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Sketch to Stretch

Creating meaning through different sign systems

Kathy G. Short, 2011


Sketch to Stretch for Young Children


Students can create meaning in many sign systems or forms of representation. By taking what we know in one sign system and recasting it in another system—language, art, music, movement, mathematics, and so forth—new understandings are created through a process called “transmediation.” Students are encouraged to go beyond a literal understanding of what they have experienced and to recognize that more than one interpretation exists for an experience. Often, as students sketch, they generate new insights. They are faced with a problem because the meanings they had constructed for the selection through language or music cannot be transferred into a sketch. As they deal with this problem, they often come to understand the selection at a different level than when they first read the book or listened to a musical piece. Sometimes students discuss and explore aspects of meaning they have captured in art that they were not aware of having understood verbally or musically. Note that this engagement is one that students often initially struggle to understand and that many initially draw illustrations rather than sketches of meaning.  Don’t give up. Students often need several opportunities with this engagement to understand it.



  1. A reading selection or a piece of music
  2. Pencil, paper, crayons, colored pencils, etc.



  1. Students read a selection or are read a particular selection from a book.
  2. Students think about what they read and draw a sketch of the meaning of the story -- “what this story means to you.” Encourage students not to draw an illustration of events from the story but to think about the meaning of the story and find a way to visually sketch that meaning. If they struggle with sketching the meaning, it may be helpful to ask them to draw their connections to the story.
  3. Explain to students that there are many ways of representing the meaning of an experience and they are free to experiment with their interpretation. They can use color and shape to reflect the emotion of an experience; the sketch does not need to be representational.
  4. When the sketches are complete, each person in the group shows his or her sketch to the others in the group. The participants study the sketch and say what they think the artist is attempting to say. The artist has the “last word,” to share his/her own intentions and thinking about the sketch.


  1. Students can sketch the meaning of a piece of music, a drama, etc.
  2. Students can sketch the meaning of a particular concept they have been exploring, such as “taking action” or “courage.”


Sketch 1Sketch to stretch by second grader of his understanding of the concept of taking action – stopping to consider the consequence of doing something.


Sketch 2Third grader response to Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan focusing on the love of the mother and girl for the father who has died and the thorns that they need to protect themselves from others.


Sketch 3Student response to a piece of music – Mozart Serenade #10 in B flat

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