Collective Diary through Photography

In this post, I will share how I turned a unit on history, which most of my students -unfortunately- lack interest in, into a lesson that engages students actively in the learning process.

We use “Contemporary Topics 1” in B1 classes to improve the listening skills of the students through the listening practices it provides.

Unit 12 offers an opportunity for learners to expand their world knowledge by learning about Shakelton and the Endurance Expedition.

To engage students in the content of the lesson and give them a purpose to learn as much as they can about the topic, I designed an online collaborative writing homework by using the photos taken by Frank Hurley, who accompanied Shackleton on the Trans-Antarctic Expedition to record events.

In the warm-up, students explored the relevant vocabulary in the table below and made predictions about the topic of the lesson. The vocabulary below guided them to guess some of the details they were likely to learn in the lesson.

Students were shown some photos from the expedition and asked to describe them by using the words in the table.

Scrubbing out “The Ritz” Seen here from left to right: James M. Wordie (Geologist), Alfred Cheetham (Third Officer), and Dr. Alexander H. Macklin, Surgeon
Trapped in the Weddell Sea, desperate efforts were made to free the ship, these were of no avail, because the ice froze together as quickly as it could be cut away 14th February 1915
Trapped in the Weddell Sea, desperate efforts were made to free the ship, these were of no avail, because the ice froze together as quickly as it could be cut away 14th February 1915

Then, students shared their opinions about the crew on the expedition, and their occupations. Following that, they were asked to answer the question “What qualities would those people need for a successful trip?” guided through the photo below.

The crew of the Endurance following some severe haircuts
The crew of the Endurance following some severe haircuts

After that, students were ready enough to listen to the lecture video and do the listening practices in the book.

Completing the listening task in the lesson, students were assigned to complete the collaborative diary of the crew of the Endurance on the Trans-Antarctic Expedition on the google site. You can find the guidelines on the link.

In this follow up activity, their notes on the diary demonstrate that they could show some level of empathy with the crew locked in by ice.


Blackout Poem Maker

In one my previous posts, I mentioned how I integrate literary arts in the form of erasure poem in my both English and Turkish classrooms. Now that we have an idea of found poetry, erasure and blackout poems, I will introduce you to a new online tool “Blackout Poetry Maker“.

3 sample texts are available on the website to work on. We can also paste the text of our own choice on the box given. After that, we select the words that we want to keep. Then, click “black out.” We can save our poem as an image with a click on “Render Square”.

Text Source: Pride and Prejudice

We can ask our students to create their black out poems to practice the target language by considering some grammar objectives. We can ask them to have some specific structures learned in class such as Relative Clauses, Noun Clauses and Passive Voice. This activity also gives them the chance to practice vocabulary (word formation, collacations, adjectives and adverbs etc.) in a creative way.

Let me remind you the steps we follow while creating our blackout poems:

“In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we chose to put in, it is the things we chose to leave out.” -Kleon

Austin Kleon Blackout Poems


Ekphrastic Poetry/ Nazım Hikmet- Abidin Dino

Photo Source: Pintrest

I have explained Ekphrastic Poetry in my previous entry with the example of my English classroom. Following similar steps, I will now share how I use paintings to stimulate writing in my Turkish classroom.

They were students learning Turkish as a foreign language in B1 level.


I led students through the painting on the screen.

Photo Source:


I guided them through the questions (in Turkish) below:

  • What shapes do you see? Do they remind you of anything?
  • What colors do you see? How do these colors make you feel?
  • If you were living in the picture, what would you see around? What would you smell? What would you hear?


Then, I asked them to circle 5 words.



Students were ask to write a poem as a response to the painting by using the words circled.



They shared their poems with the class.

Upon completion of the activity, I introduced “Abidin Dino“, who is a well-known Turkish painter. Then, I shared some information about his painting “Long March” along with the ekphrastic poem written by one of the greatest Turkish poets, Nazım Hikmet.

“Bu adamlar Dino, 

Ellerinde ışık parçaları, 

Bu karanlıkta, Dino, 

Bu adamlar nereye gider? 

