You really must click on this photo by Minneapolis-based photographer Michael A. Shapiro to enlarge it. That's when you'll experience the full impact of this powerful image. A former writing instructor, Shapiro is the well-known creator of photographic images who has completed and exhibited five major projects since 2000; published the book Paris; is finishing the final edit for his next book, American Fair; and is working full time on another project. You can see more of his excellent images at his website www.michaelashapiro.com.
I doubt if you'd find a student anywhere in the the world who won't respond to this photo in one way or another.That's why I suggest that simply showing the image to young writers without comment will trigger many different poems, essays, character sketches, recollections, and more.
Alternatively, you could show the photo accompanied by several key words designed to inspire writing. For example: shirt, mood, eyes, pensive, or many others. Ask the students to describe, in writing, what comes to mind when they match the words to the photo.
But if you thrive on class discussion, you could challenge your students with such questions as: (1) What do you think this young man is looking at? (2) If you were to meet him, what would you discuss? (3) Why is the subject of the photo alone? (4) What is he thinking?
How Some Master Teachers Use Photographs To Inspire Writing
In a review of Write What You See in Voices of Youth Advocate, August, 2009, Joyce Doyle wrote: "Possibly the most helpful feature is a special section in the back of the book where high school and college teachers show how they have helped to inspire creative writing through the use of photos." Here are two examples.
At the University of Mississippi Writing Project, Co-Director of Special Programs Allison Movitz’s students use their own photographs to spark various kinds of writings. The students also incorporate their photos into multi-genre presentations and portfolios. “Most recently,” writes Movitz, “we’ve used Microsoft’s Photostory™, a digital camera, and a microphone to recreate a ‘who done it’ from a mock trial in speech/debate classes.”
Mary Birky is an English teacher at the Papillion-LaVista High School, Papillion, Nebraska; a Nebraska Writing Project Advisory Board member, and a contributor to a forthcoming book on place-conscious education. Birky uses student-generated photos to stimulate writing assignments based on the content of the photos, the mood of the photos, and the imagery of the photos. “I tell my students to ‘paint the photographs with words,’” she writes, before she asks them to create free verse poetry based on the photos they have selected.”
Justin Van Kleeck’s very successful writing activity with students he tutors involves a seagull that simply can’t get enough Doritos. A former adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Piedmont Community College, Van Kleeck shows his students a video of a seagull that steals a bag of Doritos from a store in Scotland every day. In the first part of his assignment, he directs the students to become the thieving seagull and write process papers in which they tell their fellow seagulls how to steal, open, and eat the Doritos. In the second part of the assignment, he tells the students to write from the point of view of a shopkeeper who, in a creative, non-violent way, is telling other shopkeepers how to prevent the seagull from stealing Doritos. “The key to the exercises,” writes Van Kleeck, “is for students to use the process approach while also using their imaginations.”
Call for Submissions
Do you have a photo-related writing activity you’ve used successfully in the classroom? Would you like to share that activity with other teachers at many levels nationwide? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Please send approximately 100 words describing your activity to me at hankpix(at)gmail(dot)com as a WORD attachment to your e-mail. Don’t forget to include your name, title, school or college, city, state, and a brief statement granting permission to use your submission in my articles. Thank you.
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