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TITLE:   PHOTOGRAPH LESSON

AUTHOR:      Marcia LaViolette/Ombudsman

GRADE LEVEL/SUBJECT:   6-Adult; Writing

OVERVIEW:  This lesson can be used with grades six and up.  I have used it 
with sixth graders as well as adults.  The lesson assumes the Writing 
Project is being used in the classroom, ie. students have writing folders, 
write everyday, and are accustomed to the teacher writing with them.  I 
have used this as an isolated lesson to illustrate how poetry can be taught 
within the confines of the writing project.

ACTIVITIES AND PROCEDURES:  The day before the lesson I ask students to 
bring in a favorite photograph.  Many of the students forget, however a few 
examples are enough.  Another way to begin the lesson is to bring in a 
number of photographs of your own from all stages of your life.  I talk 
about how photographs sometimes tell us more about people by what they 
don't show than what they show.  I pass a number of photographs around 
the room in the cooperative tables.  Partners, or tables, look at the photos 
and comment on what they see as well as what they don't see.  (Example:  
A photo of a family gathering where everyone pictured is a good distance 
from one another, and unsmiling.) Students brainstorm, with the teacher 
writing responses on the overhead.  Written down on the overhead is a 
record of things seen as well as unseen.

Next the teacher puts the following poem on the overhead.  Students will 
listen to the poem and brainstorm what is being directly shown in the 
poem and what is not.

Photograph 1969  by Katy Barber

This is my mother
lifting her hair long
like a low whistle
off her neck
These are her fingers
caught in the tangles
of brown and gold caught in
silver earrings
This is my father
reaching through the lens
to touch the edge 
of a new family
to touch her opening belly
under her full dress

This is existing
before I exist

This is me growing up 
against their lives
him watching for a sharp
breath from her looking out
onto the border of birth
this is bumping us into three

Generally, students point out that the mother is about to have a baby, her 
hair is long and streaked, she has silver earrings, and the father is taking 
a picture of her.  What can't be seen is the new life, the girl and all her 
hopes, the family about to be created, the love that is present.

Next the teacher writes a poem on the overhead.  The teacher tells 
students that the poem could be about a photo she has that she treasures, 
or one that she wishes she had.  Here is a poem I wrote with students 
about a photo I have of my mother:

Like the Wings of an Angel  by Marcia LaViolette

I have a photograph of my mother
standing on a hill, San Francisco
lying beneath her.  She is facing 
the sun.  Her white suit coat is open
and flaps in the wind, filling
the space between her raised arms
and her body like the wings of an angel.
Her hair is shimmering, one blond hunk
of it flying skyward.  Her thin hand is 
a shadowed awning above her eyes
and she stands straight:  a tall
golden stalk in a growing field.

Today she called from Florida
voice slurred, spilling commands
that I tell her about my separation,
my job, my life.  Threatening, between
bouts of coughing, to fly here in
just two hours.  And I could see her,
hunched over the phone, dried up and
shrinking like a root torn from earth
and long forgotten.  And when I said "No"
and then "Good bye", I knew that I would look
for her photograph to remind me to be gentle
to this person who once stood on the edge of life
and soared ahead faithfully to meet it.

It is not important how well you write in front of the students.  What is 
important is that you are honest about yourself and that you write from 
your heart.

Next students write their own poem about a photograph they treasure or 
one they wish they had.  Students need 15-20 minutes to write.  When done 
they share with the class if they wish.  Below are two poems generated 
from this lesson.

Dad      by Greg Tolston

Dear father, I wish I had a few
pictures of you.  So I wouldn't forget
when you got shot by a wild man
but I was only two years old.  But now
since I've grown up I still remember you.

My Brother   by Nitkorn Cha

I wish I had a
picture of my brother
when we were in Thailand.

Because when I was a baby and
when I started to cry
he would hit me on the head.

If I was still there and
I was big I would of 
beat him up.  Because I was
supposed to have four brothers
but he died when we came 
to the United States.

COMMENTS:  I credit Linda Christensen, a teacher at Jefferson High, for 
this idea.  Over the years I have added other components, but the essential 
idea was hers.