Empowering Writers

March 2018 Lesson of the Month

Take a Picture – it Lasts Longer!

This month’s lesson uses digital photography as a tool for encouraging vivid descriptive detail and as a vehicle for eliciting opinions in writing.  Students will select a prized possession – it might be a family heirloom, artifact, piece of jewelry, photograph, knickknack, toy, or article of clothing that holds special meaning for them.  It might be something given to them by someone they love, or an object associated with a meaningful visit, event, or place.  They’ll photograph this prized possession, write an elaborative segment describing it, and their opinion about it, citing the reasons why it is highly valued.

Here’s what you’ll do:

1.)  Bring a prized possession of yours into school, gather the class and discuss it.

Ex.    You hold up a small statue of a bird.

Explain that they will help you describe your prized possession.  Chart the following questions:

  •          What is this object?
  •          Where and when did I get it?  From whom?
  •          What do you love about it?
  •          What is its size and shape?
  •          What special details do you admire?
  •          What is its texture?
  •          What is its color(s)?
  •          Where do you keep it?
  •          How do you feel when you see it?
  •          Why is it important to you?

Then, have the students ask you each question about your object.  As you answer the questions, begin to chart your description, modeling the process for them.


        This small statue of a crane is one of my most prized possessions.  It was a gift from my grandmother.  She brought it back from Japan when I was just a little girl and she told me that this bird reminded her of me.  I love the graceful way the bird is standing with her head tipped back, her beak pointing toward the sky.  The surface is smooth and the pottery feels cool in my hand.  I admire the way the sculptor carved the feathers.  The long tail spreads out like a fan and helps the bird balance on my shelf at home.  The pale green glaze gives this figurine a calm, peaceful look.  Whenever I’m feeling down I gaze at it, think of my grandmother, and feel a little better. It’s important to me because my grandmother died a few years ago, and this is something to remember her by.

Point out the way each sentence relates to a question you posed.  (You might color code the corresponding question with each line of your response.)  You might also point out the word referents – statue, pottery, figurine)

2.)  Ask them to think about a prized possession of theirs.  Have students discuss and share their ideas.

3.)  Next, (or on another day) cover a desk with a dark cloth and set your sample object on it.  Using a digital camera (most schools have one for school use that you can borrow) show the students how to take a photo of the object, trying several different angles until you find the one you like best.

4.)  Download the photo into your photo program and open it up.  Demonstrate how you can adjust the exposure, straighten the image, remove shadows, crop, etc.  Type your description and opinion and paste your photo into your word doc.  (Projecting your computer screen is a great way for them to follow along.)

5.)  Now that they’ve seen your sample object, modeled written segment, and photograph, they’ll be motivated to begin with their own chosen prized possession.

Repeat the process, posting the questions for their reference.  You might also post a selection of sentence starters to help facilitate fluency, powerful word choice, and sentence variety:

  •          I received it when_____.              •  What I love about it is_______.
  •          I’ve always admired______.        •  I value this because_________.
  •          From the moment I saw it,____. •  It reminds me of___________.
  •          This is a treasured possession because______.
  •          I’ll never forget the moment when_________.
  •          Whenever I look at it I feel_______________.


6.)  You might invite a parent volunteer to help with the photography and with combining the photo and text.  Once students have written their piece (you can have them hand write it first, then type, or compose directly at the keyboard), taken their photos, and combined the two, bind them in a class book, or set each page as a powerpoint slide for a class presentation.

Variation:  You might want to photograph students holding their prized possession.