Paint a Picture With Words


Maya Pindyck

Download: Paint Pictures with Words

Genre(s) taught: Poetry

Grade(s) taught: 1st grade

Your students’ special needs (if any): Varied abilities in reading and writing. Two boys with “behavioral issues” who were usually working with a paraprofessional during the lesson but occasionally participated.

Overall residency goal: to get students excited to write and read poetry; to spark their imaginations through writing and to inspire them to play with language and ideas

Common Core State Standards: (Refer to the Anchor Standards for Writing at
Add “poetic” to “narratives” for the first standard:

    Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.
    Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Guiding Questions:  What is imagery? How might you paint a picture using words?

Suggested Continuation Practice for Classroom Teacher:
Different writing activities in response to visual images… the writing activities can be narratives, art reviews, or, given the restaurant unit, even food reviews based on how a dish looks. Teachers can begin with a visual image of food to evoke other senses. What do you think this dish smells like? Tastes like? Sounds like in your mouth?

New York in The 1960's - 70's (21)


Ritual (5 min):
Sit on the carpet quietly and read together the projected poem. Before we read the poem, I ask them a question that relates to the lesson and they take turns sharing responses to that question. For example, if we are writing “I wish” poems, I might ask them if there’s anything they wish for, just to stimulate some ideas. Or, for a lesson on alliteration, I might ask them to help me complete a sentence where almost every word begins with “M.” For this lesson on imagery, I asked students if they knew what the word meant to assess their prior knowledge, and then we discussed our five senses and how poets use words to paint a picture.

Introduction/warm-up activity (5-10 min):
Let’s look at this picture together (project onto screen). How would you describe it in words using your five senses? What do you see in this picture? What do you imagine the noises are in this scene? What might it smell like?  Then, a discussion of “imagery” and how to paint a picture using words.

Main activity (20-25 mins):
Together, students read William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.” I ask the students what images stick in their head from this short and simple poem. (White chickens, rain, the color red, etc.) Then I ask them to imagine where this scene takes place (New York City? A farm? Coney Island? Someone’s backyard?) We then discuss what it might smell like or sound like on that farm, what other things we might see near the chickens and the red wheelbarrow if we were on that same farm.
We also discuss the lines in this poem. Why do you think WCW made them so short? What do such short lines do? How do you read a poem differently when the lines are so short?

Then, students return to their seats and I hand each of them a different black & white photograph of a New York City scene—some are images of people, cars, and buildings, others are images of nature (Prospect Park, Central Park, etc.) and animals. Students work on their own poems, attempting to describe the picture- or “paint the picture”—using words. Their task is to make us see the picture through their words alone. I encourage them to play with writing short lines.

Closing (5 mins):
When the students shared their poems aloud with the class, we talked about the moments in each poem that really helped us see and sense the scene. Sometimes I would ask a student to star their favorite line in the poem and say why it’s their favorite. Students also gave each other compliments.

Visual images (one per student); paper, pens or pencils

Imagery, sensory detail, line

Additional notes:
A discussion of “line” might complicate the lesson, but there’s a way to tie it in without diverging from the focus on imagery. It might be a good idea to follow up with a lesson on line that invites students to play with different line lengths—from very short to very long.

Multi-modal approaches:
This lesson can strongly appeal to visual learners. By responding to actual images, the students were engaging a visual intelligence and practicing observation as well as descriptive writing.

Tagged: ,

'Paint a Picture With Words' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Teachers & Writers Magazine

Teachers & Writers Collaborative: