Chapter 4: Page 30

Faculty Spotlight: Professor Robert Kohls of the English Department at SFSU

Robert Kohls is an Assistant Professor of English/TESOL. He teaches graduate courses in second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and writing theory and practice. His research interests include sociocultural perspectives on second language (L2) writing and writing teacher education. He is currently co-editor of the CATESOL Journal and co-book review editor for the Journal of Second Language Writing

Drawing to Writing: Teaching Students  Summarizing and Paraphrasing through Drawing 

Robert Kohls, PhD 
Department of English Language and Literature 
San Francisco State University

1. Required Materials 

  1. The Economist magazine 
  2. Two sheets of paper (either notebook size or flip chart paper) 
  3. Pen, pencil, or colored markers 

2. Level 


3. Time 

    60 – 75 minutes  

Warm-up: What do you see below? What patterns and symbols give you clues into what this is?

Visual notetaking can be a creative method to use when listening to a lecture, annotating a reading with symbols and arrows, and/or brainstorming for a writing prompt, all depending on your learning and engagement style.

Robert Kohls’ drawing activity below builds on this premise, as well as the multimodal themes of this book: that visual elements and learning styles can help readers break down a text, and by drawing various elements as they relate to other writers can re-create the text in a summary or paraphrase in creative ways, and truly in their own words.

Rationale: What Role do Summarizing and Paraphrasing Play in Academic Writing? 

As academic readers and writers, you need to be able to summarize, paraphrase, and quote strategically when they write essays, critical reviews, annotated bibliographies, literature reviews, and other common academic papers. Around 70% of academic writing involves summarizing and paraphrasing the words, ideas, and concepts of other scholars regardless of discipline (Swales & Feak, 2000). Summarizing and paraphrasing are often difficult tasks for novice writers as they require strong reading skills and the ability to analyze, prioritize, and rephrase the ideas of the source text into their own words. This task requires advanced working knowledge of how academic articles are written (genre knowledge), a robust and growing academic vocabulary (lexical knowledge), and advanced writing skills (rhetorical knowledge) in order to be able to strategically integrate the words of others into their own paper to create a coherent and unified voice.  

When students struggle with academic literacy  they  risk  misinterpreting, overinterpreting, or under interpreting what they are reading. This can lead to a misrepresentation of the author’s work which impacts the persuasiveness of the paper and coherence of the argument. In certain cases, not being able to summarize and paraphrase effectively can also lead writers to plagiarize another’s work because they may not understand the original source well enough or have the necessary vocabulary to restate the original in their own words.  

To help you summarize and paraphrase from your source texts, Professor Kohl’s developed an activity in which students draw what they are reading before they begin to restate the text in their own words. Drawing to learn has been shown to provide students with the added support they need to develop their thoughts (Ainsworth, Prain, & Tyler, 2011; Quillin & Thomas, 2015). This activity is something teachers can pre-teach in class using authentic materials from the media and can be integrated in journal assignments and other writing-to-learn oriented activities.

Revisiting the Warm-up: Learning from an Interpreter 

The inspiration for this summarizing and paraphrasing activity came from my early teaching experiences working with graduate students in the field of translation and interpretation.  

Did you guess what the warm-up photograph above is? These are the notes from a former colleague of Professor Kohls who is a Japanese-English interpreter. She explained that this was her process of interpreting a speech from Japanese into English. The notes are organized into four columns each subdivided into smaller boxes containing words, numbers, and symbols.  

Kohls’ realized that this same activity that interpreters used to  understand and reproduce ideas and words from one language into another can be used by students who are doing the very same thing when they are summarizing or paraphrasing an academic text. In the case of academic reading and writing, students draw the ideas, terms, can language they are reading from articles, books, or periodicals into images, cartoons, and processes that they understand. Drawing helps students to grasp new vocabulary and unfamiliar concepts as well as synthesize relationships between ideas. Once they fully understand what they are reading, they can restate in their own words.  


Getting Started…  

Before students begin to draw, Kohls recommends first talking about what the differences are between a summary, paraphrase, and quotation and the role each plays in academic writing. There are plenty of materials students can read beforehand to stimulate conversation on the topic. Below are some of Professor Kohls’ favorite suggestions: 

With any conversation about academic writing, teachers need to talk about plagiarism, and how summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting can be used to avoid appropriating another’s ideas or language without first rephrasing the text their own words and providing the proper citation. Kohls has often found providing famous plagiarism cases among academics or at universities to be useful in raising students’ awareness about what plagiarism is and how seriously it is taken. Below is an example of plagiarism in academia from The Guardian



Getting Students  Ready to  Draw: Finding the Right Materials

The Economist, November 2020

Finding the right materials that fit into a busy class period is not easy. The best materials Kohls has found are short news briefs from The Economist magazine.  

These news briefs, located in the “The World this Week,” are short and cover a range of domestic and international topics with which students will likely be familiar. 

Ideally, find a news brief that includes a photograph or cartoon. Visual images can help scaffold background knowledge and stimulate a conversation. In addition to a photo or cartoon, a successful news briefs should be fewer than 100 words (shorter passages are more manageable to work with) and include characteristics that will be easy to draw. For example, check for the following items:  

  • Describes an event
  • Uses concrete subjects  
  • Employs action verbs 
  • Incorporates adverbs of time, manner, place 
  • Describes shapes  
  • Cites statistics 
  • Includes names of well-known people

It’s important not to shy away from controversial topics in the news, but keep in mind to use your best judgment of which topics are appropriate for your class to draw and summarize or paraphrase. Kohls would recommend avoiding topics that might trigger a traumatic response. When in doubt, check with colleagues.  

Starting the Activity: Reading… 

The following news brief is from The Economist for the week of March 20th, 2021. This news brief is around 86 words and includes a photograph. The text contains easily drawable verbs like “announce” and metaphors like “to be taken for a ride.” It also includes specific countries like “Britain” and figures such as “70,000”. This picture helps students to visualize the topic, stimulate vocabulary, and gives them ideas for drawing.  

NEWSBRIEF: The case of Uber in the United Kingdom 


What makes this news brief perfect to use is its familiarity to students. Uber is a ridesharing service that most all students will have heard about and likely used at some point. Uber is frequently in the news which increases a students’ background knowledge and potential vocabulary needed to restate the text in their own words.  


Uber  announced that it would comply with a recent  legal ruling  in Britain which found that its 70,000 or so drivers in the country are employees, not contractors. This means they will be entitled to the minimum wage, holiday pay and a pension in Britain, the first country where Uber has accepted such conditions. The status of workers in the gig economy is being reviewed in other cases around the world. Courts increasingly agree that it is the drivers who are being taken for a ride.
c/o Robert Kohls

Next Step: Sketching…  

To avoid the pitfalls of a literal paraphrase (or a line by line paraphrase), read the news brief together with the students. Define any unknown vocabulary words, cultural references, or metaphorical language (e.g., “to be taken for a ride”). Ask students jot down words and ideas. Answer any questions that may come up. Make sure everyone understands the passage clearly before they begin to draw.  

Next, ask them to draw what the news brief reported. Students can do this activity individually or in pairs. Let students know they can depict the passage in any way they wish. No one needs to be an expert artist! View the sample sketch of the Uber news brief and the side notes below.  

Teacher’s Observations: 

  • Here different concepts like “globally ruling” is depicted as courts around the planet and a judge stands in as the symbol of the UK legal ruling.  
  • Uber is depicted by their logo and a metaphor is used to depict the verb “announce.” 
  • Voice is also given the Uber, the judge, and the Uber driver in the speech bubbles. 

c/o Robert Kohls

Once students have completed their drawings, ask them to put away the original source text and put their drawing back into words. Remind them that they can begin their summary or paraphrase starting anywhere in the sketch. In this example, students can start their paraphrase beginning with the pictures of the globe, the judge, or the megaphone (referring to concepts such as “worldwide,” “the UK courts,” and the verb “announce,” respectively). Always remind students to follow good citation practices by adding the source and date to the paraphrase. See the examples below of two paraphrases of the Uber news brief.  

Finishing up: Comments from Professor Kohls… 

In both of these sample paraphrases, the authors have chosen to begin their paraphrases starting from different points. For example, the first sample begins with the lower left-hand corner of the picture which highlights the global action among the courts, whereas the second sample begins with the UK and its decision.  

One effective way to present these sketches is on large flip chart paper so students can have plenty of room to draw and paraphrase on the same page. Invite your students to post their sketches and paraphrases on the walls of the classroom and follow that up with a gallery walk, reading and responding to the drawing and the paraphrase. Allow your students to guide the critique. Always leave time to make corrections and revisions. Finally, end the class by asking what the students learned from this activity and how they might apply it to their academic literacy repertoires.  

For homework, ask students to choose a short two or three sentence passage from a course reading to paraphrase. Students may post their paraphrase on the course management system for others to review and respond to.  

Final Note from the Editors: Practice using this technique when chunking and close reading, breaking down difficult texts in any of your classes, or even trying a new way of annotating or other comprehending any new knowledge.

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