Sen de, ben de Dino 

Biz de, biz de Dino 

Gördük açık maviyi.? 

Nazım Hikmet, 1958

Overall, students found the lesson very engaging and gained confidence in their language skills when they saw they could even write a poem in Turkish. It was also very interesting to see how close one student’s poem was with the actual ekphrastic poem. Additionally, the lesson was effective in terms of sharing culture of the target language.

Ekphrastic Poetry/ Vincent van Gogh

How can art inspire writing in the classroom?

Photo Source: The Box Gallery

The word ekphrasis originates from Greek language and is mainly used in its adjective form “ekphrastic“.

Ekphrastic poetry can be defined as poems inspired by another work of art, generally paintings. It can also be considered a literary response to a non-literary work.

Example: Painter Joan Mitchell & Poet James Schuyler

Photo Source: Painters and Poet



And when I thought,
 “Our love might end”
the sun
 went right on shining.





You can find more examples of ekphrasis here.

Integrating the ekphrastic poetry, I designed an artful lesson to enhance creativity and expand intellectual knowledge of my students in my B1 level class. The content of the lesson was mainly focused on the world famous artist Van Gogh. (Because I realized that most of my students can’t recognize  some of the most popular art works of Van Gogh, who is one of the greatest painters of all times.)

I created a mini art exhibition by hanging most famous paintings (color print) by Van Gogh on the walls of the classroom with song “Vincent” by Don McLean in the background. The reason why I used this song was that Don McLean composed it about Van Gogh after reading his biography, and the lyrics reveals some details not only about him but also his paintings.


Step1: Introduce the paintings

When students entered the classroom, I gave each student the name of one painting on a piece of paper. Then, I asked them to post it on the right painting (match the title with the painting.) while looking at the paintings on the wall.

  • Wheatfield With Crows, 1890
  • The Potato Eaters, 1885
  • Bedroom In Arles, 1888
  • Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear, 1889
  • Cafe Terrace At Night, 1888
  • Sunflowers, 1888
  • The Starry Night, 1889
  • Red Vineyards at Arles, 1888

Step 2: Who is Van Gogh?

I prepared a set of information about Van Gogh and the paintings on the wall. I asked students to get one information paper from the desk and stick them below the relevant paintings. There was also a separate column for the specific information about Van Gogh.

You can also check this link for more facts about him at the preparation stage of the lesson.


  • There was another Vincent van Gogh before him – his brother who died during labor was given the same name.
  • Van Gogh only started painting at the relatively late age of 27 and was mostly self-taught.
  • During his lifetime, van Gogh created about 2,100 pieces of art, 860 of which were oil paintings. Most of them were done in the last 2 years of his life.
  • Because he couldn’t afford to pay models, van Gogh would initially paint flowers, landscapes, and himself. He painted over 30 self-portraits.
  • While he was alive, van Gogh only sold one painting, The Red Vineyard. He didn’t become famous until after he died.
  • There are many theories surrounding the van Gogh ear cutting incident.

Then, we sat in a circle to share what we learned about Van Gogh and his paintings. I guided them through some questions such as

  • When was Vincent born?
  • Which of his paintings did he made in the mental hospital?
  • How many paintings did he made in total? Did he sell them?


Step 3: Work on the lyrics


Students were given a paper with the lyrics of the song “Vincent” on it. They were asked to analyze it in connection with the paintings and information on the wall.



They could make some connections as below:

  • Flaming flowers: Sunflowers, 1888
  • Swirling clouds in violet haze: The Starry Night, 1889
  • Field of Amber Grain: Wheatfield With Crows, 1890
  • Weathered Faces: The Patato Eaters, 1885
  • You took your life, as lovers often do: His suicide
  • When no hope was left in sight: His suicide
  • This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you: His suicide
  • With eyes that know the darkness in my soul:  He suffered from mental illness
  • How you suffered for your sanity: He suffered from mental illness
  • Now I think I know what you tried to say to me: He became famous after his death.


