Visual/tactile swell drawing of boy playing a video game, a dog and a mythical creature.

Upper elementary: Tactile pictures supporting literacy and social connections

Looking for ways to enrich your elementary school student's literacy? Tactile Graphic Rich Environments, part 3.

This is the third part of providing tactile graphic rich environments for preschool and elementary students. In this post, we’ll talk about tactile pictures and drawing that support literacy activities and social connections for upper elementary students.

Social inclusion

At the beginning of the year, teach the students and teacher about braille, tactile learning and mobility. In late elementary, classmates can think critically about accessibility and have great discussions about tactile learning. Jessica, the TSVI along with the O&M Specialist and paraprofessional planned activities for hands-on time to braille, making tactile drawings and seeing use Logan’s tools and tactile curricular materials. 

It is important throughout the year for Logan’s assignments to be displayed also. By making his tactile drawings on drawing film into visual/tactile images with a swell graphics machine, his work is visually accessible and creates an environment in class and around the school where tactile/braille/print images are common and expected.

Image 1: Logan next to a swell image of a garden on a poster that announces Garden Rejuvenation Day, the information is in print and braille.

Logan next to a swell image of a garden on a poster that announces Garden Rejuvenation Day, the information is in print and braille.


In later elementary grades, students are reading and learning more about the conventions of non-fiction books. They will write their own non-fiction books and learn about researching a topic. Their book needs to contain a table of contents, pictures, labeled diagrams, possibly a map, captions, and a glossary. These books are modeled on the non-fiction books they have been reading. 

Image: Logan’s tactile image produced on swell machine is a lizard slinking through the grass.

Logan's fingers exploring his tactile drawing of a lizard with his skin shedding.

Supporting literacy

In 4th and 5th grade, books are longer and may only have a few illustrations or one per chapter. These books can be intimidating for the young braille reader. By making the available illustrations tactile, Jessica was able to preview chapters with Logan in order to make predictions and build curiosity. This helped Logan complete his daily home reading assignments.

Editor’s Note: Observe Logan’s tactile graphics skills – how quickly he can find the salient features and identify the images. He has transferred concepts learned in previous tactile drawings and experiences and applies this knowledge as he explores new drawings. He is eager to explore the illustrations and uses the drawings to make inferences and to make educated guesses as to what might happen in that chapter.

Image: Gosling flying away from the robot.

Logan exploring a tactile drawing of a gosling flying away from the robot.

Video: 3 Upper elementary: Tactile pictures supporting literacy and social connection

Video transcript

Key points

Late Elementary Strategies to support fluency with tactile pictures and drawing


Other posts in this series: (Coming soon!)

Additional Resource

Ideas and videos are by Jessica McDowell; post co-written by Diane Brauner

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