Speed Drawing

Speed Drawing is based on an activity shared by Linda Barry in her book Syllabus. This activity can be used for Tier 2 vocabulary pulled from read aloud books or from spelling lists.

Students love this activity but time must be taken to teach the structure of the activity, as well as the activity itself.  The first few times, students may struggle with passing their papers the correct way.  Once you have a passing system in place, it is all about the vocabulary words.

Preparing the Paper:

In this activity, choose 4-8 vocabulary words that you would like your students to learn.

Fold a sheet of paper into the corresponding number of squares.

  • For 4 words, fold an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper into quarters (hotdog fold, hamburger fold)
  • For 6 words, fold an 8 1/2″ x 11″ or 8 1/2″ x 14 into sixths (hotdog fold, then fold into thirds – this will take some guess work – using  the hamburger direction)
  • For 8 words, fold an 8 1/2 x 14″ sheet of paper into eighths (hotdog, hamburger, hamburger)

Once folded, open the sheet and lay it flat.

Teacher created pages: Add a place for students to write their name.  Write one word at the top of each box. Photocopy one per students.

Student created pages: Ask students to write a vocabulary word in each box and put their name on the back of the paper.

The Activity:

  1. Review the meaning of the words on their papers. The first few times you do this activity, you may need to talk about ideas for how each word could be drawn.  Once students are familiar with the activity, they rarely need support with this.  Nouns and verbs are the easiest to draw.
  2. Decide which way students will be passing their paper.
  3. Provide an appropriate amount of time for students to draw.  For students grades 3 and up, 30 seconds seems to be an appropriate length of time.  You want to choose a time span that is long enough that students can get their ideas down onto paper without being stressed, but not so long that they get caught up in their drawing and are erasing and making it “precious.”
  4. When the timer rings, have students pass their papers to the next person.
  5. If students are stuck, they can pass without drawing but this rarely happens.
  6. Continue drawing and passing until the papers are filled.
  7. Once all of the boxes are filled, have students return the paper they currently have to its rightful owner.
  8. Once papers are delivered, have students take the time to look at the drawings on papers around the room.
  9. Once students are seated, discuss which words were the hardest and which were the easiest.  Talk about any homonyms or interesting ideas sparked by any of the words.

Why this activity is powerful!

  • It’s a lot of fun and creates a positive buzz in the classroom
  • There is a reason why students “need” to know what a word mean.
  • Students who struggle can look at words drawn by other students and use those ideas in their own drawings.
  • Students who struggle can draw the same picture more than once, providing opportunities for success.
  • We know that students have a greater probability of storing words if they have seen it in print, have heard it spoken and know what it means.

Power Words Using Trade Books

Vocabulary Building with Technology Tools


Highlight and Vocabulary:  Example and Tip Sheets

Read & Write

Highlighting and Vocabulary: Examples and Tip Sheets

Immersive Reader

Picture Dictionary and parts of speech: Examples and Tip Sheets