continue until all three groups have visited all three areas. On Day 3, students will spend 40 minutes in small groups, leaving 20 minutes for whole-group reflection and discussion (see Day 3: Stage 3).

Day 3: Stage 3–Whole-group reflection (20 minutes)

1. Talk to students about the visualizing strategy. Ask students to tell why and how sketch-to-stretch helped them better understand texts.

2. Give students time to share the activities they completed during the student-facilitated comprehension centers.


  • Adapt this lesson and use it with students to visualize other texts. With continued practice, students should be able to apply the visualizing strategy independently.

  • Access and use other lessons based on the Guided Comprehension Model to teach additional comprehension strategies:

To further extend the activities in this lesson, have students think about how other students reacted to the story The Other Side by reading the reviews posted on the Spaghetti Book Club website. Consider having your students submit their own reviews and drawings of the story to this site.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Assessment can be done informally through anecdotal notes and observations.

  • Student understanding can be assessed using the Sketch-to-Stretch templates they completed.

  • You can also ask students to reflect in their comprehension journals about how they used the visualizing strategy and their experience with sketch-to-stretch. Some possible journal prompts include:
  • Compare and contrast how using the strategy of visualizing is the same as or different than watching television.

  • Respond to someone who says that visualizing a story in your head is not important.

  • Describe how drawing a sketch helps you respond to the story. What was it like to see and discuss the sketches with your peers?

  • Tell what you have learned about yourself as a reader by using the visualizing strategy and sketch-to-stretch.