Extended Looking: Using Images to Build Theme Statements
I worked with Kristina Claytor and Allie Sberna this week using a strategy learned/modified from the Pages program at the Wexner Center. This learning activity is one I have utilized many times, and it was a pleasure to work with two patient, flexible and talented teachers trying it out with a new group of students who are learning to “look deeper” and explore thematic connections.
The “product” of the strategy is the creation of a single sentence theme statement that is supported by multiple pieces of evidence from an image students have studied. Here is the image from which students gathered information.
Here are the learning targets provided to students:
- I can look carefully and critically.
- I can contribute meaningful ideas to a collaborative conversation.
- I can write a theme statement that reflects a deep understanding of a theme.
I usually introduce themes to students as topics (or “big ideas” if you prefer) plus an opinion about that topic. Here are some of the “big ideas” or topics students were able to come up with using this strategy:
We explained a theme is one of these big ideas/topics above, plus what they think an author/artist is saying about this topic (his/her opinion).
Example: Topic (Creativity) + Opinion (can require seeing/doing what others may not yet understand).
So a theme statement might be: Creativity can require seeing and doing what others may not yet understand.
Students might support this theme statement with evidence from the text by saying that, “The man represents creativity because he is the only one ‘seeing’ what is in the distance, so he is the only one willing to escape the box. The others remain curled in the containers because they don’t believe in or have knowledge of this new understanding.”
This is a very difficult concept for students; it takes practice. They may have to look back at and revise the theme statements after the teacher collects them and gives feedback. However, this is also an essential skill for literary response.
The following is a handout I have given to teachers to explain the activity step by step. I have also attached the instructions as a downloadable document at the bottom of the post.
Extended Looking Activity: Learning Goals
This lesson is a scaffolding tool to help students understand theme in literary works. The learning goal is to have students be able to write a “thesis statement” for what they think the piece means; they must base it on evidence they have gathered from the piece itself.
Extended Looking Instructions
- Look and observe the art – you can move around, get closer etc. Write down observations and questions about it (5 min.)
- Discuss the visual image. What is happening in the photo? Here you are noting details and making observations, no talk of meaning yet (5 min)
- Make connections to and ask questions about the art in writing. What are your thoughts about the piece, what does it make you think of, does it remind you of anything etc. (5 min.)
- Discuss the connections students found in the piece and continue to have students use the evidence they have gathered to support their perspective ( 5 min.)
- Introduce and model a theme statement for students. Have students write a “theme statement” for what they think the piece of art means and support it with evidence from the art itself (10 min.)
- Tell them the name and a little about the artist. (I do this the next day and build suspense!) Does this change your perspective on the piece? Are you glad you know? (They usually are not.)
- Before step five, have students write short form poetry about the art or a piece of narrative
- Talk about the process of how the art was created and use it to model students own work in writing after the activity
Connections to help students make:
- Literature and art are very similar and we can talk about them the same way and go through the same process of analysis with them
- An artist or writer has an intent, but viewer/reader also bring their own experience to the table to create “meaning”
- This activity shows how argument is developed because students needed to use support for their ideas
This activity was modified from the 2011-2012 PAGES summer workshop for teacher-partners at the Wexner Center, and photography used to conduct the activity was created by Robert and Shana ParkHarrison from The Architect’s Brother collection.
Here is the printable resource Extended Viewing Activity 2