Writing Tip #3: Pictures Aren't Just for Babies

A blank page is intimidating.  Don’t believe me?  Take a piece of paper and write three paragraphs about what you did last weekend.  I don’t know about you but I’m lucky if I remember what I ate for breakfast.  Yet, we often give students a prompt like this and then bemoan the fact that students don’t descriptive include details or show an interest in revising what they wrote.

Lesson for the Classroom

Pictures unlock details from the brain.  You can have students bring in a photograph of something they’re going to write about or you can have students draw detailed and labelled pictures as a way of prewriting.  By appealing to students visual intelligence you will unlock all kinds of rich details and increase student engagement in writing.  Students with a picture of their dog, will think of all kinds of things to write about Spot that wouldn’t come to mind when staring at a blank page and the walls of the classroom.

Students at all grade levels can draw pictures, like storyboards, as a way of prewriting.  As an adult, I use pictures as well as a way of planning out what I’m going to write.  Don’t think that it’s a waste of time or not age level appropriate.  The time invested pays dividends later in the writing process and students at all grade levels can benefit.

8 Responses to Writing Tip #3: Pictures Aren't Just for Babies

  1. This is true. I agree with teaching this as a strategy for writers to use, but an immediate thought I had when reading this post was how important it is to live vividly and learn to live like writers. Writers, I teach, take mental pictures of the world, of their lives, everyday. I work hard to teach my students to dig deep in their minds and memories to take themselves back to a time/place/memory/moment so vividly that they can recall those details. We use a series of questions and visualizations to brainstorm details before we begin to write, helping them to create a picture in their mind with words. I think I would use this strategy with the goal of weaning students from it eventually. But that’s just my perspective. :)

  2. Absolutely! Isn’t this the whole basis to one of the most popular writing projects of all time, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick? Funny though, it’s not limited to the use of this book.

    I want to push it a little further, in that it doesn’t have to be a picture. For visual learners that works great, but what about the others…My first poetry writing piece in college, the professor had us pick from an assortment of objects, there were pictures, stones, antiques, etc. What kind of story would a rusty pair of plyers inspire?

    There is a book I have, 50 Literacy Strategies, in it they talk about students creating a book box as a post-reading activity. They collect several things that are representative of the novel, place them in a box, and then present them to the class and explain their significance. Couldn’t this be a pre-writing activity? Have your students collect a number of different (seemingly unrelated) things and write a piece of prose that connects them all. It would probably be a good idea to start with one or two objects, and then have kids add others to the box as they go.

    My first writing prompt of the year they get a who, where, and what…Mr. Kimmi, the forest, a picnic basket.

  3. @Jenny,
    Absolutely! Teaching students how to see the world like writers and notice details is a part of the process. However, I disagree with thinking of drawing pictures as something to ween students off of in the same way that we don’t want to ween students off of graphic organizers. I see drawing pictures as a valid form of prewriting. I think it’s important to expose students to many different forms of prewriting and then allow them their choice.

    @Steven,
    Yes, artifacts and realia too are excellent ways of stimulating thought.

  4. Matthew,
    was just having this conversation with one of my students who is not word smart. I told him it would be useful if he were to picture what he wants to say and then write it down. He thought this might help him write paragraphs and essays. He told me he absolutely panics when he has to write something but because . I suggested, because he has visual smarts , he could uset his strength to help him succeed. He was much encouraged.

  5. Mathew,
    sorry for all the typos in my previous comment- am too tired to think. please correct. thanks

  6. Kia ora Caveman Needleman

    Drawing pictures comes naturally to us. We’ve being doing it for thousands of years before Darwin. We have the historical evidence to prove it.

    What finer metaphor than a drawing for the thing that springs to mind? The word is a metaphor, but is at least twice removed from the image in the memory that it’s used to describe.

    Drawing is a primal action – an ability that comes naturally to most. Consequently we see that three-year-olds need no drawing or painting tuition. They don’t have to learn the alphabet of pictures to show us what’s in their minds.

    Drawing is a direct mapping, albeit interpretation, of the image that’s in the mind. Once drawn, the picture immediately calls to mind what was seen and done. The simplest symbolic language; it needs no translating.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  7. Pingback: Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » 10 Myths of Writer’s Workshop: Part 2 of 4

  8. Pictures are key. This year we have computers in every classroom and so we have no excuse for not having lots of pictures. In creative writing – show a picture and then get them to explore each of their senses and then create a sentence about each.

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