A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Using Photographs to Prompt Poetry

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Mulberry Street, New York City. Detroit Publishing Co. [ca. 1900]. Prints & Photographs Division.

Mulberry Street, New York City. Detroit Publishing Co. [ca. 1900]. Prints & Photographs Division.

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, why not use photographs to prompt poetry? First select engaging photographs from the collections of the Library of Congress. Since the prints and photographs collections are vast, consider focusing on one collection such as the National Child Labor Committee Collection, which contains photographs of child laborers from all parts of the United States, or the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, which contains vivid, color photographs depicting life around the nation. The primary source sets on the Teachers Page also contain easily accessible and engaging photographs.

Next, attach the photographs to poster board or large sticky paper and space them around the room. Split the students evenly between the pictures. It works well to have one photograph for every 3-4 students in the class to avoid a crowd around each one.

Ask students to:

  1. take a few minutes to look at each photo then write words, prompted by what they observe, in the space around the picture. They should move to every photograph to add words.
  2. move around to each photo again and either stand in a different placecloser or farther away, or to the sideor squint at it to see something different and record a new word.
  3. visit each photo a third time and pick a place in the photograph to stand. This time the words should relate to sights, sounds, or smells they might experience from their chosen place inside the photograph.
  4. return to the photograph they found most compelling. Now that they have a bank of words from the entire class they should record as many or as few as needed to compose a poem of any format inspired by the photograph.

What images would you use to prompt students to write poetry?

Poetic Reactions to Historical Events

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. Like writers of fiction and non-fiction, poets use their work as a forum for social commentary. Often this commentary is directly related to historical events […]

The Journey to Poetry: Do We Teach Poetry for Format or Feeling?

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. Have you ever heard groans around your classroom the day you announce the beginning of a poetry unit? Or complaints after sharing a poem such […]

Using the Poetry of Langston Hughes to Spark Discussion

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. On September 22, 2016, the New York Times published the poem “I, Too” by Langston Hughes on the back page of its stand-alone print section […]

Reading and Discussing Poetry Together

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. While your students may not look like those in this picture, reading poetry together and taking time to discuss it are key steps in fostering […]

The “Historical” Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. In the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey in London, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is the only non-British writer to be honored with a bust.But how well […]

The Power of Pairing Poems: Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. When I was teaching English, I noticed that pairing poems with similar topics, imagery, or themes prompted excellent discussions. One of my favorite pairs was […]

Keeping Students Engaged: Reading and Writing Winter Poetry

The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. This time of year, students’ thoughts turn to winter break, snow, and holidays. In some places their eyes glance to the window searching for snowflakes. […]