How to Teach Imagery

Imagery is a literary device that allows readers to develop a mental picture of what they're reading. Lessons should focus on ways to help your students recognize imagery as well as create mental pictures for their own writing samples. Writers often use all five senses when they incorporate imagery into their stories or poems, so you can encourage your students to expand their understanding of imagery beyond visual examples only.

The Five Senses

Explain to your class that imagery isn't just about sight; it involves all the senses. Briefly define the five different types of imagery -- visual (sight), auditory (sound), tactile (touch), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) -- and provide an example of each.

Write those five headings across the top of your white board or chalkboard. Ask your students to create their own school-related imagery examples, and have them write them on the board -- one at a time -- under the correct category.

Instruct them that funny examples are fine as long as they're appropriate for the classroom and aren't about teachers or students. For example, a student might write, "the school alarm blared like an army drill," under the "auditory" category, or "the smell of tuna casserole seeped into the classroom like a stink bomb," under the "olfactory" category.

Sound Recordings and Illustrations

Play a sound recording of the poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth aloud to your students. Discuss why Wordsworth likely chose those various examples of imagery, such as "golden daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze" and "continuous stars that stretched in a never-ending line."

For example, the images illustrate what a cloud might see during different times of the day or night and in varying geographical regions. Ask your students to comment on how the poem makes them feel -- their emotional reaction. Pass out drawing paper and colored pencils, and ask them to draw a picture of the images in Wordsworth's poem.

They can either focus on one specific scene, such as the daffodils, or combine the different scenes into one comprehensive drawing. Put the sound recording on "repeat" while your students draw. They may even memorize some of the lines.

Inspiring Photographs

Before class, find two or three powerful, visually appealing or inspirational images to show your class, such as a soldier parachuting with a military dog, a firefighter rescuing a child from a fire (not a graphic one) or a lion rescuing her cub on a cliff.

Ask your students to choose one of the photos and write a five-sentence paragraph or 10-line poem about the picture, including imagery in their writing. Instruct them to use descriptive adjectives, action verbs and similes or metaphors to articulate emotional elements in their stories or poems.

Encourage your students to incorporate a brief storyline about the photo -- rather than just describing the image -- to add flow and purpose to their writing.

Imagery in the Movies

Show high-school or college students the first 30 minutes of a visually inspiring movie, such as The Fellowship of the Ring -- the first movie in the Lord of the Rings series -- or show Charlotte's Web to younger students. Discuss how the director uses imagery to achieve a specific purpose or effect.

For example, images and descriptions of the shire in The Fellowship of the Ring help viewers feel warm, safe and welcome. Food imagery in Charlotte's Web helps watchers feel connected to the characters and relate to the farm setting. Pass out blank paper, markers and colored pencils, and ask your students to create imagery-filled movie posters for the film they viewed.

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