January 2009
Vol 6 No 1

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Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.6 No.1 January 2009

Cover Story by Alfie Kohn
It’s Not What We Teach;
It’s What They Learn
"I taught a good lesson even though the students didn't learn it,” makes no more sense than "I had a big dinner even though I didn't eat anything.”

Harry & Rosemary Wong: Effective Teaching
The Sounds of Students
Learning and Performing

»Six Easy Resolutions for 2009Sue Gruber
»Learning the Value of DiversityLeah Davies
»Flash Nebula is in the house! Will standardized tests detect him?Todd R. Nelson
»Teaching is an art, not a science.Marvin Marshall
»The Busy Educator's Monthly FiveMarjan Glavac
»Dear Barbara - Advice for SubsBarbara Pressman
»5 Ways to Activate Your Natural Teacher CoachKioni Carter
»Global Travel GuruJosette Bonafino

»PRINTABLE 2009 Multilingual, Multinational Calendar Tim Newlin
»Thoughts on the Use of Failure as a Teaching Technique Bill Page
»Traits of a Good TeacherAlan Haskvitz
»January 2009 Writing PromptsJames Wayne
»Let's Get Started with SmartboardMarjan Glavac
»Using Photographs To Inspire Writing IIIHank Kellner
»Phonemic Awareness: Letting The Horse Pull The CartGrace Vyduna Haskins
»Reading Strategies: Teaching Students to VisualizeLisa Frase
»Teaching the Alphabet to Diverse LearnersHeidi Butkus
»The Metaphor Of Collaboration - What's missing from group work?Ambreen Ahmed
»A Taste of InspirationSteven Kushner
»Activities & Games for Foreign and First Language ClassesRebecca Klamert
»Four Years of High School Math and Science Should be a National PolicyStewart Brekke

»Apple Seeds: Inspiring QuotesBarb Stutesman
»Today Is... Daily CommemorationRon Victoria
»The Lighter Side of Teaching
»Some Rooms
»Printable Worksheets & Teaching Aids
»Lessons, Resources and Theme Activities: January 2009
»January Lesson Plans Especially for Preschool, Kindergarten & Early Primary
»Video Bytes: Dr. Martin Luther King, One Minute “I have a dream” speech by Daniel Stringer, Crystal Photography – Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, FDR Fireside Chat on the Banking Crisis – March 1933, President Elect Barack Obama Reassures Americans – Thanksgiving 2008, T-Netter ron nj aka “Man of Steel” plays Sleepwalk, Big Dog Robot
»Live on Teachers.Net: January 2009
»T-Net chefs share their favorite warm-up-winter recipes
»Newsdesk: Events & Opportunities for Teachers


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Editor in Chief: Kathleen Alape Carpenter
Layout Editor: Mary Miehl

Cover Story by Alfie Kohn

Effective Teaching by Harry & Rosemary Wong

Contributors this month: Alfie Kohn, Sue Gruber, Kioni Carter, Marvin Marshall, , Marjan Glavac, Todd R. Nelson, Leah Davies, Barbara Pressman, Tim Newlin, Bill Page, James Wayne, Hank Kellner, Josette Bonafino, Grace Vyduna Haskins, Barb Stutesman, Ron Victoria, Lisa Frase, Alan Haskvitz, Heidi Butkus, Ambreen Ahmed, Steven Kushner, Rebecca Klamert, Stewart Brekke, Artie Knapp, and YENDOR.

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Hank Kellner

Archive | Biography | Resources | Discussion

Using Photography To Inspire Writing III
Getting students to write is a snap with the ideas shared in this, the third in a series of idea-filled articles by the author of Write What You See: 99 Photographs To Inspire Writing
by Hank Kellner
author of
Write What You See: 99 Photographs To Inspire Writing
author's blog
January 1, 2009

Go Google!

If you Google the phrase “photographs and writing,” you’ll discover an astounding 23,400,000 entries for that topic. That’s enough to keep you busy for the rest of your life and beyond—if that were possible.

But 23,400,000 entries are just a few drops in a teacup when they’re compared to the mind-boggling 77,100,000 entries Google cites when you enter “photography and writing” instead of “photographs and writing.”

Obviously, I couldn’t sample more than just a few of the websites cited in Google, but I did find one,
, that’s especially helpful to anyone who’s interested in using photographs to inspire writing in the classroom.

According to the unnamed author of this “Learning Page” from the Library of Congress, some photographs can help to launch “projects that will develop visual literacy and creative writing skills,” while others “lend themselves to expository writing.”

