Tech Tuesday: A Picture is Worth...a Story! - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Tech Tuesday: A Picture is Worth...a Story!

by Sean Sweeney March 27, 2017 4 min read

Phones PhotoWith the advent of smartphones with integrated cameras, we have more opportunities to capture our own stories than ever before. Remember the days when you needed to carry around a separate camera? Or deal with having film developed?

For now, they say the best camera is the one you have with you. The readiness with which we can document snippets of our own lives seems to have made life more visual...just look at social media.

Our own images create opportunities for narrative language intervention, just as our own stories do. In Hadley’s (1998) Language Sampling Protocols for Eliciting Text-Level Discourse, the strategy of the conversation map—”give a story to get a story”—is used across narrative genres to provide a model and pragmatic rationale for “eliciting optimal samples of extended discourse.”

The activities contained within the article provide great stimuli for obtaining language samples, but this principle of modeling and using personal stories certainly applies to intervention as well. Notice how many of your students seem to light up when you open that door and share a story about yourself? In addition to being engaging, our shared stories provide valuable models of macrostructure and microstructure.

Visual supports are a natural aid in this process. Presenting a photo scaffolds students’ understanding of any story and also creates opportunities to have them infer story elements. Also, introducing a device, even for a moment, creates engagement.

For this reason, I try to grab photos of even small Kick-Offs (or Wrap-Ups) in my daily life and use these as therapy activities. Any story you present can be turned into a natural opportunity to say “When has something like that happened to you?” and elicit a personal narrative in return, of course using Story Grammar Marker® along the way to help the student organize and add complexity.

So, a few examples and a tech tip for you, coming up!

Kick-Off Picture 1GROSS IS GOOD. So I apologize to you, but it gets kids talking. Over February vacation, I visited South Florida and explored the Everglades for a day. A map revealed that an oceanside trail was nearby, so we figured we’d give it a try.

About 15 steps down the trail, we noticed that we were in a swarm of mosquitoes and ahead of us was pretty much just mud! So we ran back to the car, but, on opening the door, the mosquitoes all flew in. We drove away quickly, swatting madly, and I ended up with blood on my shorts—hopefully mine!

Note that you could include more complex elements such as Feelings, Thoughts and Plans, and I could have extended the story to report that when I got home, I came down with a fever and worried that I had caught Zika, but it turned out to have been just a cold!

Simpler stories work too. I’m somewhat of a social media over-sharer, so it comes naturally for me to photograph daily Kick-Offs. For you, it just takes a moment to think of how, say, that pet mishap would make a good narrative language activity and snap a photo.

Kick-Off Picture 2My students enjoyed hearing about how I am something of a Dunkin’ Donuts addict, and not a fan of winter. One day I arrived home from Dunkin’s and had other stuff I needed to carry into my house besides my large iced coffee. When I got to my back door, I needed to put my cup on the ground so I could open the door. Because it was winter, there was some ice on the ground. As a result, a Kick-Off occurred!

Naturally, I felt very annoyed. I thought, “Wow, that happened quickly!” and “So much for my free reward coffee!” I knew that I still really wanted an ice coffee. Luckily, I had a pitcher of coffee in my fridge, which made for an OK substitute once I poured it into my Dunkin’s cup. So I got my ice coffee, and pretty much never will put my coffee on the ground again.

If your photo could use it, annotation can highlight aspects of your story. New to iOS 10 on iPhones and iPads, you can access the markup tools right from the Photos app. Just follow these steps:

  1. Locate the photo in your Photos app.
  2. Tap the sliders icon to edit the photo.
  3. Tap the icon with the three dots, then Markup.
  4. This brings you a variety of tools such as a pen that can circle or draw on any element of your photo. The text tool lets you write words, of course, but also add emoji if you have that keyboard activated (Settings>General>Keyboard).

Kick-Off Picture 3As a result, in a few moments you can have an enhanced image such as the one at right.

So, keep in mind that your daily events and “Kick-Offs” can make for great lessons in narrative language with the help of your camera and SGM!

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and as a clinical supervisor at Boston University. He consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (, looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at

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