Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How To Connect Seeing with Writing

Valerie Reimers is a Professor of English in the Department of Language and Literature at Southern Oklahoma State University. Reimers has developed an assignment that asks her students to discover convergences between visual images and verbal texts as they create both. First, she directs them to create photographs and, without looking at them, immediately write journal entries describing what they saw and hoped to capture in the photos. “In this way,” she writes, “the students connect seeing with writing.”

A few days later, Reimers directs the students to view printed versions of their photos, describe in writing what they see in their images, and compare/contrast their descriptions with the journal entries they had written earlier.

For the third and final part of the assignment, Reimers requires the students to submit a portfolio consisting of three sets of photos and written entries for evaluation and to share with their classmates. “Doing well on this assignment,” she concludes, “doesn’t depend on photographic skills. Rather, it depends on the careful choosing of subjects and the effort put into writing about them.” To receive a more complete description of this assignment, contact Reimers at

Free! Free! Free! Mystery Photo

Marketing experts tell us that one of the most powerful words in the English language is Free. That’s why I’ve used it three times in the subhead (above).

“Balderdash!” you exclaim. “Nothing’s free. You pay for everything.”

“Not so,” I respond, secure in the knowledge that the Free Mystery Photo I want to send you is really, truly, without-a-doubt, undeniably free. All you have to do to receive my Free Mystery Photo is to send me an e-mail at with the words Free Mystery Photo in the subject line.

Are you still unconvinced? Do you want to know more about the photo before you send for it…even though it’s free? Okay. (1) This photo has been in my files for more than twenty years. (2) During that time, it appeared on the cover of The Reading Journal and in many other publications. (3) Most recently it appeared in Write What You See (Cottonwood Press, 2009). (4) Its center of interest is a teenager. (5) Before I retired, I used it to inspire writing time and time again with great success.

By the way, the Free Mystery Photo will arrive in your electronic mailbox with permission to reproduce it for use in your classroom. Send today!

Where To Find More Information

I’ve written a series of articles titled “Using Photographs To Inspire Writing.” You can read these articles at,, and

In these articles you’ll find dozens of ideas for using photographs to trigger writing in the classroom; interesting photographs that are sure to stimulate your students’ imaginations; contributions by outstanding teachers nationwide; and much more.

But that’s not all. At the three websites cited above, you’ll discover more new and exciting ideas that will help to enhance your teaching than you’ll be able to use during your entire teaching career.

Let Your Students Photograph Themselves

I’ll bet that almost all of the students in your classes can easily produce digital images. That said, why not ask them to photograph each other and use their photos as inspiration?
Obviously, this activity lends itself to the creation of character descriptions in which you could require that the students write not only physical, but also emotional descriptions of their subjects.

And there’s more. Because digital photos can easily be manipulated, you can convert color images to black and white images. And you can even convert positive images to negative images. By doing so, you make it possible for your students to create many different kinds of creative writing assignments.

In the example shown here, my granddaughter held her digital camera at arm’s length to capture a self-portrait. Using Photo Base 3, I converted the image from color to black and white and from positive to negative. Then I showed the image to another middle school student and asked her to write a brief piece based on her reaction to it.

Another Me

Most people think I’m much too shy.
They say the world will pass me by.
But if they look behind the light
That sometimes hides me from their sight,
They’ll surely see
Another me.
And then they would be right.

Obviously, the resultant poem wouldn’t have impressed Byron, Wordsworth, or Keats. Nevertheless, it does illustrate the power of photographic images to inspire writing among students of all ages.

Shameless Self Promotion

Published by Cottonwood Press, Write What You See: 99 Photos To Inspire Writing is a collection of thought-provoking black-and-white photographs accompanied by a wide variety of inventive writing prompts to motivate students. But there’s more! Each book comes with a CD-ROM that makes it possible for you to use a video projector to display the photographs and writing prompts. Order today!

Copyright © Hank Kellner 2009
Self Portrait by Anna Kellner, Age 13
Poem by Louise Bowman, Age 13


Write What You See: 99 Photos to Inspire Writing by Hank Kellner. Order at,, or Toll Free at 1-800-864-4297. Cottonwood Press books are distributed by Independent Publishers Group. Includes supplementary CD with photos. 8 ½ x 11, 120 pages, perfect binding, ISBN 978-I-877-673-83-2, LCCN 2008938630. $24.95. The author will contribute a portion of the royalties earned from the sale of this book to The Wounded Warriors Project.

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