LESSON 2: Ekphrasis! Poems inspired by paintings

Step 4: Free Writing

*This stage were designed to prepare students for the poem they would write in the next stage.

Students were asked to choose one painting to work on.

Then, they were given a handout with the instructions.

Handout: ART INTEGRATION- Vincent Van Gogh- Ekphrasis

While they were looking at the paintings, I facilitated the free writing process for my students through the questions below that encourage deep focus:

  • What do you see in the paintings? List them.
  • What color is the brightest/ faintest? What feelings can you associate these colors with?
  • If you were in the painting, what/who would you see around? What would you smell? What would you hear? How would the weather be like? How would you feel?
  • What about the season, month?
  • What else do you see? How do you describe them?
  • How would Vincent Van Gogh feel while painting it? Was he alone?

Completing free writing, they were asked to circle 5 words on it.


“It is a sunny day. Stars are shining. It will rain soon. So the air smells fresh like woods. The village is crowd but it has silence around. I think wind isn’t real. It is just like his imagination. Mountain is dark and deserted.”

“Looking at the stars makes me dreamy. Also, there is darkness that feel me a bit depressed. The most of the painting the painter use dark color. It shows the pessimism in the inner world of painter. There is a little bit light colors; yellow and white. It describes light in the dark showing hope inside of the painter. I think he contradict himself…”

Step 5: Ekphrasis

Students were explicitly introduced to the Ekphrastic Poetry and reminded about the connection between the Vincent song and the paintings.

They were asked to write a poem in response to the painting they chose by using the words they circled on their writing along with the instructions below:

Your poem can be about

  • the scene or the subject depicted in the painting
  • your experience of looking at the painting
  • how/why Van Gogh created this artwork

You can write your ekphrastic poem

  • by using your own voice
  • in the voice of Van Gogh
  • in the voice of the figures in the painting

In the end, they shared their ekphrastic poems with the class.

“These are stars in the darkness
My hopes are useless
Painter uses lots of colors
The world without you is meaningless.”


“In the dark shadow of the windy nights
Tears clouded my eyes.
I had a vivid dream of you
that you died.
I looked at you in silence
and remembered;
We always lived in the stars of the starry night.”


*After the lesson, students were suggested to watch the fully-painted animated biographical drama movie “Loving Vincent” about the life of Van Gogh.

♥ I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Brown University Sheridan Center for the workshop ” Ways of Looking III: Teaching Writing through Art” held in the RISD Museum for the inspiration.


Mindmeister is an alternative mind mapping tool for us to organize ideas and concepts visually. Because it allows real time collaboration, students can brainstorm and put the input together on the map, and simplify complex structures collaboratively.

Even if the free plan offers very limited features, we can design modern visual maps through the basic functions.

You can also check out the tutorial to create your first mind map!









MINDOMO is a simple-to-use mind mapping tool we can use to visualize thoughts and concepts.

We can use Mindomo

  • to illustrate the steps of a project with details on Mindmodo and simply share it through the link or email with our students.
  • to create mind maps for brainstorming, essay planning, summarizing main ideas in a text etc.
  • to encourage collaboration. Students can work on the same map simultaneously, and discuss in the chat section on the map. We can also provide them with instant feedback.
  • for individual or group assignments for students to build mind maps. It provides templates, realtime feedback, revision history and grading mechanism.



When we like a content on the internet and want to turn it into a teaching material, PrintWhatYouLike is a great tool that helps us create a PDF or HTML (and print outs) by removing parts of the page we don’t want such as images, background and the ads.

It doesn’t require a log in. We simply copy/paste the link of the website and start working on the website snapshot and customize the new look of the page through the given edit tools.


Stinto is a tool for us to create instant chats. When we create our chat room, we invite our students by sharing the link. I personally don’t use whatsapp groups, but Stinto is a good alternative for instant messaging when needed.

It is very user-friendly and serves the purpose. What I also like about it is that the content of the conversation will be deleted automatically after a while.


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