Labeled Setting


Through this activity, students visualize and then draw the place a text describes.  Using words from the text, they label their drawing with the descriptors and clues that guided their visualization.  This activity helps students to elaborate their mental image of the setting, and to explicitly connect and justify their visualizations with textual references.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Inferring
  • Visualizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation

Content Areas 

  • ELA

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Staircase of Complexity
  • Text-Based Answers


  • Identify the text or portion of a text that you want students to read.  You should select a passage, chapter, or short text that has a clear and well-elaborated physical description.  It can be particularly effective to select a text in which the setting contributes significantly to meaning. 
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher briefly reviews the concept of setting: where and when a story takes place. Teacher says that in today’s class, the students will focus on the “where “ part of setting.

    You may want to talk briefly about how the physical setting of a story can participate or shape its meaning.  A stark example, such as the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” or the opening of Of Mice and Men, can be illuminating.

  2. Students read the text either alone or in pairs. As they read, they highlight any words or lines that provide information about the physical setting of the story.
    If students don’t own their books, you will want to copy the relevant pages so that they can write on them. 
    You may need to model this step if students don’t have experience learning about the setting from a text.  Help students to see that they can gather information from explicit descriptions and also from more oblique references.   For example, one author might describe a hot, dusty farm with an explicit descriptive paragraph, whereas another author might give clues in the midst of a narrative such as, “She felt sweat beading up on her face and wiped it away impatiently,” and “The dust rose in clouds as she walked towards the cornfield.”


  3. When students are done reading, they review their highlights, and organize their notes and ideas until they feel like they can visualize an integrated view of the setting. Students draw or paint the setting either alone or in pairs.
    Different students may have different approaches to generating their visualization.  Some may like to just read over their notes and think quietly; others may want to either sketch or write as they work out what the setting looks like.
    This activity can be either a relatively quick drawing, or a more in-depth visual art project, depending on the teaching goals.  Generally, however, a relatively quick drawing (maybe 30 minutes max) is sufficient for developing a student’s ability to analyze setting.
    Circulate as students are working and ask them about what they are noticing and thinking.


  4. Students refer back to the words and lines they highlighted in the text. Students use these exact words and lines to label aspects of their drawings.
    It may be helpful for students to draw on oversized paper so that they have room for their labels. 
    Some labels may refer to the overall picture, or to multiple elements.  Ask students to just use their best judgment in labeling the picture. 
    Encourage students to title their drawings, ideally with word(s) drawn from the text.
  5. Students get into pairs, and each student presents their drawing and labels to the partner. Students discuss the differences and similarities in their visualizations, in the word(s) they identified, and in the ways in which they interpreted these words.

    Circulate as students are talking, and help them to integrate and synthesize the information into the main ideas.  Help them to describe as clearly as possible how the word(s) in the text evoked their visualization.

  6. Students reflect on their learning alone or individually, orally or in writing.

    Students should respond to questions including:

    • How can drawing help you to understand a setting? 
    • How does visualization affect your ability to engage with a story?
    • How might interpretation of setting differ among readers?
    • When might this activity be most useful to you?
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