Student Writers See, Think, and Wonder with Visual Writing Prompts

Many educators use images as  prompts to stimulate student thinking, inquiry, and discussion.  I have drawn inspiration from great educators like Nancy Steineke, Smokey Daniels, and Gretchen Bernabei.  I have also used Visual Thinking Strategies though in hindsight, I should have been using them more for our Writer’s Notebooks.

We’re currently in a writing unit of study with argumentative writing.  My 6th grade students are exploring arguments for and against the instruction of cursive writing in schools.   Earlier this week, they read two great articles from NewsELA ( a resource that has been a godsend for me this school year).  Today, I wanted to set the stage for the next article we’re going to read together from Scholastic Scope about the benefits and challenges of cursive writing.   I felt like they needed a concrete way to connect to the idea that cursive writing is very personal and often associated with personal connections to others as well as cherished memories.

I decided on the fly to use a photo I took of something I found in the overflowing storage tubs and drawers that held thousands of recipes belonging to my late mother.  Regular readers know I was extremely close to my mom and anything I have of hers with her handwriting makes her feel closer to me somehow.  As the students arrived, I asked them get their Writer’s Notebooks; I then projected this photo with my LCD projector:

We did three 5-7 minute “bursts” of writing with a modified See, Think, Wonder thinking structure:

  • See:  First, I asked students to write down everything they saw in the photo.
  • Think:  I asked students to think about why the photo might have significance or importance based on what they had seen and noticed.
  • Wonder:  I asked students to write what they were wondering about the photo and what they saw; they could use a “I wonder…” sentence stem or simply write a question.

Students then  broke into pairs of their choosing, and we did a Turn and Talk.  Next, we did a “lightning round” whole class share–each student got to choose one talking point from his or her “see” writing, “think” reflections, and list of wonderings.  My co-teacher Heather Blaker and I were impressed by the depth of thinking we saw from many students; what really struck me, though, was that my students who usually struggle with their writing were the ones who absolutely “rocked” this learning activity with exceptional depth to their thinking and noticings.

Once everyone shared, I then did the “Big Reveal” and told students the story of the photo and my connections to it as well as the meaning the objects in the photo had for me.  I then asked students to consider why the cursive handwriting held such significance and if they thought the significance of these handwritten recipes would be the same for me had they simply been typed.  We then ended class with students volunteering to share what they wrote, and several shared their own stories of having handwritten notes and other kinds of writing from relatives that held deep meaning for them.

This is not a new strategy by any means, but I was just so struck by the engagement and thinking of my students, especially those who usually struggle.  Students, even my shy ones, were also eager to share their writing and participate in discussion.  I am thankful my administrators support a literacy and writing studio where writing , student interaction, and student discussion (small and whole group) are valued.    As we approach the state Milestones testing window in a few weeks, I can’t help but wonder how my students might do if they had the opportunity to have at least one visual writing prompt like the one we used today.   I hope the developers of our state test will consider adding this kind of prompt, especially since students are so often judged, sorted, and evaluated on the basis of their test scores.

Today was also a reminder that I need to embed visual prompts more frequently for our notebook time, and I’m now thinking of how they can enhance the ongoing inquiry units in progress for all of my students in grades 6, 7, and 8.

How do you incorporate visual writing prompts into your writing or Language Arts classroom?

Using Photographs to Dwell in Poems

As I was working belatedly yesterday on adding some new features to one of my National Poetry Month displays on the exterior of the library, I began thinking about what I might feature in addition to student created poems, quotes about poetry, and images of favorite poetry books.  Perhaps because I was surrounded by Ms. Frost’s 9th Honors Literature/Composition students with whom I’ve been immersed in presentation zen this past week, it occurred to me it might be fun to combine favorite lines of poetry or short poems with a carefully selected photograph to unpack a feeling, idea, or image I associated with the lines of poetry or short poem.

After I completed a few slides in PowerPoint, I shared what I had created with Ms. Frost, and she was so excited about what she saw that she plans to work with the library and use this approach to help students dwell in poems by focusing on key lines and images to tease out the concepts of imagery, connotation, and mood.  We plan to use student created slides and convert them into picture files that can then be printed as flyers or posters for hanging or display on art easels to feature throughout the library; we’ll also be sure to include an artistic tag to give students credit for their creation.  I also see this kind of activity as another learning exercise in visual thinking that can be used for a poetry immersion unit and an entry point into discovering new poems.

I hope you enjoy the slides I’ve created so far—to be able to immerse myself in this kind of thinking and content creation was therapeutic for me intellectually and emotionally.  Most of my days are spent as an instructional librarian (which I LOVE), but I relished the opportunity to use most of the workday for content creation as it was great mind candy for me and ultimately, a springboard to a wonderful conversation for some new collaborative efforts with Ms. Frost and her students.  I’ll be working with the wonderful Joy Mabry at our district “Teacher Center” to create poster sized prints of these slides as well as the student generated content to help celebrate and honor poetry year round—I’ll blog an update as soon as we have the new creative works up and on display in the library!

Another source of inspiration came today during a Google chat with my good friend and colleague Diane Cordell, an amazing librarian and lifelong learner.  Diane shared a poetry reading created with  VoiceThread, and I thought how cool it would be for students to choose a poem (either one they have composed or one of their choosing) to read and to add images to represent the poem; they could then narrate these poems individually, with a partner, or as a small group.  I see this kind of learning activity as another way of students remixing and interpreting poetry through sound and audio!

What ways are you using visual literacy or multimedia as an entry point to poetry?

Library of Congress Adds Lincoln Photos To Flickr Photostream

The Library of Congress had added a new photoset featuring President Abraham Lincoln to its Flickr photostream!  You can read more about the new addition at the LOC blog or at the Flickr blog to get the scoop on these historic photos.

The National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults

A few months ago, I blogged about the Georgia Archives Digital Vaults, but have you seen the National Archives Digital Vaults?  Many thanks to Sandi Adams for pointing me to this FABULOUS resource! 

What can you do with the resources in The National Archives Digital Vaults?

  • Create a movie
  • Create a poster
  • Search by tag or keyword
  • Collect primary source documents and images for a project

For lesson plans and ideas, go to the Educator and Student Resource Page at http://www.archives.gov/nae/education/.  In addition to great resources for teachers and students, teachers can find wonderful guides and handouts to use with students that explain primary sources and analysis worksheets for an array of primary sources, including written documents, photographs, maps, cartoons, sound recordings, posters, and motion pictures. 

Go to http://www.archives.gov/nae/education/tool-box.html to access these materials!

You may also want to read this great blog post by Glenn at the HistoryTech blog at http://historytech.wordpress.com/2008/04/12/digital-vaults-social-networking-for-primary-sources/.

This is a resource that can make history come alive for students!  We would love to collaborate with you as a teacher and develop a project or research unit that incorporates this treasure trove of primary source documents.   Please let me know if you would like to explore ways to incorporate the digital archives into your instruction!