Teachers can deepen and extend students' responses to literature by inviting them to create visual and/or symbolic representations of what they read. Working either independently or collaboratively, students can plan and make visuals that convey their understanding of a literary character, conflict, or theme. Visual representations might include posters, drawings, collages, photographs, bulletin boards, sculpture, jewelry, or costumes.
Creating Visual Representations and Symbols in the Classroom
You can begin by asking students to discuss the writer's use of similes and metaphors. This scaffolding prepares the students to create their visual representations.
Following the discussion, the students move into small groups. Each student selects a character to represent, and they discuss that character's personality and any important physical, emotional, or psychological traits. The groups then begin to brainstorm objects, symbols, metaphors, colors, or images that might represent this character or be important to him or her.
As individual students make suggestions, the other group members ask questions to spur more critical and creative thinking. For example, in Morimoto's classroom, the students challenge each other to make their representation symbolic rather than literal.
Once each of the group members has decided upon a visual symbol or metaphor, they write a detailed explanation of what it is and how it represents the character, draw a picture of it (sometimes with a caption or quote under the drawing), and present their work to the class.
Tips and Variations for Creating Visual Representations and Symbols
Teachers may finish with a whole-class discussion of the process and its effects on interpretation. Questions might include:
- How did the visual representations add to or change your understanding of the character?
- How did your interpretation of the character change or grow as you worked on your project?
- If more than one person selected the same character, in what ways were the visual representations alike or different?
- What have you learned about responding to literature through visual representations?
- How might this strategy help us as writers? As readers?
Benefits of Creating Visual Representations and Symbols
- When students create a symbolic visual representation, they build higher-level thinking skills of inference and interpretation.
- As students visualize texts and question each other's visualization ideas, they come to recognize the value of complex and multifaceted symbolism.
- As an exercise that honors diverse learning styles, making visual representations can be especially engaging for students for whom reading and writing is challenging.