Friday, March 16, 2012

Use Images to Start Kids Thinking

A great way to get kids thinking is to offer them the chance to play with words and images. I've riffed on this theme several times here at The Book Chook. Today I want to suggest a simple project that nevertheless involves kids in research, reading, decision making, going beyond superficiality and delving into meaning (perhaps), and communicating a message to an audience. It touches on many aspects of visual literacy, particularly if we stay alert to opportunities to get kids thinking about what they see. It's also crucial to encourage children to think about how they can get their message across to others.

The project is to choose a quote and illustrate it. Yes, I told you it's simple. Having kids think about quotes and explain their meanings is an excellent discussion starter. Going a step further, to collect quotes and illustrate them, makes a great digital project. It's handy if teachers have a short period available on the computer, or perhaps for early finishers in the classroom. But it can also be done at home, or using pencil and paper, or photographs and lettering.

Mostly I'll focus on the digital. Where can we find images that are free and legal for kids to use? What resources are available to combine images and words? And where do we find quotes for children to use in such a project?

1. Image websites

These are some of the sites I use to find free clip art and photos that are made available under a license meaning we can legally use them. You and your kids always need to check an image's license to be sure it's legal to use it. Some licenses require attribution; others don't.

Wikimedia Commons: Repository of lots of public domain images which means they are out of copyright and able to be used. Some images are just free. Always check though, license should be under the image. Searchable - see top right search box.

Morguefile: Free even for commercial use. Searchable. No need for attribution, but courtesy to give it anyway.

Philip Martin Clip Art: Free for non-profit use, and lots of educational clipart. I love his cartoonish and colourful style.

Picnik: Picnik is not only an image editor, but has quite a lot of clip art available for use in your Picnik projects. Recently Google bought Picnik and decided to discontinue it, BUT it's available still through Google +.

2. Resources for combining words and images

All of the resources listed here are good places to go if you want to combine words and images. You may have software available that you prefer, and of course, Photoshop is the Rolls Royce of image editing. However, chooks prefer to keep it simple. At these websites kids can learn to upload an image, and add text to it.

Picnik: I discussed Picnik in Play with Words and Images at Picnik
Pizap: I discussed Pizap in Play with Words and Images at Pizap
Big Huge Labs Motivator: I discussed Motivator in Book Chook Favourites - Making Posters
Iaza: I discussed Iaza in Visual Literacy - Play with Images at Iaza

3. Quote websites

There are stacks of quotation websites online. Google "quotes" and your preferred subject, and you will get pages of hits. Some have ads, so be sure to supervise your child and check websites first. Here are two I found:

Wisdom Quotes

My Inspirational Quotes - Kids

Children should look long enough to find a quote that resonates with them. Perhaps they'll choose: "It is not the gift, but the thought that counts." (Henry Van Dyke) They might need help teasing out how best to illustrate that quote, or they might choose just to type it onto a plain background. With the Van Dyke quote for instance, it may help them to think of an instance where the quote would be exaggerated, or try for a play on words. Is one animal getting a gift that would be really no use to him? An elephant might get a luggage type of trunk from his friend, but still be glad of the thought. A mother might be secretly appalled by the mess produced by the making of a gift, yet love the thought behind it.

Some online quote collections may not be accurate, so consider triple checking with other sources. Or look inside your own books, your Bible, or Dictionary of Quotations and Proverbs. Song lyrics and poetry can contain treasure too. I think it's important to attribute the source of a quote if possible, so encourage kids who are making quote collections to remember to record the origin of their quotes.

Once children have chosen a quote, they need to think more about illustrating it. Can they find an appropriate photo or piece of clipart? Should they create a diagram, or a map, or a flow chart? Would a comic or cartoon convey the meaning best? What sort of font will best suit the subject matter? Younger children will stick with the literal meaning, but older kids will delve deeper into meaning. Can they use editing effects to create a mood to match their quotes and images?

You and your kids can play with the project and come up with variations. Instead of a quote, challenge kids to come up with a way to illustrate and communicate the meaning of abstract nouns like "optimism" or "fear". Or find an image, and create a caption that goes with it to make viewers laugh or pause for thought. So many thinking skills being developed and so much fun being had!

The finished product could be printed out. It would make a wonderful class project and the results could be made into a slideshow and embedded on a class blog.

Here are some quotes I liked :
No one is perfect – that’s why pencils have erasers. ~ Author Unknown I think drawing a pencil topped by an eraser would be within my scope as an artist, and I know kids could draw some kind of extremely imperfect individual wielding it!

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. ~ Walt Disney Find my illustrated quote third from top.

Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. ~ Robert Heinlein Find my illustrated quote at top.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. ~ Frederick Douglass Find my illustrated quote second from top.

Here are some more articles you might like:
Visual Literacy Activities with Online Resources, Visual Literacy Activities with Children's Picture Books, Book Chook Favourites - Playing with Words and Pictures.

Image credits:
1. BookChook filled Skitch with colour, added clipart and text at Picnik.
2 Wikimedia Commons Text added at Picnik
3. Wikimedia Commons Text and frame added at Picnik.


  1. Great article- I love this concept and uncanny timing- BabyG has been asking me 'who is the illustrator?' with every book we read lately, and last night after drawing a picture asked me how to spell illustrated by ...and added it to her picture!

  2. @Green Mama Sounds like we have an author/illustrator in the making!


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