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.
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:
- 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.
- move around to each photo again and either stand in a different place—closer or farther away, or to the side—or squint at it to see something different and record a new word.
- 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.
- 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?