A Comprehension Literacy Strategy: Grades 3-8

What Is It?

Sketch-to-stretch is a visual learning strategy that helps students see beyond the literal comprehension of a story they're reading. Students think more deeply about characters, theme, and other elements of story structure and the authors craft. Students work in small groups to draw pictures or diagrams that represent what the story means to them. Sketch-to-stretch is NOT drawing pictures of their favorite character or scene. Within the sketches, students use lines, shapes, colors, symbols, and words to express their interpretations and feelings.

Why Use This Instructional Strategy?

  • Helps to deepen Understanding of the stories students are reading
  • Focus on Theme
  • Use of symbols to represent characters and theme
  • Students learn that stories rarely have only one interpretation
  • Reflecting upon characters and events leads to the discovery of more themes

How To Use This Strategy

  1. Read and respond to a story - Students read a story or several chapters of a longer book and respond to the story in a grand conversation or reading log. (Both are other instructional strategies)
  2. Discuss the themes - Students and teacher talk about the themes in the story and ways to symbolize meanings. The teacher reminds students of the ways to represent meaning; lines, symbols, shapes, and words.
  3. Draw the sketches - Students work in small groups. The teacher emphasizes focus on meaning and that there's no single correct interpretation. The teacher also reminds students that artistic quality is less important than their interpretation.
  4. Share the sketches - Students share with their sketches with their small group and discuss the symbols they used. The teacher encourages students to study others drawing and tell what they think the student is trying to convey.
  5. Share some sketches - Each group chooses one sketch from their group to share with the class.
  6. Revise sketches and make final copies - Some students will want to revise and add to their sketches after receiving feedback. Students make final copies if the sketches are being use as projects.

Standards that Align With This Strategy

Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.

Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.


Stein, E. (2013). Comprehension Lesson. Sketch to Stretch. Retrieved from

Short, K. (2011). Sketch to Stretch. Retrieved from

Shaw, S. (2016). Guided Comprehension: Visualizing using sketch-to-stretch strategy. Retrieved from