June 19, 2014

Three Steps to Using Art as a Visual Writing Prompt

Knights, dragons, queens and wizards… all the making of a great story.  The illustration Knight Time utilizes all of these details- and more- to inspire creative writing.  Visual writing prompts should be dynamic and intriguing, something clip art can not do.

Using the three step process outlined below, all students can achieve success in their verbal communication skills as well as their critical thinking skills. Using art as visual writing prompts allows children to analyze, judge and inference from the image. Let’s get started.

Below is the printed illustration of the writing prompt. If you would rather a video version, with corresponding critical thinking graphic organizers, click here.

Step 1: Observe- the Art of Seeing

Knight Time Writing Prompt

©2012 Denise M. Cassano, Knight Time Writing Prompt



Carefully look at the image and search for details and record what you see- color, time of day, characters, facial expressions, actions, setting, etc.  I used these questions to get my students to look carefully at the illustration.

  • What shapes do you see? Do they remind you of anything?
  • What colors do you see? How do those colors make you feel?
    Knight Time, detail Denise M. Cassano

    Knight Time, detail Denise M. Cassano

  • What patterns do you see? How are they made?
  • Do you see any unusual textures? What do they represent?
  • What is the focal point of the image? How did the artist bring your attention to the focal point?
  • How did the artist create the illusion of space in the image?
  • If you were living in the picture and could look all around you, what would you see? smell? hear?

Step 2: Interpret– Analyze What You Have Experienced

Students now analyze what they see by making inferences from the image.  All of these inferences must be backed up by rational arguments based on details in the image.  It is important for students to be able to talk to each other about the image. They often have different opinions and it’s fascinating to hear their arguments.  I used theses questions guide the conversation.

  • Most stories have good characters and evil ones.  Which characters are the evil ones and why?
    Knight Time, detail, Visual Writing Prompt

    Knight Time, detail Denise M. Cassano

  • There are many symbols on the towers. Who or what do they represent?
  • There is a green sphere above the gargoyle on the tower? What does it do and how does it relate to the story?
  • Are there any symbols on the horse that give you clues to what the story is about?
  • Who or what is flying in the sky? How do they fit into the story?
  • Where does this scene take place? On Earth? On another planet? What clues lead you to this idea?
  • If we could see further down the image, what would the land look like at the base of the towers?
  • Are there any characters there? What are they doing?

Step 3: Create– Art and Writing

art and writing prompt

The Last Spell, Sarah P.

After students analyze and discuss the image, it is important that students make art before they write their story.  Most teachers feel they do not have enough time, trust me, make the time.  It is from their image that they a have a resource to get details, texture, time and place, setting, characters, etc. for their writing. Instead of thinking of what the story should be, they have a visual right in front of them from which to write from. One requirement was that they had to change the camera angle. They also had to add a new character to the scene.

The challenge for this lesson was to write and illustrate the next scene, after analyzing the initial image.  In the example here from Sarah, she drew a detailed wizard, a dragon, a podium with many details and textures on most surfaces. She drew her picture first, and you can see how she references the visuals in her story

Her story was wonderful- it was chock full of visual details that made the scene come to life.

The wizard’s breath quickened its pace as his thick, heavy blue robe dragged him down.  He was not fit for running, you could tell by merely glancing at his silvery hair that whisked around his aging face.  The full moon shone brightly in the dark blanket of night.  Today was the only day to get rid of those creatures, the prophecy had promised.  Rough cold stone met the bottom of his curly toe shoes.  It was now or never.  The wizard had been preparing his entire life for this moment, he thought as he glanced down at his book chest in the corner of the room.  His magical scepter gleaned in the moonlight as he raised it.  The wizard charged towards the pointy scaled dragon, loudly chanting his spells.  The hot breath of the dragon touched his face right before the last spell was cast. -Sarah

You can see the direct connection between the descriptive words she used in her story and the textures and details in her drawing.  Her story would not be this vibrant if she made the illustration after the written story.

There are many ways students can react to visual writing prompts.

This was just one very successful way to use art in the classroom.  Here are some other ways students can use art in the classroom to encourage critical thinking and creative writing:

  • imagine the previous scene from the image
  • predict the next scene; draw conclusions based on the story
  • design a story based on the details from the image
  • synthesize various perspectives to formulate opinions
  • create new characters and setting for further stories
  • predict what is happening outside of the image
  • evaluate the hypothesis of others
  • critique story ideas
  • make inferences from the details in the image
  • sequence order of events
  • write from the perspective of a character in the image
  • recognize relationships between elements in the image
  • compare and contrast different opinions of the story
  • explain the significance of details in the picture
  • organize a sequence of events for the story
  • compare unique qualities of characters
  • attribute characteristics to the people in the image
  • relate image to things students are familiar with
  • develop titles for the images
  • apply previous knowledge to determine meaning
  • explain the time of day, mood and location of the image
  • apply vocabulary and integrate it into the story
  • incorporate a given sentence into the story
  • summarize feelings about the image
  • be able to verbalize feelings and perspectives
  • explain position using logic and reason
  • explain cause and effect of actions in the image
  • describe what is in the image
  • locate patterns, identify images
  • list colors, shapes and patterns
  • identify characters


Are you ready to try this?

You may want to see my Crossroads Story Starter– a dark, ambiguous image that encourages discussion about fear and making decisions.


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