Great works of art enhance students’ powers of observation and expression:
• Observe. “Asking students to look carefully and observe the image is fundamental to deep, thoughtful writing.” Works of art that have many details, interesting human or animal characters, colors that convey a mood, and an interesting interplay between the foreground and background help students go beyond “I like it” by asking:
- What shapes do you see? Do they remind you of anything?
- What colors do you see? How do those colors make you feel?
- What patterns do you see? How are they made?
- Do you see any unusual textures? What do they represent?
- What is the focal point of the image? How did the artist bring your attention to it?
How did the artist create the illusion of space in the image?
- If you were living in the picture and could look all around you, what would you see? What would you smell? What would you hear?
At this point, ask students to make observations, not inferences or judgments, and record what they say.
• Make inferences. The next question is, “What is happening?” – this challenges students to interpret the image and give specific reasons for what they say. For example, a student might conclude that the storm has passed, judging from the damage to the boat. Cassano suggests:
- Give adequate wait-time so students can think and reflect.
- Ask students to listen to, think about, and react to each others’ ideas.
- Highlight specific details to focus on – characters, facial expressions, objects, time of day, weather, colors, etc.
- Explain literal versus symbolic meaning – for example, a spider’s web can be a spider’s web – or it can symbolize a trap.
It’s important to keep your questions short and to the point so students are doing most of the talking and thinking.
• Create. Now that students are abuzz with ideas, get students working. Cassano suggests these steps for younger students;
- Locate and describe shapes and patterns.
- Describe time of day and mood.
- Make a detailed character sketch of a person, animal, or inanimate object.
- Write a story based on this image including a brand-new character.
- Suggest specific vocabulary that must be incorporated in their story.