Kagan Online Magazine

Subscription Info

Subscribe Me
You will receive an e-mail with hot links to the latest Kagan Online Magazine, as well as announcements about upcoming Kagan professional development events and new products.

Subscribe A Friend
Please include your friend's e-mail address when subscribing.

Unsubscribe Me
Remove yourself from Kagan's e-mail list.

Bookmark and Share

Featured Structure

Illustration of student drawing. Illustration of student drawing.

The ability to communicate with precision is a valuable skill for students in their personal and professional lives. For example, a person writes directions to her party so guests don’t get lost en route. A wife describes to her husband over the phone where to find their child’s medication. A product developer describes a product feature to an overseas manufacturer. A pilates instructor cues her class how to make complex movements on the reformer. The technical writer writes a user’s manual for a software package. A technical support assistant walks a less tech-savvy customer through the steps of setting up a satellite receiver or computer. We can go on and on.

Draw-What-I-Write is a powerful structure for developing written communication skills. Through practice and interaction, students learn what works and what doesn’t. They learn that they often have more or different information in their head than the other student. They learn how to see things through the eyes of another and how to describe things for understanding. Draw-What-I-Write develops communication and perspective-taking skills through engaging interaction.



…learn to write with precision and without ambiguity.

…learn editing skills.

…take the role of the other.

…learn to read for details.

…practice respectful listening.

…learn to follow written instructions.

…learn to give concise instructions.


Getting Ready: Each student needs a drawing sheet, a writing sheet, and a pen or pencil.

  1. Step 1
    Teacher Provides Direction
    The teacher outlines the parameters of the drawing and models a sample drawing for students. “You will draw a robot like this one using simple shapes. Think about how you will describe your drawing in writing so your partner can re-create the drawing.”

  2. Step 2
    Students Draw
    Students independently make their drawings, each on his or her own sheet of paper.

  3. Step 3
    Students Write Instructions
    With their drawings in front of them, students write step-by-step instructions how to re-create the drawing on a separate sheet of paper, skipping every other line. They try to be as specific as possible. For example, “First, draw an oval in the middle of the paper. Make the oval taller than wide. That’s the robot’s body. Next, draw his head. For his head, draw a circle above the oval…”.

  4. Step 4
    Students Pair Up
    Students pair up with a partner who has not seen their drawing. They exchange only the written instructions.

  5. Step 5
    Students Draw
    Using their partner’s written description, students re-create the drawing.

  6. Step 6
    Partner A Reveals Original
    When both students are done drawing, or when time is called, Partner A reveals his or her original drawing. As a pair, they take turns discussing what was easy to follow and what was difficult and how they could improve their instructions.

  7. Step 7
    Pairs Edit
    They work as a pair to rewrite the directions.

  8. Step 8
    Switch Roles
    Partner B reveals his or her original, the pair discusses improvements, and then they work together to edit Partner B’s instructions.

  9. Step 9
    Students Re-Test Instructions
    After both partners have edited their instructions, they pair up again with a new partner and test each other’s edited instructions by asking their new partner to draw what they have written.

Differentiated Instruction

Different ability level groups may be required to draw and describe more complex figures. For example, “Draw a robot consisting of four geometric figures” vs. “Draw a robot consisting of five geometric figures and three unconnected freehand lines.”

Structure Power

Contrast two approaches to improving writing skills: the traditional approach has students write and then receive feedback from their teacher. The teacher is the evaluator. Draw-What-I-Write is totally different. Students receive feedback about their writing by seeing what their writing does! The student is a self-evaluator. Via immediate peer feedback, students see what worked and what did not in their writing and are motivated to improve. Draw-What-I-Write lends itself well to differentiated instruction; students can write to describe more or less complicated figures, depending on their developmental stage.


  • Skip Lines. Have students skip lines and have a wide left margin as they write their instructions so they can use the spaces to make corrections during the editing process.
  • Simple Drawings. Show students how to make very simple illustrations. Complex illustrations will be very difficult to describe and even more difficult to re-create.
  • Varying Difficulty. Instructions can be made easier or more difficult depending on whether or not students are allowed to name their drawing or parts of the drawing. For example, it is easier to draw a rocket ship if students write, “These instructions will describe how to draw a rocket ship.” Similarly, it is more difficult to draw the rocket if students don’t mention parts by name. For example, if students can’t include “nose cone” and “fins” they must describe the features in such a way that the reader will be able to draw the parts without knowing in advance what he or she is drawing. To make it easier, allow students to write what the illustration is and name parts. To make it more difficult, disallow naming the illustration or its parts.
Ideas Across the Curriculum
  • Geometric drawings
  • Triangles
  • Math equations using pictures
  • Items with different measurements
Language Arts
  • Bookshelf with books (titles showing)
  • Nouns (TV, washing machine, car)
  • Space station
  • Transportation (air, land, water)
  • Animal
  • Tide pool
  • Astronomy (planets, comets)
  • Zoo
  • Body systems
  • Plant
Social Studies
  • Map of state using landforms and cities
  • Flag
  • Route on a map
  • Artifact
  • Symbol
Section header: Variations

Step-by-Step. Another way to do Draw-What-I-Write is to allow students to illustrate the item step-by-step and provide instructions for each step.


68 Kagan Structures

  • 68 step-by-step Kagan Structures
  • Revolutionary teaching strategies to boost engagement
  • Activity ideas across the curriculum
  • Ready-to-use activities and resources

Click to learn more