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Verbs & Nouns: The Art of Storytelling
by Debi West
Let’s be honest, there is nothing more important in education than literacy. Kids must learn how to read and write to be successful in life.
Over the years, I have found that one of the best ways to teach and reiterate literacy concepts is through the visual arts! And, it’s an exceptional prompt for my advanced art students.
I believe a strong visual artwork tells a story, inviting the viewer in to explore the imagery. I remind my students of this daily. So, what better way to get them into the visual storytelling mode than through the art of storytelling, specifically through verbs and nouns?
I introduce this lesson by reading a short story to my students and then sharing several images of master art works with them. I ask them to consider the imagery before them and to think about which of the images goes best with the story.
They love this activity and it gets them thinking creatively and motivates them for the final project. They often agree to disagree, and that makes for a very exciting class as well. By having students discuss the story and the images, they are already thinking critically about the art of storytelling.
I then have students actually write a short story of their own. The story can be an autobiography, a memoir, fiction, surreal, but it must be full of verbs, nouns and adjectives so that it paints a tale that will ultimately keep a viewer “reading” and fully engaged. The story is completely up to them and they are urged to be as creative as possible.
Once the stories have been written, I have them circle the verbs and nouns they used and use these words as their prompts. When they have a list of verbs and nouns, they begin to brainstorm the imagery that will flow with these words.
It’s truly wonderful to see them dig deep and find portions of their stories to illustrate, and often what they end up with in their final piece is only a small part of their whole story. They realize that when a story is attached to an artwork, it gives it more meaning and relevance, keeping viewers more engaged. As artists, that should be a constant goal.
I love this lesson because it’s open ended and very choice based. Students have full ownership over their narratives so their art is completely personal. Therefore, I allow them to use surface areas, size and media of their choice, which helps them, illustrate the verbs and/or nouns they have selected. The final works are nothing short of spectacular and often can become the basis for their concentration work.
I have done several variations of this lesson and am excited to share another one with you next month!
Next Up: “Poetry & Song Lyrics.”
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A&A Contributing Editor Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, was an art educator and department chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. She is now involved with her two businesses, WESTpectations Educational Consulting and Crystal Collage Children’s Art Studio in Suwanee.