Using Poetry and Visualizing to Expand Students’ Thinking on Our Individuality and Interconnectivity

Categories: Reading

In our class we use poetry throughout the year. It can be used as a medium to learn several different reading comprehension strategies, however it lends itself so naturally to visualizing. Often poems (for children and adults alike) are written in a metaphorical manner. The language of poetry is purposeful; the authors are using descriptive language to paint pictures in your mind. So why not use this rich language to further teach visualizing?

Here are the steps to this activity that will teach students not only not only how visualizing helps us understand texts, but also how it can shed light on both our unique and shared experiences.

Choose a Poem with Rich Descriptive Language for Students to Visualize

1. To start this activity I typically use a students’ poem, preferably a student from the previous year.

2. Once the poem is chosen I write it on chart paper and post it somewhere in our room so it’s visible to all students. We read it together aloud to ensure all students can read and understand the words.

Students Close their Eyes and Visualize the Poem As It is Read Aloud

3. Now I ask the students to close their eyes. In a whisper I tell the students to get ready to think about what they picture in their mind as the poem is read aloud. In a low voice I read the poem aloud twice as the students keep their eyes closed deep in concentration.

4. After the poem is read aloud I whisper to students (as if anything above a whisper would somehow disrupt their mental images) that they are to think hard about what they pictured in their mind and will draw exactly what they visualized on a small sheet of paper.

Students Draw and Color What They Visualized

5. Still in a whisper I direct the students back to their seats handing them each a 5 x 5 blank paper square. At their desks pencils and crayons await them, now they are ready put their visualizations to paper.

6. I allow 10 to 15 minutes for students to create their pictures. Students will finish at different times and those who finish early are asked to write about what they visualized on the back of their paper square.

Students Visit Each Other’s Pictures Comparing Them to Their Own

7. Once all students are finished, I have some new directions for the class. I inform them that we will quietly walk around the room to observe each other’s visual images. “As you stop by your friends’ pictures, look for at least one person who has visualized something similar to what you pictured and look for another person who has visualized something different from what you pictured in your mind.”

8. Students quietly walk around the room-stopping by their friends’ pictures and for the moment just thinking to themselves how their mental images are similar and how they are different.

We Gather As a Class to Discuss Why There are Similarities and Differences

9. After I’ve noticed most students have a good look around the room I ask them to return to the carpet. I raise the question as to why these pictures are different and ask them to share some examples. I am hoping through this discussion students will come to the conclusion that we have different visualizations because our background knowledge (of the given subject) is unique to our own experiences, and therefore so are our visualizations.

Then we discuss why these pictures are alike. Again I am using this question and the discussion that is to follow in an effort to help students realize that because we’ve had common experiences our visualizations will share overlapping qualities.

10. As the discussion progresses, if a student shares some really great thinking on these topics I ask them to write it down immediately on a 4 x 6 index card-to often I’ve allowed these great thoughts to disappear into the ether. This year we’ve focused more on capturing great thinking and posting it in our room to refer back to. I bring the discussion to a close, knowing that many students have come to an understanding of how our experiences help shape what we visualize.

The Pictures and Writing from the Students are Posted Around the Original Poem, Serving as a Powerful Visual for Our Class

11. When the students leave for the day I collect their square pictures of what they visualized and post them around the original poem. The index cards where they explained why our pictures are similar and different are also posted. Now our visual images and our thinking about these images surround this one poem. It’s quite amazing how much thinking we’ve captured for just this one poem.

This becomes a wonderful visual for our class. The poem and all the thinking that surrounds it serves as reminder of how we draw on our unique experiences to visualize and make sense of texts, while also highlighting the shared experiences we’ve had as a community.