Back to Blog

More Than Words Can Describe

csp ela poetry resources social emotional learning Dec 19, 2019

This blog post is straight from our classrooms!

From Roberto:

A couple of weeks ago, I used writing to promote some social-emotional learning with students while fostering community in the class. I used a picture from the New York Times publication titled “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” You can see the image by clicking the link above and finding image #9. 

What I want to share is what I did with this class and how it’s inspired us to go beyond the lesson itself. I began by sharing the picture, projecting it on our whiteboard. I asked the students to take several minutes to examine each of the 40 photos. After, each student selected a different image that resonated with them and explained why. The original question that was posed in the article was, “What’s going on in this picture?” I emphasized the fact that we can all view the same photo yet offer varying interpretations. The diversity of perspectives helps enrich our dialogue, which is important because every voice matters in my classroom. 

There are various social-emotional skills that students should be developing. Two of those competencies are self-awareness and social awareness and this activity touch upon those two, in particular. Given the nature of some of the pictures, the students’ writing revealed empathy, thoughtfulness, depth, and tenderness. Through our discussion, we talked about noticing and relating to others. We talked about learning more about ourselves, understanding cultures, and thinking about our beliefs. So much going on! 

Finally, after the lesson and the sharing of our insights, I continued my own writing. The students inspired me and I created the poem you see below, “More Than Words Can Describe.” Underneath the poem, Lorena offers us ways you can use the poem and the image in your class. 

More Than Words Can Describe by Roberto Germán

Rubble decorates the environment

Reminding the community of ruins

Not so ancient 

Traumatic stages don’t await

They’re fully awake 

Trying to refrain from yawning cause there’s smoke in the air 

No cigarettes 

This is a vignette with borders

For the money, power, respect, and terrain 

We’ll treat one another inhumanely and frame it as an act of love

Which begs the question, “When is enough enough?”

How many buildings have to collapse

For us to react with the type of compassion that can’t be held back?

Held knees on the somersault help hit the landing 

As the ground shakes simultaneously 

Stirred emotions live within open-wound peace treaties 

Peace retreats like, “Please, there was never peace!”

Who will piece these buildings back together?

Bodily pieces scattered

But since privilege clouds perception 

It’s mind over matter 

Jedi mind tricks like… it really doesn’t matter 

No matter what your heart tells you 

Your heart will fail you 

The truth smells rotten 

And everyone thinks they’ve got it

Until the truth reveals something about themselves that they’ve forgotten 

Short-term memories get moved to the margins like those we view as “the other”

And it’s back to the business of cruel and unusual punishment 

In the form of willful neglect 

So selective in regards to the social justice issues we choose to address

This whole thing’s a mess

And yet… there’s joy

Hard to comprehend the casual posture of the boy

Or the seemingly enthusiastic young man

Highlighting the complexities of being a human

So what’s going on in this picture?

More than words can describe


From Lorena:

While I encourage you to consider doing the same activity Roberto did, using this poem and image with students can be a good idea for different reasons. Below are some potential tasks and academic exercises you can take on with students. 

Task 1- In partners, students can select a line from the poem that would be a great caption for the image. They can present their idea to the class and explain why by answering questions such as: how does that line highlight the picture in a unique way? Does the line you chose help us to understand or call us to imagine? 

Task 2- Students can discuss how the poem might offer insight or a new point of view. Here, you can help them see how the photographer may have had a purpose in this image, but the message can shift based on the reader/viewer. You can engage here in a conversation about the author’s purpose and effectiveness of a message. 

Task 3- Discuss how poetry and image go hand in hand to express thoughts, emotions, and speak to social causes. There is something to be said about two mediums that either uses no words (photography) or minimal words (poetry) to convey a message. Discuss with students: how does this poem pull out (metaphorical) words from this picture? What are all the words you would use to explore the emotions in this picture? 

Helping students to develop social-emotional competencies is very important, as you know, and writing/literacy is a great avenue for that. Our work with families and young people in extracurricular settings always involved the presence of poetry. Adding visual literacy to the skill set is a plus. We hope you use this poem and the picture (see link above, image #9) in your class with students. Share with us how it goes!

Don't miss a beat!

Get our blog delivered to your email whenever we post!

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.