There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

We already know that artwork serves as a great instrument for class discussion with Artful Thinking—now let’s take the next logical step and use it to inspire powerful student writing! One of my favorite visual arts writing strategies, and a favorite with everyone who learns it, is Cooperative Poetry.

Cooperative Poetry:

In this activity small groups of students construct original poetry. Poems are written by combining individual student’s responses to a selected painting, sculpture, photograph, portrait, image or artifact with their classmates’ responses. Each student, in a group of 4-8 students, reacts to an art piece by independently writing one line of poetry on a sentence strip. Then all of the group’s strips are laid out on a table. Cooperatively, the group decides how to order the strips to create the most pleasing poem.

Materials:

• Art posters, prints, photographs or artifacts or computer or projected images
• Sentence strips
• Markers
• Optional: Poster paper and tape or staplers

Steps:

1. Group your students.

Often I hand out a grouping card to each student that has the name of the artist or a picture of the artwork on it. I give students 5 seconds to look around the room and spot the painting by the name of the artist or picture on their card and then 30 seconds to proceed to the group. I provide each group area with enough sentence strips and markers for each of the participants to have one of each.

2. Instruct each student to silently “read” the artwork for one minute.

After one minute of contemplation, give students two to three minutes to write a personal reaction to the art on a single sentence strip. This can be in the form of a complete sentence, a phrase or a series of words. Often I ask students to think of the Artful Thinking routine: “I See, I Think, I Wonder” as they contemplate the artwork. They should write what the art says to them: they can describe items, feelings, ideas, connections, themes, mood or any art elements they see when looking at the painting. You may direct their thinking or leave it completely open.

3. Instruct students in each group to lay all the sentence strips from the group on a table or on the floor.

After reading through each strip, they discuss and decide cooperatively how to arrange the strips into a pleasing order to form a poem. This is the best part of the activity in my opinion. You will hear the most wonderful conversation as students decide which order will sound the best. If you want to keep the poems for display- have the students staple or paste the strips in the order that they decided onto a large piece of paper.

4. Ask the group to select one person to hold up the art for all to see.

We’ll call them Vanna White of the group :). Then, have one person to read the poem, dramatically, to the rest of the class.

Considerations:

What makes Cooperative Poetry a great strategy is that it can be used in any content area, at any level and in any language! Since there is no right or wrong answer in art, even the most reluctant or hesitant student is willing to write one line of poetry. I first used this activity when I was teaching a beginning Spanish class. The students had to respond to the art in the target language, using only one semester’s worth of vocabulary. The poems came out fantastic and the students were so pleased that they could actually write poetry in Spanish! It never fails that the poems are wonderful and the students are very proud of their poetry.

There is a lot of flexibility in implementing Cooperative Poetry.

You can choose to have students look at the art with or without a lens for looking. You can select random artwork and ask students to make any connection they want to or you can identify a specific focus. For example, ask students to look for the science or the math they see in the art. You could also select pieces that have an obvious connection to the lesson or unit. I have used this activity at the beginning of a lesson or unit as a way to introduce a topic and build background knowledge, during a unit to give students an opportunity to practice and use academic vocabulary, and also as an assessment after students have researched or read about the life of an individual, character or topic.

There is a lot of flexibility for scaffolding as well. You can provide word cards to use when responding to the art. You could provide sentence starters. At the end of the writing and presentation, you can have the students and/or the groups explain how and why each line connects to the art. You can invite discussion, praise, or questions from the rest of the class.

However you choose to design your Cooperative Poetry lesson you will love it!

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

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