Thinking Visually: Keyword Searches and Images



In our world today, the modes through which we receive and transmit information are no longer limited to print on a page. Television has been in our homes and influencing society for decades. Photography goes back even further with hundreds of years of influence on human lives! Today, there are ebooks, apps, icons, videos, augmented reality, and the list of new literacies continues to grow rapidly. With the emergence of these 'other' literacies, I had to ask myself, how are we teaching or reflecting them in our curriculum? Are we preparing students to be literate in the 21st century?

I have heard Alan November speak on several occasions about how the skill of 'Googling' was becoming more and more relevant, yet, not many of know the intricacies behind honing and defining a search. There is also increasing buzz about visual literacy because we live in such a media rich and visually enhanced world. Taking these two pieces, I decided I could build a few lessons around understanding how to develop a keyword or keywords when doing an image search.

My next step was to see if I could integrate this into the curriculum somehow, and I found the perfect connection with the first grade reading unit on character study. In this unit, students read character series books in order to learn more and get an in depth understanding of a particular character. Some examples of these series are Fly Guy, Biscuit, and Little Critter.

I knew that I would have to develop the concept beginning from the character and build it into a visual which would then trigger an appropriate word or words to type in for a search. The first grade students have used Haiku Deck before for a science activity on Solids and Liquids, so it was the perfect tool to use again. I broke everything up into three parts:

Part 1: Descriptive Word Mind Map

To begin this process I had the students create a mind map using Popplet. Each student focused on a character that they were studying that week. Initially they were asked to brainstorm as many descriptive words as they could about that character. It could have to do with the character's personality, abilities, or physical appearance. I gave them about 10 minutes to do that, then we came back and I told them I wanted them to then think of a quick image or symbol that could illustrate each word. By expanding mind map from each word, students then drew a sketch of a visual that they though could represent that word. I had to talk to them about thinking just about the word itself and not just about the words in the context of the character. This was difficult for some, but teachers sat with these students in small groups and guided them through the process. Here are a few examples of the final product.





Part 2: Planning a Photo Story

This part was completely unplugged. I printed out a storyboard so students could use it to plan what photo they wanted to search for on each slide. They had their Popplets so they could remember what they said about their character and the image they drew. In my introduction to this part I showed them Haiku Deck and what they would be doing the following lesson. This way they would get an understanding that they were NOT searching for photos of their characters. I also talked about how most likely they wouldn't find photos of their characters in Haiku Deck, so we would have to look for photos that illustrated our characters' traits. Students had to think about and do the following things:

  • If you were going to look for a photo to show this word, what would it be a photo of? Draw a sketch of it

  • What word or words do you think you could type in to find that image? Write it in the orange box

  • Finish the slide by writing a sentence about your character that matches the image.**

** I actually had the students focus on the first two bullet points first, then come back and write their sentences to avoid confusion.

Here is the sheet I made:

Haiku Deck keyword storyboard

Haiku Deck keyword storyboard

[wpdm_package id='1021']

Some examples of keywords students came up with when thinking about their character descriptions were:

  • Smart: Brain or light bulb

  • Kind: Heart/s

  • Brave: Superhero

  • Funny: Clown or laughing

  • Messy: Trash or messy room

  • Strong: Muscles

  • Cute: Puppy, kitten, or baby

Part 3: Searching for Photos and Making Choices

Before I showed the students how to use their plan to search for images, I had them all create a title page on Haiku Deck and then told them we were going to leave the background empty. This is where I worked in a short discussion about copyright and our school value of 'Respect'. I led into the discussion by talking about all the wonderful books we have in the classrooms and at home, and how we came to own these book: we BOUGHT them. This was a great way for students to understand that authors and illustrators create beautiful books as a profession, so we pay money to get a copy, we don't take it for free. I explained to the students that the illustration of our book characters belong to the creators, and we show respect by not using those images without asking permission first, and sometimes we may even need to pay money to use the image. Since there are so many first graders, it is easiest to just leave our cover pages empty.

Moving onto the meat of this particular lesson, we then reviewed the Haiku Deck platform together and I taught them two things about doing a search online:

  • Technology isn't as smart as we are, so sometimes, we won't get the results we want. When this happens we need to think of synonyms or alternative words to type in to find the image we want.

  • Sometimes we will get images in our search results that don't always match what we are looking for. It is important to think about which picture makes the most sense and can convey the meaning that we want.

**NOTE: I corrected the spelling of the keyword/s before this lesson and spoke briefly about how the search engine can't find what you're looking for if it can't read the word.

Here are some finished photo stories:

Uly - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Max - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Lauren - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires


I met with the first grade team after these lessons and what we thought would work better next year is if we combined the Popplet lesson with the storyboard lesson. This way students could transfer their thinking directly onto a plan after creating their mind map. We found that the time gap between lessons made it difficult for some students to remember their thinking during their brainstorm even if they had the Popplet in front of them. We would lessen the number of descriptive words they would put into their mind map and move straight into the plan of the slides. Students who worked faster could plan more slides.

The other thing we decided would help was extending the Haiku Deck lesson by encouraging students to go back after they finished all their slides and find places to extend by adding the word 'because'. This would not work with physical attributes but it would work with any words describing the character's personality. This could then support the work they were doing in Writing Workshop on extending sentences and adding details.

Could you see doing something similar in your setting? What would you change, add, or edit?