Yes, it is cliché, but now more than ever… less is more. And, what we want more of with our writers this school year has changed. Right now, many people find themselves wanting more student conversations, more students ideas, and more writing, but giving more doesn’t happen to be the solution to getting more in return from our writers. This is my objective this month: for writers to initiate more ideas and conversations without being bombarded with more text, questions, and pressure. Teaching is all about reaching others, and what a better way to do that than through simple art and simple words that anyone can relate to. Teaching is all about reaching others, and what a better way to do that than through simple art and simple words that anyone can relate to.
Where do your ideas come from? Where do any ideas come from for that matter? We do not pluck them from thin air–they are borne from the kernels and bits of ideas we gather through experience and exposure. And, an idea is not the same as an answer. This distinction is important to consider before moving into this month’s concept because, all too often, students are asked for answers instead of ideas. There is more pressure to be right than there is to learn. And, in a world with so many tech tools and innovative instructional ideas, it can be overwhelming for teachers to feel as if they must do ALL of it and use EVERYTHING. These are some fundamental issues that inspired me to create something minimal that has the potential to meet the needs of the writer without overstimulating and pressuring both the teacher and student.
- Expose students to influential thinkers
- Create leveled questions for increased student participation
- Initiate a conversation about artist’s and author‘s craft
- Spiral in essential skills and concepts
- Inspire meaningful student writing and generate ideas for any genre
- Discuss difficult issues and universal truths
SETTING OUR PURPOSE
To set our purpose for reading today, I include here a quote from the artist Ryan McArthur who created the posters used in these instructional materials: “[…] To this day, my approach to design remains the same – to create simple, clever and inspiring art that speaks to everyone.” Upon reading a little about him, it was apparent to me why I had gravitated to using these minimalist images and quotes for writing instruction.
My purpose, in creating these succinct activities for teachers, is to achieve the same purpose, demonstrate how these types of questions and ideas can be generated with other art and quotes, and hopefully inspire your own ideas of ways that students can be creating similar art with their own words of inspiration or universal truth.
While you read, feel free to stop to write to get a feel for how these activities might feel as a student. While drafting ideas, reflect on your own practices to consider ways in which you may be able to simplify something but maximize its purpose. If you already use mentor texts, consider ways in which you might be able to effectively utilize minimalist mentor texts and art in similar ways.
For simplicity sake, these activities have been named “Minimalist Quotes.” However, there is a plethora of skills, ideas, discussions, and writings that can be developed from the art and short quotes; I feel as if I have only scratched the surface but want to share these ideas for others to run with. We don’t need an entire article or passage in order to provide a meaningful mentor text for students. Instead, we can provide a quote with one or two quotes that includes a purposeful image in order to get students thinking and writing about ideas and craft.
Let’s take a look at this Einstein poster as an example of the types of leveled questions we can create using a minimalist quote with art and consider how we can use these to generate ideas and conversation in writing.
- What type of figurative language is being used?
- How does the simile add to the definition of life?
- How would this simile be different if life was compared to a motorcycle?
- In what ways do you find Einstein’s words to be true and in what ways do you find his words to be NOT true? Consider how this quote ties to your personal experiences.
- If riding a bicycle is like life, how would you compare other elements, objects, or experiences that come with riding a bike to life in this simile? (Think about the wind, the condition of the road, bike accessories, etc…?)
- The first sentence compares life to riding a bicycle. The second sentence uses an infinitive phrase. Rewrite both sentences with a new comparison for life. (Life is like ___________________. To __________ your ___________, you must __________.)
Now, I know these are, on the surface, just questions, but I want you to consider–not what the answers are to these questions–but what ideas can be generated by the conversational evolution of these questions. Consider these quotes as somewhat of a miniature mentor text that can be used to magnify the importance and effect of a specific set of literary devices while discussing universal topics. In additional to spiraling in the application of previously taught essential skills and terms, within these questions, I have also achieved other goals listed above.
ACROSS CONTENT POTENTIAL
These also have the potential to grow the writer within the context of other content areas. Students know who Einstein is, but in what capacity? I can hear a student right now, saying “E-mc2!“ with zero context or meaning. And, now, if I am a math teacher, perhaps I can establish him as more than that–as a thinker–and as someone who students may be more interested in learning something about. Not all of my questions would apply to the math classroom, but other questions could be generated for this image that apply to math, social studies, and science. I found these posters as a resource I could use, and I am sure there is much more out there to be discovered, but every content area has big thinkers and this idea of simple art paired with powerful words has the potential to reach students at a deeper level.
