7 years ago, I had the brilliant idea to buy a fancy DSLR camera. You see, I was pregnant and am a very frugal individual so I thought that I would teach myself how to use this camera (I had no experience with photography prior to this purchase) so I wouldn’t have to pay for professional pictures of my daughter growing up. Yes, I realize as I type this that it makes me sound like a horrible mom, I assure you I am not a bad mom (most days). Anyways, I had SO MUCH FUN learning to use the camera and even took a Park District course or two to get better at my craft! I really thought I was becoming an “expert” photographer – even thought (for a brief moment) that maybe I would start up a side gig taking pictures on the weekends and after school, you know in all my free time as an educator (insert sarcasm)!  

I now realize that not only was time a roadblock in me becoming a “professional” photographer, but clearly skill was too! Haha The past two weeks at the ROE have been exciting as we launched our annual Kane County Regional Office of Education student photography contest. It is truly amazing the talent that our High School students possess and their ability to capture a story through one picture, to say they put me to shame is an understatement! As I look at the pictures I begin to create a narrative in my head – imagining myself in the photograph, what I am doing there, who I am talking to, looking at, etc.. This curiosity (and timely @twitter post by Kris Szajner @KSzajner) got me thinking about the many ways you can incorporate photography into your classroom in meaningful ways, particularly in your writing curriculum! 

I did NOT enjoy teaching writing. Writing is not something that I liked to do as a student or adult for that matter! Writing takes patience, independence, stamina, creativity, and time. In my opinion, writing is the culmination of countless independent skills (sentence structure, grammar, spelling, word usage, language, etc.)….writing is hard work! I was always trying to find a fun way to spin or hook my students into engaging with their writing and producing quality pieces.  This is where I married my interest in photography into the classroom!  

Check out my top 3 ways to use photography in the classroom to spark the writer inside each of your students – regardless of the age you teach!

  1. “The Best Part of Me” – This project checks all the boxes – SEL, Writing, Art, Language, Reading, I could go on all day about the benefits of this activity for the whole child. This book, by Wendy Ewald, is a great way to learn more about your students throughout the writing process!  After reading the book to your students give them time to take a picture of the “best part of themselves” then write about that part.  What a fun class book, bulletin board, digital story, etc. this would be to share with the world to promote not only writing and photography but also self confidence and acceptance!
  1. “Keep It Simple” – No need to overthink this one. Thanks to @KSzajner have students take a picture and write about it! What I love about this activity (besides the simplicity of it) is that students can take this project in so many directions. They could write a narrative, poem, description, essay, nonfiction piece, etc., no need to put restricting parameters on this assignment – keep it fun and lighthearted and you will be amazed with their creativity! Having them take a picture about whatever inspires them is another great way to see their interests and talk about why they took a picture of what they did!

 3.  “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” – If you don’t have a copy of this great picture book hop on over to Amazon right now (not literally, please finish reading my post first)! This book features an amazing illustration  and a title for each picture, with the title is also the first line of a story…..but then the story stops!  Not only will students love writing the stories that accompany Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations, but they will thoroughly enjoy taking their own pictures and coming up with a title and one liner!  A great way to extend this project even further is to have students collaborate to write stories for their classmates’ images!

These are just a few of my favorite ways to inspire great writing in the classroom through the art of photography. I hope that you take these ideas and implement one or two of them with your students, if you do please share how it goes with me! kalgrim@kaneroe.org or @KaneCountyROE  Also, don’t forget I would love to hear from you and continue this collaborative discussion….How do you use photography to support writing in your curriculum? 

Katie Algrim – Director of Innovative Professional Learning
(t): 630-444-3044
(c): 630-675-4447
(e): kalgrim@kaneroe.org

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