What a Picture’s Worth


Time and UmbrellaWhen I was a kid, a vis­it from my Texas grand­par­ents guar­an­teed hori­zon-expand­ing experiences.

For one thing, we were exposed to food choic­es not com­mon to our lit­tle house in Minnesota’s north woods. I’m not talk­ing about chili — my Tex­an father cooked that all the time. I’m talk­ing about Grand­ma drink­ing hot Dr. Pep­per instead of cof­fee. And Grand­pa slather­ing peanut but­ter on his hamburgers.

From the van­tage point of our small town, these out­landish approach­es to famil­iar food­stuffs con­vinced me that the wider world held unimag­ined pos­si­bil­i­ties: appar­ent­ly even peanut but­ter could be made strange and excit­ng, if expe­ri­enced some­where glam­orous like Texas.

Anoth­er ele­ment of my grand­par­ents’ vis­its was Night at the Movies. We’d crowd togeth­er on the couch, the lights would dim, and then we’d have: the slideshows, the director’s cut ver­sions of every road trip my grand­par­ents had recent­ly ven­tured upon. I’d see cap­tured images of exot­ic places like Okla­homa or Mis­souri, and I’d mar­vel at how much world was out there wait­ing for me. Those pho­tos were enough to inspire me to grand imaginings.

Pho­tos are also a per­fect way to trig­ger writ­ing road trips. Cre­ate a col­lec­tion of quirky or out­landish images (like the one of mine at the top of this page, which you are free to use). Sort through your own pho­tos, or take a local road trip with your cam­era in hand, or ven­ture online to track them down. My writer friend Lau­ra Pur­die Salas posts a new writ­ing-prompt pho­to on her blog every Thurs­day morn­ing. Once you’ve col­lect­ed your pho­tos, hand them around your class­room, let­ting stu­dents pull out the one that most intrigues them. Then ask them to write a poem or start a sto­ry based on what­ev­er the image inspires in them. Some­times, you’ll find, a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words.

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