A part of my inspiration for using these posters for instructional purposes is that there are so many directions for a teacher or student to go. For instance, maybe similes and figurative language aren’t your current focus for your students, and instead you want to focus on the connection between an author’s background and the meaning behind the quote. And, of course, if there is a larger goal here, these minimalist quotes can be used to initiate a writing process for any genre. Currently, the images are being used in two capacities by the teachers I work with: Craft and Literary Purposes and Romeo & Juliet Thematic Connections. And, while the posters are all currently sorted in the manner, there are so many different thematic connections that can be made with other literature, including the independent reading students may be reading.
CREATING YOUR OWN MINIMALIST MENTOR ACTIVITIES
- Gather quotes that are minimalist or simplistic and pair with a simple image or piece of art. In my case, I found these already created by an artist online and there are many more out there that are simple yet powerful. Ideally, after using these creations on a semi-regular basis or integrating them into writing routines, these could be something that students can start creating with their own simple art and inspirations quotes.
- Generate questions that inspire ideas, initiate conversation, and reinforce skills. While drafting questions, here are some components I look for in each minimalist quote:
+ Sentence structure, purposeful punctuation, unique diction
+ Illustrations that add layers of meaning and purpose
+ Figurative language and literary devices
+ Universal truths and meaning open to interpretation
+ Grammatical nuances that influence meaning
- Consider utilizing a format in which students will feel free to share ideas. Keep in mind the purpose of these questions or tasks is not to require students to answer questions or complete a task on time. Instead, these questions are intended for students to discuss how different aspects of language come to together to create meaning. This means that the way that students answer these questions matter, and it is okay for them to not have an answer, contemplate and discuss, and then return to the question after having more time to sit with the idea. These are also great opportunities for independent writing and journaling that can be attached to independent reading, literature circles, or the literary canon. And, while pen-to-paper is a great way for students to process these ideas, in our current world, I find that these lend themselves quite nicely to choice boards and interactive notebooks, Jamboards, Peardecks, etc… or other digital tools you are already using in your in-person, virtual, or hybrid classroom.
- Initiate a conversation surrounding the quote, images, and skills. Consider these questions as more of talking points and less of answer-requiring questions because many of the questions can be crafted to embrace perspectives and be inclusive. Also consider, perhaps after using a few of these with students, showing the image and asking for students to generate questions and make observations prior to showing them the questions you have about the image.
- Create a flexible timeline for the students to generate ideas. Students don’t have to answer these questions immediately. In fact, asking them to think about a single quote for a week might yield higher level responses than if we ask them to generate ideas on the spot. And, if these quotes are really intended to focus on universal truths, there are ample opportunities for students and teachers to consider how the quote applies to their life and experiences. Our motive is to get students to think about ideas and not answers. Answers imply that we are done, but ideas are endless.
- Provide an extension opportunity for students to create a product. There are so many possibilities for ways that students can interpret powerful quotes and so many things that they could create as a way to express their ideas and perspective. And, the beauty of these minimalist quote examples is that they can be somehow connected to a multitude of content areas or writing genres. Not only could students use these models to write poetry, they could write expository or argumentative texts as well. They could write research essays as an extension of what they find interesting or narratives based on their experiences. There are endless possibilities.
- Anchor yourself in this mindset during the writing process:
You do because
they did and
Consider the meaning of these words as I leave you with you with this thought generated from one of the minimalist mentor texts and challenge you to rethink the “I do, you do, we do strategy” with these resources…
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Rumi
“Writing is really beautiful, but we insist on making it miserable.” – Me
“_____________ is really _________ , but we insist on making it _______________.” – You
The posters used in this post for instructional purposes were used with the permission of the artist Ryan McArthur of Design Different.
Click HERE to make a copies from the current Google Folder that includes templates of Google Docs, Slides, Peardecks, and Jamboards that have been created so far using these images. This folder is full of works in progress and is still being added to and developed. Check back for more creations or share your own creations with me on Twitter @StarianBlake or email me at email@example.com.
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