Every Picture Tells a Story

There’s nothing kids, or indeed adults, like better than rummaging through a box of old photographs – not sure whether ‘rummaging’ through Flickr will ever be quite the same as a shoe box – but as a stimulus for creative writing a carefully chosen photograph is hard to beat, especially where it has a personal connection. Of all the writing I have encouraged youngsters to produce over the years, by far the most successful was personal writing, especially if it involved photographs from home. The huge success of social networking sites such as MYSpaceFacebook and Bebo, as well as the phenomenal number of blogs added daily to the global collection, are testimony also to that need we all have to create our own narrative in the world, to ‘tell our story’ in one way or another.

The Minishant team which won the Scottish Amateur FA Cup in 1960. Centre-forward Robert (Rab) Boyd is in the centre of the front row.

The power of photographs was once again brought home to me this week when I opened up my copy of the local Ayrshire Post and there on the sports pages was a picture of my dad’s 1960 Scottish Amateur Football Cup winning team, Minishant. I don’t remember ever seeing that particular photo, which was submitted by John Robertson, one of the surviving members of the team, and since my old man died twenty three years ago at the ridiculously young age of 52, it’s unlikely that I would ever have seen it otherwise. I was always a great believer in attempting to write anything I ever asked kids to write, so if you’d like to read my essay on Big Rab, as he was affectionately known, click on Slim Jim and the Big Man.

Further Ideas for Using Photographs in the Classroom

Talk: Ask kids to bring in a photograph which has a special significance to them, and tell the story in two minutes.

People in Pictures: Gather a selection of photographs of people. Issue them randomly to members of the class and ask them to ‘create’ the character – age, nationality, backstory, etc. This can be followed by developing a story where the character is the narrator or a character in the story.

Reading Pictures: A good exercise for teaching young people about the ways in which photographs can be manipulated to tell a story from a particular perspective. Use the cropping tool in PowerPoint to focus on a particular detail. In each subsequent slide gradually reveal more of the picture and discuss at each stage ‘what the photograph is about’.

Front Page Story: Follow on from the last exercise, this one is for older children. Present them with a collection of photographs and the text of a news story and provide a template for the front page of the newspaper. Divide them into two groups and ask them to cut the story to fit the space. Works well if the two groups are given different remits in terms of editorial stance, readership etc. Writing captions teaches the importance of anchorage in meaning.

Story in Six Pictures: Find six photographs, put them in a particular sequence, and write or tell the story. It is worth trying it with a random selection of photographs, with the challenge of making the connections, as well as choosing six photographs on a theme. If you like this idea you should also have a look at the dedicated discussion group ‘Tell a Story in Five Frames (Visual Storytelling) on Flickr.

Story in Six Words: The writer Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in 6 words. The result was “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Try the same exercise using a photograph as the stimulus. To see some really good examples – you’ve guessed it – have a look at the Six Word Story Flickr Group.

Powerpic: Use PowerPoint to create a narrative with pictures. To find out how to manipulate images in Powerpoint, add text and more have a look at these excellent training materials on the National Qualifications area of the LTS website.

Digital Narratives: Use digital images to create narratives with free online tools such as Comic Brush and Pixton and make comic strips from still images. Ollie Bray’s blog will tell you how. Another source of wonderful ideas is The Digital Narrative by Martin Jorgensen which will point you in the direction of everything you ever needed to know about creating stories from photographs.

Moving Image: Have fun by uploading a selection of digital photographs to RockYou and translate them into an animated slideshow or to Animoto where you can add your own soundtrack for a short video which you can re-edit as often as you like – ideal for recording classroom activities or events. To crop,edit, annotate or generally be creative with images I would recommend Picnik – fast, easy, fun and free!

With thanks to Ewan MacIntosh for many of the ideas in Story in Six Words and Story in Six Pictures. For more ideas on how to use digital images in the classroom, check out this great post on Ewan’s blog from March 2007.

6 thoughts on “Every Picture Tells a Story

  1. Hi Bill,
    It’s also worth adding that on some of the activity you suggest here there are dedicated groups of fans building six word stories and five frame wstories on Flickr, sharing and commenting back and forth on each other’s efforts. I’ve included some links in this old post:

    I’m amazed, though, at how much these groups have grown in the three years since David Muir and I were first pimping them to his PGCE students!

  2. Fantastic Ewan. I knew I’d heard you talking about some of these in the past – I actually did a quick search on your blog but I couldn’t find it. I’ll update the post to include the link.
    PS I am well flattered to see my blog at the top of your list of ‘must reads’!

  3. Hi I had been told too of this picture and was delighted to find it on your website.My dad is in the back row third from the right My dad also died at the age of 53 some 20 years ago. It was great to see this picture thanks for putting it on.
    dads name ; william mcintyre

  4. And this is why I love the wide, open internet! Isn’t it great that some kind of connection can be made between you two, with such similar stories. I hope they get told, maybe not online but over a pint at least 🙂

  5. Hi Catherine,
    Good to hear from you, and thanks for providing another bit of the story! It’s hard to believe how quickly that time has passed and I’m sure you will feel the same. Hope you are well wherever and whatever you are doing.


  6. Pingback: More Than One Way to Tell a Story « Bill Boyd – The Literacy Adviser

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