We’ve all heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, but back in my final practicum (a year and a half ago) I challenged that phrase. Instead of writing a thousand words to go along with a picture, I had my students write five or less words to truly “capture the essence” of a series of photos.

How we did this lesson: My students were seated in pods, which served nicely as small groups. I chose an image to project on the screen and had my students look at it and think about it for a few minutes. Once my class had some time to look at and think about the photo, I asked them to discuss and take notes on one sheet of paper per group. The ideas written down could be as lengthy and detailed as the group desired. After each group had a chance to discuss and write, we went around the room and shared ideas. It was interesting to her what each group had to say about the same photo – some ideas were similar and some ideas were radically different! From here, I had my students work within their group to narrow down the essence of the photo. The groups worked together, crossing out words and phrases that didn’t totally and fully describe the photo. This part of the lesson was interesting for me because some students really had a hard time narrowing down specific words or short phrases that captured what they thought the essence of the photo was.

The end goal: At the end of narrowing down the photo’s descriptions in small groups we came together as a class as shared our specific words/phrases once more. During this sharing I wrote the words along the edges of the projected photo. After each group had shared their idea(s) we decided as a class what the “caption” of the photo should be, in five words or less.

I found this lesson to be quite powerful because of the images I chose. The photo below is a picture I took in Cambodia while riding a local bus through Phnom Penh early one morning.

A barefooted monk collecting morning alms from the people.
A barefooted monk collecting morning alms from the people.

Not only did this lesson serve as a writing lesson, it also touched on aspects of humanity, social studies, creative thinking/question forming and rich conversation. Initially, I created this lesson for my students to introduce the notion of writing in comic strips (a social studies project we were working on). Comic strips sometimes use very little writing, so I wanted to show my students how powerful images could really be and how UNnecessary wordiness can be.

I’m curious to know what words you all think fit with this photo? Can you capture the essence in five words or less?