Friday, December 9, 2011

picturing writing: literacy through art

At NCTE I found myself laughing at myself, because with 700 sessions to choose from, I managed to attend a session that I had already attended last year!  Not so surprising--the concept of "Picturing Writing: Fostering Literacy through Art" is right up my personal alley, and the collage-based approach called "Image-Making Within the Writing Process" is my back door.  Thanks to Beth Olshansky and her teacher colleagues for leading me home (two years in a row).

So, in our new 2.0 Elementary Integrated Curriculum we are supposed, as winter sets in, to be studying plant and animal life cycles, planting seeds and learning about baby animals. (Never mind that all around us dying, darkening, sleeping.)  To tie it all together and to lead us into a poetry project, I chose Leo Lionni's Frederick and Eric Carle's The Tiny Seed, which we have been comparing and contrasting, enacting and evaluating: which parts of this story could really happen?  do Frederick and his family do what real mice do? 

Meanwhile, each child used watercolors to paint 3-6 papers for collage, in the manner of both Carle and Lionni. As the class worked to see what animals, plants and weather their unpredictable painted papers suggested, I learned quite a lot that will help me support the project next time!  (Note to self:  20 collaging kindergarteners at once is too many.)  Still, their collages are very pleasing, often striking, and most importantly, quite individual. 

This week we're placing our collages in front of us and writing poems.  While a couple of the 5-year-olds are able to write their compositions on their own, for most I'm scribing with strategically placed blanks for them to spell juicy words like fish, rain, float and lion.  I cannot wait to share the whole collection with you, but for now I have only two to hand.  Jordan cut 4 shapes from a pinkish-purple paper, arranged them as a fish on a stripy bluish sea paper, and then painstakingly cut and glued maroon and ochre spots from another paper to create a bubbly surface. Here is his poem.

Mighty Minnow
by Jordan

mighty minnow swimming fast
in a deep, deep sea
pinkish-purple spots and dots
do you see any more colors
or anything else on me?

Ezekial is my youngest nearly 6-year-old and My Project for the year. We worked very closely to make the lion he imagined out of a deep muddyish turquoise paper. Here is the poem we negotiated.

by Ezekial

the blue dad lion
is walking to his wife
the playground is their house
they eat leaves and grass
they climb up the ladders
and they jump!

Extra poet's note: My plan, of course, was to model the collage-to-poem move using my own giraffe-under-sunset collage...but as my colleagues often say, "Kindergarten happened," and I found myself sitting down to write with children without ever having modeled. Guess what? For this class anyway, it has not mattered. Perhaps the other poetry we've been reading (most recently Frederick's "Sky Mice" poem and Douglas Florian's Beast Feast) and all the singing we've done has been enough. Their words sing, too!

Bonus activity:  the children are loving acting out each poem as it's completed. More soon...


  1. Pinkish-purple minnows and blue dad lions -- what a great menagerie.

  2. What fun -- I like that they act out the poems afterwards. Thanks for this spot of joy today :)!

  3. What a really special activity. I'm looking forward to seeing more. The poems are lovely too, are clearly what they learned and are ready to put into their own voices.

  4. This is a fabulous activity/unit! I always did Lionni and Carle in kindergarten author studies. I love their art and books. LOL at the image of the whole class collaging at once and you trying to keep up with juicy words!

  5. So much to love in this post! These talented youngsters are able to express themselves in so many ways, and to learn about poetry to boot. Looking forward to seeing/reading more... . (Wouldn't it be fun if the playground was your house?!)

  6. Oh what fun, Heidi. Your poets are wonderful. It is so yummy that I want to get out my colored paper and made a collage for a poem. Well done. Please that your children for me.


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