Project-Based Learning Idea: Students Build Photo-Poems

Thanks to the electronic revolution, graphic images surround us. No matter where you turn, a constant bombardment of posters, billboards, photographs, televised images, and more seems to assault your retinas. Seen from one point of view, this flood of images can easily overpower the senses. But from another point of view, the same images can be used to inspire writing both in and out of the classroom.

Example Of A Photo-Poem

Here’s a powerful example of a poem-photo combination that can inspire unlimited possibilities for writing. In the poem “Skateboarding” by Massbay College student Rose Scherlis, colorful images swirl and converge until the world blurs and the skater’s mind becomes receptive to new ideas. The swirling lines and shapes in the accompanying photo add to the effect:

skateboard photo poem


Sometimes I glide, soar, weave
Duck under heavy, mournful branches
Decorated in fragile autumn leaves
Like so many brilliant orange faeries
Until I reach my destination:
An abandoned bridge to read under,
A coffee shop or candy shop,
Or just an empty lot to carve across
Sometimes I skate
As fast as I possibly can
Until the world blurs into a colorful blend
Of distractions, possibilities, ideas.
Until day turns to night,
Sunsets sparkle across the horizon like
Vivid necklaces of pink and red.
Until I lose track of time,
Lose track of myself.
Sometimes I skate.

This photo-poem combination suggests any number of writing possibilities. Some aspiring authors may want to describe one of their own favorite activities. Others may develop compositions in which they discuss a “journey” similar to the one Scherlis describes in her poem. Still others may choose to analyze the poem in terms of its colorful images, structure, and theme.

First published in Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing (Prufrock Press, 2013), “Skateboarding” is accompanied by four keywords and a direct quotation designed to inspire writing. The keywords Motion, Action, Confusion, Forgetting, suggest additional writing possibilities. The direct quotation by Tony Hawk leads to even more writing opportunities for sports minded students. “These sports are just—you go do it, and you’re doing it on your own. You don’t have to answer to anyone.”

A veteran of the Korean War, Hank Kellner is a retired educator who has served as an English Department chairperson at the high school level and an adjunct Associate Professor of English at the community college level. Born in New York City, Kellner now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Visit his blog at Visit Prufrock Press at


  1. Dai Barnes

    April 24, 2013 at 7:44 am

    is it possible to write a poem only with images? no words?

    • Hank Kellner

      April 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Yes, it is possible to use only photos (images) as inspiration for writing.

  2. Rochelle Garfinkel

    April 24, 2013 at 10:58 am

    There is a great website for students to do just this:
    I have seen some amazing student poems inspired by the photos that are in the piclits gallery.

  3. Ray Tolley

    April 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Although this may be a wonderful project for individuals, it hardly matches up to what PBL is all about. Pictures used as a means of inspiring creative writing are a well-known resource and have been used for decades if not centuries. PBL is about presenting challenges to our pupils where the outcome or the resources used cannot be pre-determined. Where is the group dynamic, the feedback, the altenative solutions, the evaluation or the suggestions for further study or application? I have curated a number of PBL documents on my! site.