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#11. Symbolic Borders

English/Grammar/Reading, level: elementary
Posted by Angela Ackley (
The Teacher's Desk
Ashtabula Catholic Middle School, USA
Materials Required: an assignment paper, coloring utensils
Activity Time: varies
Concepts Taught: symbolism, visualization of key literary elements

Symbolic Borders are a quick yet efficient way to check students'

comprehension of text. They are particularly effective for students who

have difficulties expressing themselves verbally. Moreover, students

view them as an art form rather than an assignment. Thus, to them, this

is a fun activity, not work. I use Symbolic Borders with my fifth and

sixth-graders for reading assignments and with my eighth-graders for

science assignments. They work especially well with vocabulary/thematic

spelling assignments or on tests/quizzes. They can be utilized with

almost any subject and at any grade level.


A.Develop the concept of "symbol" with your students.

Step B is optional. I use it only for beginners, omitting it after the

students demonstrate proficiency.

B.Using a ruler and pencil, lightly draw a one inch border around the

four sides of an assignment paper. Looseleaf notebook paper does not

work well, since it has holes on one side.

C.Define a specific skill on which your students will focus. For

instance, have your students identify the setting of a selection, or

explain the theme of a story, or define the laws of motion.

D.Have the students select two to four symbols that represent the focus.

No words or human faces are permitted.

E.Have the students draw the symbols in a repeating pattern in the

border on their paper.

F.Finally, have them color the symbols.

To reinforce the fact that symbols represent ideas and ideas are most

commonly expressed with words, I have students who are verbally

challenged orally explain their symbols, while those who are able

explain their symbols by writing a paragraph.