In the section of the article that deals with creative writing, the author presents a photograph of five students who are on a field trip, directs the students to select one of the students shown in the photographs, and then asks such questions as: (1) How old is the student? (2) Has the person you chose been on an adventure like this before? (3) What unexpected events occur on the trip? (4) Are friends along on the trip? (5) Is there someone in the group the student dislikes?

In the expository section of the article, the author presents a simple, uncluttered photograph of a sand dune and points out that “…in writing about a sand dune, an essay might include the definition of a dune, an account of where dunes exist in the world, the kinds of animals and plants that live among the dunes, and an assessment of the human impact on sand dunes.”

Every Photograph Tells a Story

On a more personal level, today almost everyone owns a digital camera. Except for a few diehards, gone are the days when people waited anxiously for rolls of film to be developed and prints to be made. Now, as if by magic, images appear instantly to be downloaded, stored on hard discs, and printed at the drop of a sombrero.

This means that most students probably have collections of hundreds, if not thousands, of digital images that can trigger writing assignments. Consider these two photos, for example. A student at almost every level could have created them. And the photos could easily trigger any number of questions designed to inspire writing. For example: (1) what were the conditions under which the student photographer created the photos? (2) What were the reasons for creating them? (3) What was happening while the student photographer snapped the photos? (4) In what way are the people in the photo-graphs related?

Indeed, the number of questions you can ask is limited only by your imagination and by the imaginations of your students.

Alternatively, you could simply show the two photographs without comments or questions and ask the students to respond to them based on their unspoken thoughts and their feelings before they write their compositions.

This photo is a good example of a photo that reveals little but says a lot. Almost in silhouette, a uniformed police officer wearing a helmet stands near a display window. Part of a shadow appears behind the officer.

A headless mannequin clothed in white stands framed in the window to the officer’s left.

Some students will want to discuss the contrasts between the officer and the mannequin; the simi-larities between the positions in which the two are presented; and the helmeted officer as opposed to the headless mannequin. Other students will want to create narratives featuring the two figures. For example, what would happen if the headless mannequin somehow morphed into a living person? How would the officer respond to such a startling event?

Photographs that feature people involved in some form of activity always elicit interesting verbal and written responses from students. In this photograph, a woman leans forward at what appears to be the shore of a lake or river as she trains her camera on something or someone we cannot see. On each side of the frame, several canoes rest on the shore.

Who is the woman? How old is she? Is she married or single? Does she have a companion who’s waiting outside of the scene? Who or what is she photographing? Is she a professional photographer or an amateur?

How Some Master Teachers Use Photographs

After having students respond to several photos in terms of the five senses, Lehigh Valley Writing Project Co-Director Kristy M. Weidner-Gonzalez has the students write short poems in which each line reveals one of the senses. Then the students take a walking tour of the school and surrounding neighborhood during which they photograph their favorite places. Using the images they produced, the students revisit the idea of senses as they write about what they had experienced when they created the photos. “The second time around has much more meaning for the students,” writes Weidner-Gonzalez, “because the places they photographed were much more personal and held certain memories for them.”

As a Teacher Consultant for the Illinois State Writing Project and an English teacher at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, Ann Cox uses photos to teach characterization. After giving her students a magazine photo of a person, she asks them to write a character sketch of the person. Then she provides a scenario and directs the students to describe how their characters would react and why. Finally, students share their writing with the class and discuss their motivation.

At the Prairie Lands Writing Project, Technology Liaison Mary Lee Meyer conducts workshops for teachers at which she emphasizes the use of images to inspire writing. “About 15% of the student population has low verbal skills,” she wrote in a recent workshop handout. “Using images to invoke responses helps that population.” Meyer pointed out, also, that images “…require students to use their powers of critical analysis when writing.”

Among other things, in her workshops Meyer urges teachers to help students (1) write dialogue by using comic characters; (2) discover details by analyzing images; and (3) expand the use of imagery words by studying photos and paintings. You can read one of her workshop handouts, “Images: Their Impact on Learning” at the following website.

Copyright © 2008 by Hank Kellner

Using Photographs Part I

Using Photographs Part II

» More Gazette articles...

About Hank Kellner...

Hank Kellner is a retired educator and the author of Write What You See: 99 Photographs to Inspire Writing. Original Edition. Cottonwood Press. I-800-864-4297 Cottonwood Press is distributed by Independent Publishers Group. Includes supplementary CD with photos. 8 ½ x11, 120 pages, perfect binding, ISBN 978-1-877-673-83-2, LCCN 2008938630. $24.95. Visit the author’s blog at

The author will contribute a portion of the royalties earned from the sale of this book to The Wounded Warriors Project.

Click here for additional information about the book.

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