Sammamish students use photography to spark writing ideas

June 21, 2011

By Christopher Huber

Manisha Tirumalai, left, created her own interpretation of a Norman Rockwell scene for a writing prompt. Photo by Manisha Tirumalai

Cole Penz looked to the sky as the snow fell in his self portrait photo made for the “Best of Me” photo-writing project. Photo by Cole Penz

Fourth-grader Luke Boyer really didn’t like to write when he entered Lynette Springborn’s class at Cascade Ridge Elementary School last fall. He wasn’t bad at it. He just couldn’t find inspiration when given a writing prompt.

“He was always stuck,” Springborn said.

But when Springborn introduced writing assignments that incorporated digital cameras, Luke and many of his classmates became hooked.

“Photos really help us visualize what we’re writing about,” Luke said June 14. “To have that one slice (of life) in one click, that’s amazing.”

Springborn’s fourth-graders took their own photographs to inspire their writing exercises throughout the school year. Not only did it inspire more students to engage in the creative writing process, it taught them a little about the art of photography.

“We didn’t have much boundaries,” Luke said. “We got to be incredibly creative. It helped us become better writers.”

The entire project came to fruition thanks to a grant from the Cascade Ridge PTA, which purchased about 30 cameras for all grade levels to use.

“I really got to express myself,” said Monsi Pingili. Her favorite photograph was the one she made for the “Best Part of Me” assignment. She took a picture of her eyes. But she said she also appreciated the challenge of “Day in the Life,” in which students had to set up and take six photos of everyday things they did.

“It gave me a lot of material to write about,” she said.

The idea came to Springborn, an avid photographer, while figuring out what was missing in her writing curriculum last year, she said.

She asked, “What can I do to inspire them?”

With a class set of Lumix digital cameras, each of the roughly 30 students got to take one home on weekends to explore and make photographs. To fully engage in the process, Springborn required the students to do the picture-taking themselves, unless, that is, they were in the photo, in which case a parent could click the shutter release button. Otherwise, the students had to compose or direct every photo, she said.

“They needed inspiration to become true writers,” Springborn said. “When they own it, they fly. It’s just really opens up a lot of avenues of writing.”

For one assignment in the fall, Luke photographed his favorite pair of shoes, which he had worn while touring New York City, he said. He wrote from their perspective and included details and observations one might otherwise neglect if not looking at a photo.

“It was so neat, it gave me goosebumps,” Springborn said. “It just added that extra pizzazz to his writing.”

Parents praised the efforts to keep the youth interested on multiple levels. Having a camera in hand with an open-ended theme in mind, the students expressed freely, rather than thinking of a “right answer.”

Chrisann Penz noted her son Cole’s enthusiasm for the tasks all year.

“Every time he came home with an assignment, he was excited about it,” Penz said.

Springborn said she is developing a fifth-grade curriculum for the project and hopes the idea will spread to the rest of Cascade Ridge.

“Everyone in all schools could have fun with it,” Pingili said.

Reporter Christopher Huber can be reached at 392-6434, ext. 242, or

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2 Responses to “Sammamish students use photography to spark writing ideas”

  1. Laura Fortner on June 22nd, 2011 5:09 pm

    My daughter was in this 4th grade class and she had a wonderful experience with the cameras. Mrs. Springborn is an incredibly creative teacher who knows how to bring out the best in her “kiddos”, as she calls them. Thanks for the nice article!

  2. tommy on November 7th, 2011 5:46 pm

    This is beautiful.

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