Monday, July 14, 2014

Photo-Writing Fun with Turning the Page

Looking for ways to explore/enhance creativity?  Want to encourage your kids to write during the summer?  Or as a teacher, would you like to welcome your students back to the classroom with an engaging, thought-provoking prompt?

Whether you’re a writer, a parent or a teacher, the tips I received recently from Turning the Page might prove fun and helpful.  For 12 years, TTP, a literacy organization in Washington, DC, has spearheaded a photography/writing program in several DC public schools.  TTP staff visits classrooms, lends digital cameras to students, and gives a few lessons in composition, camera angles, and light/shadow so that students can begin to think through artistic choices before taking their photos.  The students then choose certain photos to jumpstart a piece of writing—which might be a poem, description, reminiscence, or information about the subject.

Photo by Sarah Mercier
In this photo, Zion, a third grader, stands proudly beside her photo/writing at the art gallery that showcased the students’ work.  

Ellie Canter oversees TTP’s Literacy Through Photography program.  She offers the following suggestions for summer or early fall photo/writing activities.  (These can be adapted to all ages.)

* Ask kids to choose 1-4 photos that they have taken or that have been taken this summer.  Ask them to write about each (whether a poem, description, fact, creative story, or memory).  The photos/writing might become part of a family or classroom album.

* Focus the photo-taking, for example on things that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet.

* Appreciate family and community.  Kids might take a photo of an older family member, for example, and do a short interview.  Or they might photograph and write about a pet, their favorite thing, or the most interesting part of their neighborhood or home.

* Involve others.  Canter mentioned one particularly powerful exercise.  DC students were asked to photograph and write about “The Best Part of Me.”  Some chose their minds, others chose other aspects of themselves.  Isaiah, a fifth grader, took a picture of his biceps and wrote a playful poem on “My Mighty Muscles.”  The students then asked their parents to name a best part—and the responses generated interesting discussions at home and school, Canter said.

* Look at novels that include photographs to see how the photos enrich the story.  Revolution by Deborah Wiles is a wonderful example.  The novel tells the story of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 and mixes headlines, quotes, photos, and song lyrics with the narrative.  Students might tell a longer story about their summer using these same elements.  

* For additional ideas or information on the Literacy Through Photography program, visit Turning the Page’s website and blog

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