I don't know about you but I always find myself continuously racking my brains for innovative ideas of how to successfully embed literacy and maths within the arts. Visual literacy is an area that has always interested me and believe it is a great, creative way to develop student's learning. Recently, for an observed lesson I chucked myself in the deep end and created a starter activity inspired by this fantastic resource from The Photographers' Gallery entitled: What do you see? The concept of the activity is that it is designed to develop learners visual literacy skills by asking them to describe and draw the subject and compositional elements of a photograph. This idea was perfect as I was fortunate enough that my students at the time were responding to primary photographs!
I'm even luckier that most of my classes have a perfect match to work in pairs but if not don't worry - three's can work too. Just double the drawer or the describer up. You can make the activity as long or short as you like - I gave mine two minutes each to describe/draw as I enjoy short and sharp activities!
Step 1. Find a partner
Step 2. Swop your primary photographs with your partner and choose one image you would like your partner to draw - keep it hidden from your partner!
Step 3. Start describing the photograph to your partner without showing the image. The partner must try to draw the image based on your description. You may ask questions of each other, act out poses and look at the drawing together as long as the photograph is kept hidden.
Step 4. Now, swop and repeat the process.
Step 5. Lay out the drawings next to the photograph and compare them.
The students really engaged with the activity and it was great to see the drawer acting out poses to understand verbal descriptions/instructions! The responses after the activity were all positive and some were surprised at how quickly they could produce a detailed drawing through the use of language. At the end of the activity I got students to respond to three set questions:
1. How do the drawings compare with the original photographs?
2. Did your partner describe any details in the photograph you may not of originally noticed?
3. What descriptive words did you find most useful when listening to instructions?
Feedback from learners was positive and all were able to confidently answer the 3 questions above. Even better, students were able to comment that it enabled them to see parts of the image which they may of not noticed beforehand. For example: texture, line, elements within the back/foreground. After the activity I got my students to continue responding to their primary photographs - making sure they applied the skills they had learnt from the activity to notice every, tiny detail. Some were even repeating the descriptive words to remember how to draw marks!
Overall, I found this activity ensured accurate observation and students understood what they were seeing/drawing which resulted in higher-level critical thinking! We think this activity is great for any art discipline and would work well with paintings/drawings etc as well as photographs. The feedback could even be changed into a critique!
As always let us know if you have tried this activity or have other fun ways of using visual literacy in your lessons. We'd love to hear them!
- Kirsty ❤