Thursday, April 9, 2020

2020 Post #26 -- Engaging With Ekphrastic Poetry

by Andy Schoenborn

As the winter’s chill gives way to the warming months of Spring it becomes easier to see the world through fresh eyes. March and April are months filled with new beginnings as well as recollections that are worth celebrating with words. These are months beckoning us to take out our phones and capture pieces of them in photographs.

Today let’s ask students to take out their phones, peruse their camera rolls, or snap a picture of something beautiful. Using a photo of their choice let’s have fun with an Ekphrastic poem by responding to the image in verse.

Mini Lesson:

Briefly explore a simple photography technique called the Rule of Thirds. This technique asks users to make intentional choices with any subject to improve the composition and balance of an image. Ask students to notice how an image gains or loses appeal based on the choices a photographer makes.

With photography, and poetry, an artist’s composition is strengthened by the intentional choices made and the effect of those choices on a viewer. As a composer of images and words, a writer is in control and powerful pieces are crafted when the author reveals their unique (and sometimes unexpected) perspective. 


This writing strategy puts the “Go” in Go Poems as you invite students and yourself to explore the environment of the classroom, hallways, or outside. They have five-minutes to snap, browse, crop, and filter. Then write to the selected image for five minutes.

With the Rule of Thirds photography technique in mind, either crop an existing image or, if inspired, snap one of your own that causes you to either see the world with fresh eyes or recall surfacing memories.

  • You may apply filters, if you choose, or stay true by using no filter at all.
  • Once you have settled on an image, respond to it in verse.
  • When sharing, please include the image or link the image that inspired you.
  • You have five-minutes to find an image and five-minutes to write.


Sample poem:
“For Us” by Andy Schoenborn

Photo Febiyan on Unsplash by Click to Enlarge Image 

I have found you shaking,

bones rattling,

in the wind

and am reminded of my grandfather

whose wooden reach stretched further than

was comfortable.

Grounded in dark, hard earth

he pushed through life – lifting the soil.

Unearthing fragmented crust

the smaller parts defying gravity, clinging.

On erratic branches we grew from him.



(not) straight.

Until our reach sprouted new limbs.

Fragile saplings hardened too soon.

Themselves growing protective leaves

–like serrated lives –

unsure of the future.

Hard, brittle, and shaking in the wind

we were


by he who was daring

enough to push

through the hard,

impacted earth – for us.

Reflecting on the Strategy:

In the classroom, students are often asked to put phones away. While I ask students to do this as well, I recognize the way students interact with their devices, photography, and digital communities. When teachers encourage their students to use unexpected mediums, in this case their phones, students feel understood and validated.

This poetry writing strategy creates a win-win-win in the classroom. Students win because they are encouraged to use the tools in their pockets in productive ways. Teachers win because they will experience student engagement and the joy of writing to self-chosen ekphrastic prompts. And, poetry wins because words will be viewed through a new lens that encourages the sharing of personal perspective through poetry.

Further Reading:

Andy Schoenborn is an award-winning author and high school English teacher in Michigan at Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. He is a co-facilitator of the monthly #TeachWrite Twitter chat and first book, co-authored with Dr. Troy Hicks, Creating Confident Writers will be published on June 2, 2020. Follow him on Twitter @aschoenborn.

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