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Picturing a Story, by Dr. Mark Jones and Brenda Ross

Picturing a Story

This lesson resulting in students creating their own books is an excellent integration of art and language arts

The lesson began with a simple question. "Do you see pictures or does a video run in your mind as you read?"

While discussing the students' answers to this question, we (Brenda is a fifth grade teacher and Mark an art teacher) developed a project that would meet the goals of each teacher while providing the students with a rich interdisciplinary experience.

Our project linked visualization in reading, descriptive writing and illustration as both a career and as an expression of ideas. A final activity combined all facets and convinced our students they were truly authors and illustrators.

Although a few mini-lessons on descriptive writing were given before the project began, the project revolved around Mark's five weekly visits designed to link writing and art.

First visit. Students read a descriptive paragraph and then viewed three illustrations that Brenda had prepared. Collectively, we chose the best illustration for the paragraph. The activity lead easily to a discussion of illustration of text as a career and how the illustrator must depict what the author is describing. The students were then instructed to write a paragraph describing a character. As they wrote, they were to keep in mind that another student would be illustrating their paragraph. Before they finished, the students found a place in the room and tried to illustrate their own text. At that time, many students found they had to make revisions to their writing.

Second visit. When the paragraphs were completed, each student received another student's paragraph to illustrate. Soon there were questions about what to do if there was not enough description. Mark talked to the class about the need to fill in what hasn't been provided, including the background.

A few days later, when everyone had completed the illustrations, the papers were once again shuffled and handed out to the students. The illustrations were spread out on tables and desks. The task then was to read the writing and find the illustration that matched. Each child read aloud a selected piece of writing and the class decided if the chosen illustration was correct. The students concluded that the writings with more adjectives were easier to draw and to match.

Third visit. During Mark's next visit, the children made their own illustrations. They were directed to draw a character of their choosing. When the illustrations were completed, they were given to other students to write a paragraph describing what they saw. Once again there was some confusion when students were not sure what was depicted. After the writing was completed, the children once again matched pictures to paragraphs.

In a follow-up discussion, some children expressed dismay that what they had drawn had been changed to another idea. One girl who had drawn a character in a snow globe discovered her character was now in a kitchen with an arched doorway.

During the discussion, the students tried to decide if it was easier to draw to match the writing or write to match the drawing. Most felt it was easier if the text was done first.

Fourth visit. Mark returned to explain the culminating project that connected both illustrating and writing. Each student would write and illustrate a book for the first grade class.

Child holding book

Sometimes what begins as a particular writing idea changes as students illustrate their peer's work.

To prepare for the project, the students spent a week reading a variety of picture books and recording the qualities that would make them appealing to young children. They discovered rhyme, repetition, humor, familiar experiences, cumulative stories, circular stories and many more qualities.

The first grade teacher talked to them about the differences in reading ability and the types of sentences that young students find easier to read. She told them that first grade students read books with characters, settings, problems and solutions, just like the fifth graders did. Following her visit, the students eagerly began to plan their stories using a story map to organize their ideas.

Fifth visit. During this final visit, Mark returned and explained how to plan for the illustrations. He showed them how to trace characters that they wanted to appear the same throughout the book. He also brought hardcover book casings donated by a local company. The children then began a storyboard of illustrations to fit the text that they had begun to write. As they completed their plans, they typed their text on computers and began drawing the actual illustrations. They added an "About the Author" page with a photograph of the author. Finally, they put the books together using the casings.

When everyone had finished, each fifth grade student was paired with a first grade student and they read the books together. The books were then given to the first grade class for their library.

Conclusion. Although many students write and illustrate stories and even make books, there were three aspects of this project that made it unique. First, we worked together to integrate our disciplines. The second aspect was that the children realized illustrations are just as important as the writing.

Finally, the hardcover casings convinced the students that they had made a real book. They were very proud of their books and the fact that they will be read by many children over the upcoming years.

Dr. Mark Jones has been teaching art in the Bloomsburg Area School District, Bloomsburg, PA for the past 14 years. Brenda Ross has taught fifth grade for the past 12 years in the Bloomsburg Area School District, Bloomsburg, PA.