Using Photos to Inspire Writing

Now more than ever, we must take advantage of students' increasing fascination with graphic images, as opposed to written words. Children and teens are integrally connected to social media and photo sharing sites like Reddit, Twitter, Imgur, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.

These articles by educator and author Hank Kellner capitalize on this situation by showing teachers how to motivate students to write with the use of photos, prompts, keywords, triggers, questions, opening lines, research suggestions, and ideas from other teachers who have used photography successfully in the teaching of writing, and how to marry dynamic images to original poems written by students at the junior and senior high school levels, teachers, and other writers.

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Using Photos to Inspire Writing

WomanUsing Photography to Inspire Writing
If "One picture is worth a thousand words," can one picture also inspire a thousand words? Of course it can. That's why educators are becoming increasingly aware of the power photographs have to unlock students' imaginations and help them express themselves through written language.

ManLess is More
Photographs are wonderful teaching aids. They can be used to elicit responses from the most reluctant students. When you use photos to encourage writing in the classroom, never again will students complain that they have nothing to write about.

Boy and FatherEvery Photograph Tells a Story
Most students have hundreds, if not thousands, of digital images that can trigger writing assignments. How some master teachers have used photographs to inspire writing.

WomanContrast in Writing, Contrasting Subjects
Most students probably don't realize that they exercise the mental process of contrast every day. When it comes to using contrast in their writing, students don't seem to make the connections as easily as they do at other times.

Man SittingCombining Photos with Poems
Reflections on Stephen Dunning's Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle and examples in combining photos with poems, using comics and cartoons, family photos and postcards, and going beyond mere appearances to inspire writing in students.

DogPhoto Essays Tell Stories
Most teachers would wonder how anyone could possibly use a fragmented photo to teach point of view in fiction and in writing. But simple poems, fragmented pictures, and photo essays can easily inspire students to write many different kinds of compositions.

Sitting on BenchHow to Connect Seeing with Writing
In less than a second you can convert a positive image to a negative one. Discover convergences between visual images and verbal texts, and using dreams and poetry to inspire writing.

ReadingPhotos Trigger Words
One way to use a photo to inspire writing is to present it to students with only a few accompanying "trigger" words designed to stimulate their imaginations. Then ask the students to write opening paragraphs based on the first thoughts that come to mind when they view the photo/words combination.

Avenger WomanUse Photos as Writing Prompts with Students
Most students don't realize how powerful their imaginations are. Highlights: The Amazing Adventures of Avenger Woman, Photo + Poem = Inspiration, Sharing Photos and Writing.

Looking in WindowShifting Perspectives
Stimulating student's minds with questions, group work, and images that create powerful responses in creative writing. Capitalize on this ability by showing your students three or more carefully selected photos and asking them to record, in one word, the first thought or emotion that comes to mind when they view each photo.

Using Poems and Photos to Inspire Writing

Edvard Munch's, 'The Scream' paintingWhy Do People Respond So Enthusiastically to Graphic Images?
Photographs and other images are powerful aids to eliciting creative responses and inspiring writing. Features: Fish as Inspiration; Inspiration from the Masters: Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Dog on doorGraphic Images Surround Us
Thanks to the electronic revolution, graphic images surround us. No matter where you turn, a constant bombardment of posters, billboards, photographs, televised images, and more seems to assault your retinas. Features: Sometimes I Skate, Skateboarding; An Unknown Dog, The Dog with No Name.

Painting by MonetWriters Find Inspiration in Paintings by Claude Monet
Writers in all walks of life can find inspiration in paintings by the masters, but for teachers those masterpieces are especially valuable. Features: Look to the Masters, Impressions, A Bonanza for Teachers; Reflections on a Winter Painting.

Egg ShellsBlack and White Images Stimulate Discussion, Writing Creativity
Resourceful teachers know how to use simple black and white images as stimuli for discussion and the creation of written compositions. Features: Cracked Eggs, White on White; The Color of Sadness, The Absence of Color.

Baby shoesThe Power of the Visual Evokes Meaningful Writing
Two examples of poem-photo combinations representative of the power of poems and photos to inspire writing. Features: The Ties that Bind, Intimacy; Cold Hands — Warm Heart, A Snapshot Look.

Van GoghIsolation and Education: Two Themes that Inspire Writing
Paired with appropriate poems and images, quotations can help to inspire writings based on the themes of either isolation or education. Features: The Sounds of Lonely Lives, Solitary Meaning; Who Was That Masked Man?, Lone Ranger.

Summer StormsNature's Dynamic Forms in Poetry and Prose
Nature in all its forms provides unlimited opportunities for class discussion leading to the creation of poetry or prose. Features: Deafening Noise and Blinding Light, Summer Storms; Flower Power, Continuity.

Summer StormsWhere You're From
Poems and quotations about grandparents, neighborhoods, and origins can help to challenge students to explore their own genealogy in writing. Features: A Work in Progress, Where I'm From; Getting Back to Nature.

The Singing Bridge in Westport, ConnecticutCrossing Bridges
Writing in the first person, the poet personifies the bridge to establish connections between herself and the people around her. Features: The Bridge by Kym Sheehan and Bridge to Anywhere by Elizabeth V. Best.

The Singing Bridge in Westport, ConnecticutRap as Poetry
Rap is a form of poetry in which the words are spoken to the accompaniment of a set rhythm or beat. Features: Little Girl, Little Girl and Taunting Voices by Hillary Lockhart. Subjects: Bullying, Literacy.

Cookie MonsterHumor Inspires Writing
Inspire students to create written compositions by discussing works related to happiness, love, beauty, and humor. Features: A Salesman from Greer by Betty Bowman, Not Me! by Brian Guido, and The Pumpkin Sonnet by Cole Kim.

CherriesMetaphors Inspire Writing
Metaphors can symbolize reflective life, people, and place experiences that students will be eager to discuss and write about. Features: To life, well-lived and Grandmother by Mara Dukats.

About Educator Hank Kellner

Hank KellnerA veteran of the Korean War, Hank Kellner is a retired educator who has served as an English Department chairperson at the high school level and an adjunct Associate Professor of English at the community college level.

For several years he published Kellner's Moneygram, a newsletter for photographers. He also owned and operated Simmer Pot Press, a small press specializing in cookbooks, for several years.

Kellner is the creator of many photographs and articles that appeared in publications nationwide; the author of extensive reading comprehension materials for a publisher of educational materials, and a former contributing editor to Darkroom Photography magazine.

Born in New York City, Kellner now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His blog is:

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