In her work supporting survivors of trauma with their creative writing, social science researcher Patti Lather borrowed the German poet Rilke’s term, the “Too Big” to describe those experiences that are so intense that they exceed words. She called these stories “Too Big Stories.” Most people have experienced something in their lives that feels overwhelming because of the emotional size of it; the grief almost swallowed them whole, the fear was indescribable, the anger vibrated with energy but exceeded language. When young people are walking through immense heartbreak, or emotions like sadness or anger or loneliness, it is our role as teachers and counselors to witness that intensity with them. In addition, we want to be able to model methods for expressing that emotion without always using words to describe the feeling. In this activity, students are invited to explore emotions that feel too complex or large to put into words by using metaphor and photography. This will help students to speak to the experiences that feel unspeakable.
· Recognize that emotions are complex and transcend distinct labels.
· Understand the possibility of feeling more than one emotion at once.
Prior to teaching this lesson, watch the guest artist video and take an example photograph to share with your students.
Map out the route for the photography walk ahead of time. Your students will be taking this walk as they look for images to represent the way they feel.
Students will need to use the cameras on their cell phones for this lesson. If they do not have phones to use for this purpose, shared tablets can be good alternatives. Please make sure you know what your students’ technology needs are ahead of time.
For a tech free option, you can supply your students with paper and pencil or pen, and they can draw the images they see.
Display the ‘welcome slide’ from the Lesson 4 PowerPoint as you begin.
As discussed in the teacher training, remember to make the suggested language below authentic to yourself and meaningful for your students.
* Slide 2
The guest artist shares a collage they designed in order to tell a story about a difficult time in their life. The artist explains the way the collage speaks to both an important memory and also the emotions the artist experienced during that time. The artist describes the way emotions come up when working on creative projects like this, and the way making art offers an avenue for expressing those emotions.
* Slide 4
Lead students outside on a group walk. This is not a scavenger hunt with hints or steps to check off, but a “hunt” in the sense that they are searching for images and items that resonate with them. These objects represent the way they feel right now or the way they felt in one of the stories they have written about already in this curriculum. Students will bring their cell phones if they have them or can share an iPad or polaroid camera to take their photographs.
Example of What You Could Say:
“I found a few objects that I think show the way I felt when________ (refer to the story that you shared with the class or the way you feel today). Here is one of the photographs I took on our walk. I think it might be interesting if we write captions to our photographs. We don’t need to name the picture. We can simply describe the way the object acts as a metaphor for the way we felt. For instance, I took a photo of a rock because at the time I was feeling weighed down by the things that are bothering me today and heavy in my heart. So I used those two words as my caption: burdened and heavy.”
Upon their return to the classroom, students will work on their captions for their chosen photograph(s). Encourage students to be creative in the way they write their captions and describe the feeling. In this activity, students do not use the actual label for an emotion, but actually describe the feeling behind the emotion – the words that describe how they’re feeling.
There are a few ways you can structure a classroom art gallery:
As always, students are invited to choose whether or not they want to share their creative projects, and one option above may work better than another if students are more interested in sharing their work anonymously.
Conclude the lesson by celebrating the students’ photography. Share what you noticed as you looked at the photographs (i.e. maybe students used nature to represent feelings). No need to be specific or highlight one student in particular, just praise their creativity and bravery.
If you or your students would like to learn more about the ideas in this lesson, additional resources and third party links are included below.