Magazine article NATE Classroom

Picture This

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Picture This

Article excerpt


Miss, I don't know how to start!

'All', Debbie Harry wanted was, 'a room with a view/A sight worth seeing.' Well, picture this, a classroom with a view across Sheffield: a golf course, allotments in a valley, another comprehensive school, the green rising fields of the Peak District, a parade of white clouds. Picture, as well, a class of Year 11s charged with producing a piece of creative writing, a thousand words long, based on an image.

Then listen.

'Miss, I don't know how to start!' 'I know what I want to say but I don't know how to say it!' 'It'd be much easier if you told us what to write--like the poetry!' 'How do you spell monologue?'

I have been experimenting with using The Guardian's 'Eyewitness' App on iPad to provide GCSE students with a sight which is not only worth seeing, but worth writing about.

The context for writing

I had been working as an English consultant at a Sheffield Academy and was asked to work with a small 'intervention' group of Y11 students to try to help convert them to solid GCSE C graders. In previous assessment units they had all shown a higher degree of competence in reading than in writing. Unit 3 of their Edexcel specification uses photographs as a stimulus for writing and --since this is a Controlled Assessment task--I decided to use the Eyewitness images as part of the preparation. I worked on this writing project with groups of about seven or eight students once a week. When I was no longer available, a teacher carried on this intervention. While the small-group setting undoubtedly facilitated this work, I am quite sure it could successfully be conducted with a whole class--perhaps using writing groups. An interesting extension, which we did not have the time to try, would have been to give the students greater autonomy in their choice of starting-point images. This approach certainly provided a smooth segue into the proper exam writing and it was clear that it enabled the students to have a better level of control over the composition element of writing.

Arresting images--powerful talking point

Each day The Guardian publishes a large and provocative image from some of the world's best documentary photographers and posts these online and also to an iPad app called 'Eyewitness'. The picture editor's aim in selecting these, no doubt, is to make readers stop and question their understanding of the world. The photographs are always stunning and beautifully shot. Viewers can scroll back through the last hundred days of images. Each has a short caption which provides a context for images which cover the whole globe. Tap the caption and a Pro Tip pops up explaining how the photographer achieved maximum impact. Part of the success of The Guardian's 'Eyewitness' photographic series is that arresting images never fail to create a powerful talking point.


Here are a few recent shots:

25th February: a family shelter in a Kabul refugee camp, huddling around a traditional heater.

7th February: families flee their homes in Mitchell, Queensland as floodwaters threaten.

18th December 2011: a lone Egyptian protestor hurling stones from a sling during clashes with security forces.

If you've not got an iPad, browse to guardian., this will allow access to Eyewitness images from the last few months. By the way, students did not have the luxury of using iPads (which would have been way too expensive) so a lot of the work was done viewing the photos on the interactive whiteboard. This shared approach actually helps to foster the notion that the students are working as a 'writing community'.

Five photos--many choices

I selected five of the most appropriate images. I then shared these with the students for an open-ended discussion. Students ranked the images from best to worst in response to the question: 'Which photo would you personally prefer to write about? …

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