Friday, September 21, 2012

Picture the Story

Anyone who knows me as a person or as an educator knows that I am a visual learner.  One of the things that I like about reading is making a "mental movie" in my head.  I was not taught that skill until later in life (definitely not in high school), thus I was not a fan of reading literature when I was younger.  It wasn't until I was specifically told that making a mental image is a skill that is required for reading.  I mean, yes, I made mental images, but I was always concerned with mine being wrong, or way off the mark or something like that. 

Years ago when I was teaching high school, I asked how many students make mental images when they read, and I was surprised that not many did.  Like me, when I was there age, their eyes were scanning the words, but they weren't processing a whole lot.  So I came up with an activity I like to call Picture the Story, and I'd like to share it here.

Typically Picture the Story takes place when students have finished a book, but it can actually be done at any point in time.  I break the book down into sections; one section for each student.  For example...student one is assigned pages 1-5...student 2 is assigned pages 6-10....and so on.  Then I give each of the students a blank piece of paper and some markers.  (I highly encourage markers in the matter what level of education.) I ask the students to review their assigned section, and to draw a visual depicting an event in that section.

This is where the fun part comes in...I then choose a student at random...someone who is assigned the middle of the book. I ask them to come to the front of the room and share their image.  The other classmates try to guess what the image is, what it means and when it took place.  This dialogue is very encouraging.  Once the students have figured out what part of the story is being represented...they tape the picture to the wall.  I then ask another student to come up and we repeat the process.  However, this time the students have to decide if the new event took place before or after the event currently being presented.   Once they have decided, that picture is posted on the wall, either before or after the first picture.  We continue this process until all pictures are posted in chronological order.  Then I ask the students to write a short summary of the event and a rationale on a note card, which explains their thinking and their depiction of the event.  I then have them post these under the picture.

One nice thing about the assignment is that you now have a visual and written timeline of the events of a story in your classroom for all the students to see.  And if you teach the same book in multiple classes, you can compare and contrast depictions.

I also think that this can be useful not only for review, but to discuss symbolism and other literary events.  The students will already be familiar with the plot after conducting this activity, so they will be more apt to discuss other literary elements as well.


  1. How can you possibly read without forming a picture in your mind? What's the point then? I feel like this exercise would work better for a younger crowd because I feel like a lot of adults would blow this activity off, despite it being a sound activity. I feel like it's also more effective with a younger group because if you can get them to make pictures in their head earlier, they will enjoy reading and understand more.

  2. I love this idea! It's a simple concept and yet it would be highly effective at gauging the student's understanding of a story. I would definetely use it for a short story (I think a novel would be to obvious) and would encourage student's to challenge their peers at a higher level. I love markers in the classroom too, and am a huge fan of displaying students work. I especially like that you mentioned posting the pictures. It gives student's a sense of ownership and brings color into the classroom. A double bonus!

  3. T.O., My blog was deleted from the student blog list on wikispaces! I don't know why this keeps happening or if someone keeps accidentally doing it.