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There is a joy in publishing your own written piece that few ever experience. In Mrs. Elton’s class, however, it’s something that transpires with faithful regularity.

Mrs. Elton teaches Illustrative Writing, a class where students blend both artistic and literary components into books. The class acts as an intervention during literacy time and is an extension for students who’ve mastered content to deepen learning and hone writing skills through an art component. Before viewing the books, one might wonder how illustration and art enhance a narrative. After reading, it’s apparent that the art not only enriches the story, but can act as a nucleus for the story components to orbit, conjoin and collect into a more cohesive story. 

Mrs. Elton shared more than a half dozen stuffed manila envelopes containing an eclectic collection of colorful books and booklets. One envelope carried bestiaries, in which the students researched an animal, wrote details and facts on their given animal supplemented with an image of the animal’s eye, and the next page revealed the animal in an illustration of the animal’s body. Another envelope held pop-up books from October, each book capturing the details of one important scene from their Halloween-themed narrative.

The illustrated narratives demonstrate several advanced writing techniques leveraged through the student’s art. One such example is The Cougar and the Forest by Eva Sotelo that details a cougar’s dream in which the cougar’s deceased parents ask the cougar to journey into the forest to find them. When the cougar goes on their forest quest, the cougar fails to discover their parents. Instead, the protagonist meets another cougar, mates with that cougar for life, and gives birth to a set of cubs– cyclically finding their parents symbolically by marrying another and becoming a parent themselves. This surprisingly parabolic and layered story stemmed from the artwork first, allowing Eva to inspire herself with scenes and images. The practice is not regularly used in the Illustrative Writing class, but in this case, creating the art before writing offered an opportunity to create a rich story.

Plotting, theme, setting, and other elements fall into place through each lesson in the unit, but starting with a specific genre, art, or booklet prompt opens new windows for narrative writing and lets in light from other disciplines to color the narrative. The result is a story with a more genuine voice, something most writing teachers consider a Herculean task to teach.

One such story came from Tayler Lewis, who wrote about their parent’s first date, subsequent relationship, and eventual life as a married couple. The narrator characterizes their dad as an anxious goofball who tripped up the front patio before his first date, using amusing quotes from their father to enliven the story. The text utilizes visual imagery and clear spatial awareness, and scenes are organized in a non-linear fashion to tell a more compelling story. But perhaps most significantly, the story has voice. The district covered this story before, and you can find it here.

You can clearly sense each student’s personality in the work. Creating art allows students to visualize and organize the story and its scenes, inspire their narratives’ theme and tone, use specific details, and other useful writing techniques, surely. But it’s one thing to teach students skills in crafting a narrative, and it’s another to aid students as they find their voice.  In Mrs. Elton’s class, however, it’s something that transpires with faithful regularity.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei