Pat Klos | October 2013

Look, Think, Write!

This past Saturday, I was scheduled to attend a workshop at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) called Teaching Writing through Art. I was so looking forward to attending this session, not only because it is always a treat to be discovering art in the gallery with the help of arts specialists, but also because I knew I would come away with some awesome new ideas for connecting to Common Core writing (my current focus). I have gotten some of my best ideas from attending teacher workshops at museums and I was excited about having something new to share with you and my teachers! Sadly, because of the current government shutdowns, the museum was closed and the workshop was cancelled and, according to the museum, will probably not be rescheduled.

Not to worry! The good folks from SAAM shared the activities they were going to demonstrate at the workshop to us via email. And, as expected — they are great. Here are two writing activities I will be using with teachers this week at a scheduled PD session. Both of these strategies involve a collaborative writing process that incorporates a version of “pass the paper” writing. I am hoping you will find them to be useful as well! Now the process, look, think, write!

Collaborative Narrative

1.Create a variety of writing response templates that include five lines of writing, such as:

  • Noun, two adjectives, three words ending in “ing,” phrase, noun
  • One word, two words, three words, four words, one word
  • Two syllables, four syllables, six syllables, eight syllables, two syllables

2.Divide class into groups of four or five and provide each group with a different work of art. Take a few moments to have participants look closely at the work of art with an Artful Thinking routine, such as I See, I Think, I Wonder.
3.Provide each student with a template to start with.
4.Instruct students to:

  • Complete the first line of the template and then fold the paper so that the written response is hidden.
  • Pass the template to a neighbor.
  • Fill in the next line on the template passed to you, fold it, and pass again.

5.Students continue passing until all five lines have been completed. Each participant will have a completed narrative/poem to unfold and read aloud to rest of the group.
6.Each group selects one to share with the class.
7.Option: Provide copies of the completed narratives/poems to the students. Students read and decide which artwork they narrate/describe.

Sketch to Write

1.Sketching with Images: Sixty Second Sketch:

  • Create an art gallery in the classroom by posting images of art around the classroom. You may select art that connects to the curriculum topic/standard or use a random variety of art.
  • Instruct students to walk around your gallery and then select one work of art.
  • Provide students with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Instruct students to create a sketch of the art they selected. Use a timer. Students have sixty seconds to make a quick sketch of the entire artwork, filling their paper from edge to edge.
  • Have students lay their sketches on a center table or designated area on the floor. Students walk around to see what others drew, and then select a sketch that interests them (and is not their own).

2.Sketching with Language:

  • Students take several minutes to “finish” the sketch they had selected, but by only by using language — adding words, phrases, thoughts, and reflective writing directly on top of the drawing.
  • In small groups, students share their writing by reading it aloud and explaining their choices.
  • Option: Post the 60 second sketches alongside of the original artwork. Provide students an additional opportunity to do a gallery walk and discuss or compare/contrast the sketches.


About the Author

Pat is an arts integration specialist in Anne Arundel County, MD. Having been a mentor teacher and instructional coach, she passionately believes that integrating the arts is the best approach to teaching: it enriches the classroom environment with art, engages students and motivates learning. Her mission is help all teachers realize that they can teach through the arts with a little know-how. Pat appears every Monday. Email Pat.