Why use picture prompts?

Using picture prompts to inspire student writingSome examples for using picture prompts are described in Lori Miller’s Using Digital Cameras in the Classroom. Miller, a technology instructor from Wacona Elementary School in Georgia, answers the questions “Why Use a Digital Camera?” “Is There Anything I Should Be Concerned About?” and “Where Do I Start?” She reminds educators that “It's not really about taking pictures, but using the camera as a tool to help you explore and understand other subjects.”

PicLits – Creative Writing with Images and Keywords is the inspiration for this month’s column. The site was compiled as the resource page for the Classroom 2.0 LIVE Eluminate program on May 8, 2010 with PicLit creator Terry Friedlander and so-called “doyenne of details” Carrie Lightner. PicLit combines powerful images with keywords to create a drag-and-drop canvas that student authors can use to tell their stories. Or, students can choose to write freestyle, with only the picture prompts and no text. Students can save their PictLits, e-mail them, or post them to their Facebook profiles.

Although picture prompts were eliminated from the language arts literacy component of the March 2010 administration of the N.J. High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) in favor of expository prompts, images in the classroom are still tools you can use to elicit creative writing (and content area) responses from your students.

An article in the January 2010 New York Times education section, Picture This! Building Photo-Based Writing Skills, introduced a lesson plan on using photographic content from the newspaper and other sources to develop writing, vocabulary, and skimming skills. The lesson explains four response choices that teachers can use to prompt students in their writing:

  1. Make a personal connection to the photo.
  2. Write a question the photo brings to mind.
  3. Write a detailed observation about the photo.
  4. Make a guess as to what information the original caption of the photo imparted.

The article includes suggestions for group activities, standardized test practice, ELL vocabulary building, basic news literacy, creative writing, understanding the difference between literal, interpretive and evaluative questions, skimming and scanning, and writing funny captions.           

Gavin Tachibana quotes Jim Davis, director of the Iowa Writing Project in Teachers Use Photo Prompts to Spark Writing:

 "Young writers, perhaps most writers, need provocation more than assignment, and this collection can provoke one to see more and more clearly, cultivating a habit of noticing and gathering."

This summary of the Iowa Writing Project links to different sites that illustrate the ways photographs are used to create youth voice through digital photography and student conversation, to create different points of view through interpretation (Photography Changes Everything), and a Flickr project titled Photo Fridays.

How to use images in the classroom

Hank Kellner, in a series of articles (Using Photography to Inspire Writing I-X) shares some of the techniques from his popular book, Write What You See: 99 Photographs to Inspire Writing. His articles explore how pictures inspire writers, engage students, create a mental exercise, can be combined with comic strips and cartoons, paired with keywords or poems, and used in group work.

Picture That: Using Images In The Classroom is a SlideShare presentation by Diane Cordell, a retired K-12 teacher/librarian, and online facilitator at CyberSmart! Education Company. Notes that accompany the slides suggest how using images as mosaics and collages, online image applications, brainstorming techniques, and “day in the life” projects enhances the classroom experience and motivates students.

Oxfam’s Cool Planet for Teachers site emphasizes the influence of photographs in our lives at Using Photographs in the Classroom based on the 2000 Oxfam Pictorial Diary, which shows people from all over the world going about their daily lives. The article describes research behind how children read and respond to photos (as opposed to adults) and provides a checklist for using photos in the classroom.

The Eyes Have It: Potent Visuals Promote Academic Richness from Edutopia describes the process used to start a conversation using a program called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), “a research-based teaching method that improves critical thinking and language skills through discussions of visual images.” Also from Edutopia, Teaching with Visuals: Students Respond to Images shares his unique homework assignment using images in a clip from the movie, “The Bone Collector.”

In 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing from the National Writing Project, tip #28 from Jon Appleby suggests ways the school yearbook can be used as inspiration in the classroom:

 “Take pictures, put them on the bulletin boards, and have students write captions for them. Then design small descriptive writing assignments using the photographs of events such as the prom and homecoming. Afterwards, ask students to choose quotes from things they have read that represent what they feel and think and put them on the walls.”

Ann Francis, a New Jersey high school English inclusion and resource teacher whose goal is to convince students “that the pen truly is a mighty tool,” has compiled a Picture Prompt Writing Checklist based on the 2008 HSPA.

Warming up with pictures (Using Pictures in ESL Classroom) explains why images resonate with ESL students. They are motivational, assist with preteaching vocabulary, boost students’ confidence, are convenient (pictures are everywhere!), help with comprehension, expand students’ general knowledge, and integrate other skills. Another ESL article from TESL Journal, Using Pictures from Magazines, includes nine activities that address using images for vocabulary building, guided practice, grammar, listening comprehension, speaking, and writing.

Jonathan Coulton, a musician, a singer-songwriter, and self-proclaimed Internet superstar, describes his process for using Creative Commons licensed material to create a movie with Flickr images connected to song. Creative Commons licenses allow authors and creators to license their work for free, and share their work in any way they see fit. See also Using Creative Commons Licensed Material in Your Classroom from the May 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education.

Acquiring images 

David Jakes backs up his Jake’s Online-Flickr Sites with a tutorial, Using Flickr in the Classroom. The process of annotating Flickr pictures with storylines can be achieved at Flicktion. Jake lists 16 uses of Flickr in the classroom, including Fliction, virtual field trips, intellectual property awareness, and the documentation of student work.

If you have a specific content focus, and particularly if you teach English as a second language, Pics4Learning is a “copyright friendly” site that categorizes pictures, donated by students, teachers, and photographers by subject. Teachers and students are permitted to use any of the pictures in the collection. You can also click through their tutorial, Recipes4Success.

The Write Prompts includes a different writing prompt format for each day of the week: Journal Mondays, Image Tuesdays, Poetry Wednesdays, One Word Thursdays, Dirty Dozen Fridays, Movie Fridays, and Continue on Saturday. Check out the sidebar that has links to prompt generators, prompt lenses, and additional prompt websites.

Creativity Portal links to several different writing prompts, tools, and generators, including “365 Pictures” Prompt-a-Day Collaboration, Imagination Prompt Generator, seasonal writing prompts, Just Plain Fun Story Prompts, and inspiring "Prompting" articles and series.
            Teachers of younger children can find downloadable, printable, theme-based writing exercises at Picture Prompt Story Starters. Social studies teachers will be interested in MSN’s The Week in Pictures archive links to the best news photos of the past week, a photojournalism blog, and top videos.

Dragon Writing Prompts is a blog that includes interesting photograph and text prompts (or warm ups on other days). Warning: these are not your typical warm and fuzzy pictures of kittens and flowers. Author Joyce Fetteroll writes, “I find self-reflective writing prompts uninspiring.” Referring to the title of her blog she says she wanted a name that said "These aren't your dig deep and tell about your most humiliating childhood experience writing prompts." Adolescents will love them!

Using Film Clips in the Classroom--United Streaming from Teaching History with Technology describes a subscription-based service (now called Discovery Education) that includes free curriculum resources and classroom tools. According to the author, “In reality, the use of a film in its entirety is often a poor fit for the classroom. Ideally teachers should use a variety of activities during a class.” The article cites other free resources including PBS Video, BBC Motion Gallery, History Channel Video Gallery, Library of Congress: American Memory, New York Times (on YouTube), National Geographic Videos, Brain Pop, Geography at the Movies, Educational Mini Movies, MrDonn.org’s free educational video clips/mini movies and free full-length movies and TV shows.

And finally, you can always take, or encourage your students to take their own, digital images to use in the classroom. Writing Fix will hold its third annual Writing Prompts: Digital Photo Contest. The annual theme is a picture is worth 10,000 words--or images that would inspire student writers and story-tellers to write! Look for contest rules next month or check out the site to look at previous winning photographs.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com .