Taking Pictures with Words

In my driveway before the drive began

The roads were 100% snow covered in some areas, and I had precious cargo in the van with me–students on the way to a quiz bowl meet. There were dozens of photographs jumping out to be taken, but I had precious cargo and I couldn’t stop–we would have been late and there were several cars in the ditches.

Since June, I have been taking many more photographs. Most of them with my point-and-shoot camera, and I am no expert. However, I have gone from the one who didn’t have a camera, or if I did, the batteries were dead to one who is always prepared and on the lookout for photos.

Last summer I received a tweet from Sheri Edwards inviting me to participate in the June, July, and August Project (#JJAProject) which was started by some fellow teachers. After that was over, a few of us continued with the Teachers’ Foto Friday (#TFotoFri) once a week group. Now, about 20 teachers and I are attempting the #T365Project, a picture a day in 2012.

But back to my snowy road trip.  This was the first snowy day of the year and only the second of the whole winter! I was so taken with all the beauty, finding photographs everywhere I looked — from the quick sparks and snowy powder shooting up from the blade of the heavy snow plow in front of me to the gentle, intricate flakes falling and melting onto the warm windscreen of the van.

Today, instead of taking the pictures, I could only talk to myself about them.

Some more photos I missed…

  • Powdered sugar snowfall sprinkled evenly on the oxidized railroad bridge.
  • Hay bails lined up in formation with uniform helmets of snow.
  • Festive and frosted evergreens, missing during Christmas, now found interspersed among the bare deciduous trees.
  • Thin ice, now snow-covered, proved to me it was at least thick enough to hold the deer whose tracks ran down the middle of the river.

After a long day, we turned around and retraced our steps, the snow mostly gone after a sunny winter day. However, the images continued to come.

  • Reflective tape danced in the sun as the box cars and tankers rumbled by at a train crossing, train art graffiti occasionally broke the rhythm.
  • Golden grass, bent in the breeze, absorbed and reflected the late afternoon sunshine.

Without my camera, I discovered that my year-long photography adventure is making me a better observer, a better describer, and a better writer. As a literacy teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder if taking photos would have the same effect on students’ writing. What do you think?

Will a photography challenge help students observe, describe, and write?

When they find themselves unable to get a shot they long for,  will they take pictures with words?

One of the photos I took after I arrived at our destination.

13 thoughts on “Taking Pictures with Words

  1. I wonder…

    It sounds like something you will pursue, am I right? Keep us posted!

    It is definitely working for me with #T365Project, but I would say I have “artistic tendencies.” I wonder if the effects would be the same on someone not naturally drawn to the artistic.


  2. I guess I’m still at the wondering stage too, Laura. Lately I’ve found myself torn between wanting school to be engaging, genius work and needing to teach many basic effective sentence writing lessons.

    Teaching really is impossible work when you think about it.

  3. Denise,

    I love what you’re doing with photography!

    The 365 project I started with my third grade class last year exceeded my expectations.


    I wanted to do a photography project so my students would be *exposed* to a new medium of expression. The majority of my third graders have a digital camera, but many don’t use it.

    I’ve taught a lot of lessons about shooting a picture that “tells a story” rather than just getting photos of people posing. I’ve also talked with them about experimenting with shots…shooting from a variety of angles, zooming in… What I’ve found is that a handful of students regularly participate and contribute photos. Apparently, photography does not interest everyone. 🙂

    What I like the most is that the photos have opened up writing opportunities for students. It has become a place for free writing and expressions. None of the following writing examples were assigned. Students chose to write stories for the pictures which illustrates the power of the project!

    1. Here are some creative stories written from the point of view of the decorations! In class, I showed the photo and said to the kids, “What would these decorations say if they could talk?” All of the comments came from home computers…none of this was assigned. Writing for pleasure!


    2. This Statue of Liberty photo brought a lot of discussion! This was a photo from a parent.


    3. Parents, teachers, and students had a lot of fun with “Beverly’s a Pirate!”


    I have started another year with the project and will probably continue for years to come. The open opportunities for creativity in photography and writing are too good to pass up.

    I look forward to hearing about your success!

    Your friend,
    Linda Yollis

  4. Linda,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to leave some awesome examples of photography tied to improving literacy. I love the sweet comments your students left about the decorations, the Statue of Liberty, and my favorites, Beverly the Pirate.

    You are certainly a master of asking meaningful questions that gets the dialogue going for your students and others around the world.

    In your comment, you have definitely given me food for thought, and perhaps a new 365 Project in our near future!

    Thanks again for taking the time,

  5. I am so glad you wrote this post! I have been dying to do some sort of 365 project with my classes. I think there are so many possibilities and benefits. I know when I participate in the 365 projects, I find myself looking at everything differently. I notice more details than ever before. What benefits can come from students looking at the ‘details’ of the day in the classroom? More learning! If you decide to go for it, let me know. I’d love to see what your class does.
    Krissy (@KTVee)

  6. Krissy,
    Thanks for visiting and commenting. I agree. Everything is different for me since June when I started noticing the world around me.

    I like Linda’s examples of her class photo site, and in your blog post “Thinking Outside the Box 2.0” you suggested a Blogger site where kids would write the captions for a photo (and other ideas). I loved that idea, and it got me thinking that my students could actually post a picture a day, and classmates could add the captions. With 33 students I think enough of them would be interested that it wouldn’t be much work for me (since I have big kids).

    As both Laura and Linda say above, though, not all students will be drawn in and participate fully. However, I believe everyone would learn something from the experience!

    I just may be starting a new Blogger or Posterous account for them very soon! Or maybe I should make it an Edublogs account because they all have accounts for that platform, making it easier to comment. Hmmm….

    I’m excited about possibilities, but I have lots of questions still.

    Thanks for the challenge,

  7. I can tell you missed taking your photos this day but the imagery you created with your words was just as fabulous. I have just started teaching my fourth graders about personification and would love to share your descriptions with them as they are just like a picture “worth a thousand words”! It might be fun to give my students a camera and have them take pictures to create their personification.

    Your posts are so inspiring and I so enjoy them – thank you!

    1. Nancy,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. There are some personification images there, aren’t there? Like the hay bale soldiers in the field and the dancing reflective tape. I really do enjoy teaching personification too, and other literary devices too. I have a picture of some cornstalk bales from our last snow, similar to the bales I saw Saturday with the new snow on them.

      I love the idea of having students take pictures to create their personification. It’s like the chicken and the egg–do they think of their personification first and then take the picture, or do they take a picture they like and write about it using personification? Either way would be a fun challenge, I think. Let me know how it goes, please!


  8. Hi Denise,

    I love it! Last year I pondered the power of photoblogs and fell in love after watching what took place on Linda Yollis’ 365 blog… Then got back into photography after you and Sheri Edwards started me on the #TFotoFri group. Such a blessing! I am such a visual person. I’ve even created a new blog to fiddle with photos… and named it after where I got my inspiration 🙂

    Warm regards,

  9. I really like the 365 project. It is so interesting and really does make you stop and take a look around. I know I am so busy that I have to make myself stop and take a look around instead of letting everything fly by. I am not a teacher at the moment but I am in college to be a teacher and I would like to do the 365 project with them. I hope that this project works for your class.


    1. Candace,
      Thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment here. I hope you will join the 365 Project. Just click on the link above and join us! My students have not started a photo challenge yet, so I was glad you left this comment. It reminds me to get going on that! I do know that as they are learning to blog, they are becoming better writers.


  10. Mrs. Denise,

    Thank you so much! I will definitely want to start 365 project. I am a student in EDM 310 at South Alabama and I figured I would send you a link to my blog. (here is my blog/

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