Using Visual Writing Prompts in the Classroom

by Russ Goerend

The other night I tweeted:

The first tweet was tongue-in-cheek1. The second, though, is about to come to fruition!

The first step in using writing prompts in our classroom is to find the prompts. I’ve been able to stumble across a few sources and I collect them in an Evernote notebook. That notebook has prompts from Luke NeffJohn SpencerBud Hunt, and others. I throw some of my own in there and Amy has even created a few.2

 I use the prompts those gentlemen create because they have both visuals and a statement or question to provoke thought and curiosity. In a previous post, I broke down one of Luke’s prompts.

When I use a prompt in class, as I tweeted, it’s not a matter of 1) project 2) write. I’ve found that the visually-based prompts we often use can be a bit too abstract for my students.

I project a prompt from my computer and then we go through a two-step process: observe and infer.

First, we observe everything we can about the image. Here’s the photo Bud used today. He also added the caption: Chemistry can be magical.

Because we’ve done it often enough, all I have to do is project the prompt and say, “Observations?” We use the “I see…” format for sharing observations. Students today shared:

  • a beaker
  • a woman
  • a man
  • chemicals
  • they are wearing lab coats
  • there’s a shelf behind them with more glass beakers
  • he has a tie on
Then I say, “Inferences?” We use “I think…” or “Maybe there’s…” to share inferences. There are other ways to start inference sentences, too. Today they shared:
  • they’re trying to create a cure
  • they’re going to break something
  • it’s an old picture
  • it’s a scan (see the corners?)
At this point, I’ll share what my poem might try to tackle — today I wrote about how being in black and white doesn’t mean it’s old and I tried to connect it to Instagram and how we seem to be all about the retro lately — and I might ask a few students to share what they’re inspired to write about.
The whole process of breaking down the prompt takes 5-10 minutes. Then they have time to write!
  1. though I suspect subs appreciate my specificity []
  2. I use the notebook for organization, but also because Evernote seems to be rarely blocked in schools while Tumblr often is. []
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