ATA Magazine

Picture this

Visual prompt helps reluctant writers get started

Coins with an image of a dog

My teacher hack is called postcard writing, also known as picture prompts.  

Place interesting, funny, provocative political or science-related pictures on a piece of poster board, enough for each student to choose one photo. Line them up along the bottom of the blackboard or whiteboard, pictures hidden. Ask students to randomly choose a picture and do a writing activity with it. You can also do activities where everyone uses the same photo.

I’ve used postcard writing to get my students to offer opinions, expand their vocabulary, write good topic sentences or supporting details, or think from the perspectives of those in the photo. Photos can prompt many writing activities, such as creating a meme, a newspaper heading, explaining what’s going on in the image or writing a story based on the image. 

Teachers can also begin the activity by suggesting a plot or a situation that the student must finish. It probably goes without saying that the teacher needs to be wise about choosing the images for writing prompts.

It was a very fun activity that encouraged a lot of reluctant writers to begin the writing process without feeling anxiety or pressure. 

The best way to do this activity is to have an assortment of individual photos mounted on a stiff backing so they can be used more than once over time.

Some activities may call for only one photo to be displayed for the entire class. 

I’m not sure where I borrowed this concept, but it was one of the most
enjoyable and differentiated activities I’ve used to motivate students to engage in creative writing. It can be used in many subject areas and for varied purposes depending on the images. It’s an inclusive activity that welcomes all students to participate, including students new to Canada, and those with varying levels of skill and ability.

Postcard writing allows teachers to start small and build up to more creative and expansive writing. Getting students to start writing is important because, as they say, it’s easier to steer a moving cart.  

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