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Set the Scene

Break the panic of writer’s block with this visual imaging project! Ask students to draw a detailed sketch or diagram of a familiar place and then imagine several characters interacting there.

  • Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. How are fiction writers able to “make up” so many vivid details when describing a setting? Most rely on reality, mixing details from various real places they have seen or heard about.
    2. Provide students with scrap paper, white drawing paper, Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils or Washable Markers, and a piece of lined paper. Reassure them that they need not be great artists for this activity but that they will simply be doing some visual note taking.
    3. Ask them to use the scrap paper to brainstorm a list of specific places that are familiar to them which might make a good setting for a story. Give a few examples such as: your grandmother’s kitchen, Kelley’s Diner, the playground on 8th Street, etc. Then ask each to choose one of these for this activity.
    4. Have students close their eyes and picture the chosen place. Ask questions to encourage visualization. “Are you inside or outside? What do you see in front of you? Picture as many details as possible – colors, shapes, textures.... Look to your left, your right…. What else do you see? Are there any smells or aromas? How do you feel in this place?
    5. When you feel they are ready, ask students to begin sketching the place on white drawing paper including as many specific details as possible. The point is to get as many details noted as possible, so tell them they have only a limited time for this so no one gets caught up in drawing only a few things too “perfectly.”
    6. After 10-15 minutes, ask them to add a last few details and then stop drawing. Ask students to discuss the activity. Did they recall more details than they thought they would? What was difficult about the activity? What was easy?
    7. Now ask them to take 10-15 minutes to write what could be a short scene from a story taking place in this environment. It could be based loosely on something that really did happen there, or it could be a “what if” story. What if a crowd of travelers became snowbound at Kelley’s Diner? What if Dad took us along to clean out the house Great Aunt Lorraine left to him in her will?
    8. Before class ends, allow several volunteers to share what they have written. Ask students how the drawing activity impacted their writing. Invite those who feel rushed to finish at home and bring their stories back to share tomorrow.
  • Standards

    LA: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

    LA: Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact.

    LA: With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    VA: Students will initiate making works of art and design by experimenting, imagining and identifying content.

    VA: Students will investigate, plan and work through materials and ideas to make works of art and design.

  • Adaptations

    Have younger students tell their stories to older “buddy” students, having the older student write the details of the stories for documentation. Remind younger “buddies” to include characters and some kind of action. Encourage the use of specific details. Younger and older students collaborate to create visuals to accompany the stories

    Encourage students to observe and discuss the different ways classmates used specific details in their drawings and stories.

    If some students wish to develop their stories or drawings more fully, encourage them to do so and provide time for them to share the finished products with the class.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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