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This activity, where students draw and label a key scene in a text, works well as a pre-writing activity, and also as a reading comprehension activity.  It helps students to develop a detailed visualization of a setting, and to attach words to the image.



Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Inferring
  • Visualizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Building Background
  • Investigation
  • Reflection

Content Areas 

  • ELA
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Staircase of Complexity


Prepare a model of the activity, and decide exactly how you want to use it:

  • As a pre-writing activity to help students develop a setting? 
  • As a pre-writing activity to help students develop a storyboard-like narrative? 
  • As a reading comprehension activity to help students refine their understanding of a setting in a text?


Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher displays and reviews model for students, and explains exactly how the activity will be used to meet lesson goals.

    Display the model for students as they are working.

  2. Draw: Students draw a sketch of the story. The sketch should include all the important details of the scene, including the physical space, the characters, the time of day, weather, season, the emotions on the characters’ faces, and so on.

    You may need to lead a mini-lesson on the difference between a sketch and a more developed drawing.  These sketches are usually intended to convey the important aspects of the scene, but students shouldn’t spend too much time on details such as shading. 

  3. Label: Students label every detail in their sketches.

    This step is important since it helps students to overcome the hurdle of putting their thoughts into written words.  Encourage students to label as many details as possible, and to use interesting and specific phrases whenever applicable (“well-worn multicolored braided wool rug,” not “rug”). Modeling would be appropriate in this step.

  4. Caption: Students write a brief (one- or two-sentence) caption for their labeled images.

    The caption should capture the main point of the scene in a fairly succinct way.  This step also helps students to develop their summary-writing skills.

  5. Students write in their journals, responding to the following questions: “How is the setting significant to the meaning of this story? How might this story be different if it occurred in a different time, place, or culture?”

    This is an appropriate time to conduct mini-conferences with each student, helping them to plan the next stages of their writing, and to figure out on an individual basis how the day’s activity fits into the larger plan.

  6. Either in groups or individually, students reflect on their learning by responding to the following questions in conversation or writing: How does the process of drawing a scene help you to understand it differently? • How might Draw-Label-Caption help

    Help students to reflect on their learning by probing their thinking and responding to their thoughts.

Downloadable Resources 
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