Art in ELA Creativity

Quotomontage: Entering The Global Conversation Via Active Reading And Making

Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.  – Sam Rayburn

I love quotes. Maybe it was being brought up sitting in church and reading the bible. Maybe it was my love of movies. Maybe it’s that inner circle laughter you share with friends who have seen the same movie or have read the same book. Quotes provide intertextuality with life. In just one or two quick sentences you get to insert a central truth from an entire novel, movie, or human life into the context of your own life. What’s more, it can give birth to new meaning, to the curiosity of those who are unfamiliar with the origins of the quote, and then they can take that quote, make it their own, and pass it in a personal basket [of their own creation] down the river of human knowledge and experience.

Quotes can also snap us out of the ordinary. I ask all my classes to maintain silence for the first few moments of class. Usually after the first few days, I drop this quote on them:


Now some students get it right away. Others sit there with a strange look on their face. At that moment some bonding happens. Those who get it bond, those who will get it in a moment bond. Then I launch into a quick verbal lesson about how silence (the empty middle of a donut) is one of the crucial elements of donuts vs. cupcakes, muffins, or fritters. And how silence bookends and signals so much of what we find interesting. It’s a fun moment. It makes us hungry.

I like quotes so much that I give out extra credit if you can write down a “quote of the week” when we perform a quick learning check. Sometimes they are quotes from movies, from novels, from the famous and not so famous.

I’ve even used quotes as a weapon against cheating. When I used to give really tough multiple choice tests to check and see if students had read a novel I would ALWAYS have a healthy quote identification section. Back in the early days of CliffsNotes books (yes you used to have to buy or borrow CliffsNotes) or just the CliffsNotes website or even Sparknotes, they used to only include a few key quotes and you could really trip a student up. But now, with the advent of LitCharts (the best of all the online CliffsNotes knockoffs) and a list of quotes from the GoodReads site, even a quote identification test can be passed without reading.

So what should I do with my students to make sure they read the book, make it their own, learn some new tricks, and pass their understanding down river for someone else to discover?

Trouble is Opportunity

Dorothea Lange getting ready to go to work

Well if you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you’d know about my plea to replace close reading with connected reading and how one of my ideas for a connected active reading strategy is to employ an essential question project. Well I tried out many connected reading strategies this year and here’s the next:

Well I called it my Global Conversation project, but I really burned that phrase out last year so I need to think of something different. Maybe it should be the: Quote Collage, Mantra Mayhem, Meme Mania, Evolutionary Themes, Public Proverbs, Book Buffet, Digital Decoupage,  or Quotomantage (if you have a good idea let me know below) whatever you want to call it here’s what we did.

First, every student kept a quote log. After we were done with the day’s reading they would, in class, or at home, write down any quotes, phrases, sentences etc… that appealed to them. I didn’t have them do anything with the quotes this time. This was my first time assigning this project and I didn’t know how it would go. Whenever I do something new I try not to overwhelm my students with an assignment that might go south quick. If I do this again, I’d have them pick at least one quote per chapter to write a short paragraph about. The prompt would be something like “why should, or is this quote important to you, your family, your friends, or the world? I would also have them share and discuss their quotes more often.

Second, I created what I expected my students to do. I do this every-time. You MUST do this if you respect your students’ time AND if you want to be able to help them where they get stuck. How can you know how long it will take and where they will get stuck if you haven’t done the assignment yourself? I bet if every teacher did this every time they assigned something, including homework, we’d see far fewer do the first 30 odd questions on page 15 assigned. If you think that is impractical, don’t forget your students are doing this for five or six classes… not just your class.


Love how Sean models what he expects his students to do, even during summer. 

Heck after doing the assignment, why don’t you write up a reflection and share THAT with your students.

So I wanted my students to create different types of visual quotes. The idea is that they would then use those quotes in both a public ThingLink  AND a piece of public writing based on the quote. Here were the examples:


#1 Create a landscape image using the tool Notegraphy or using just text variation in a Google slide. 


Kruger 1

#2 Create a collage in the style of artist Barbara Kruger juxtaposing the quote with an image. 


Vertical 1

#3 Take an image that is vertical and create a colored box to the right or left transforming the image into a horizontal one suitable for using in a presentation. 


Style 4 art or movie image

#4 Take a piece of famous artwork or a still from a movie and put the quote over it. 


Style 5 Your Own

#5 Using an original photo, drawing, painting, or collage drop the quote from the novel over it. 



I also shared and demonstrated some free tools to use on their project. 

So let’s go back over what they are doing, learning so far

  • Reading a novel
  • Finding the essence of the novel that resonates with them in the form of crucial quotes and keeping them in a log
  • Learning how to co-opt famous artistic styles in their own creations
  • Learning how to turn a vertical image into a landscape image
  • Learning how to use original art to create something that they can use in a personal blog post without worrying about copyright laws.
  • Learning how to use photo manipulation and enhancement tools.
  • Learning how to use a typography app like Notegraphy
  • Creating new work suitable for public publishing

And we aren’t even done yet. Please remember. We are NOT a 1:1 school. I don’t have a chomebook cart in my room. I get the chromebook cart or lab once a week if I’m lucky and that includes the time I give students to work on their blogs so I can help them and reduce the amount of computer time they need at home. (Heck during the SBAC testing in May, no one has access to computers at FVHS) I teach both Honors and CP students and expect them both to get this done. PS Here is the Google Slide Doc I used to demonstrate the Quotomontage assignment.

Here are some things I’d like to try next time.

  1. A student could make either ONE handmade/analog quote, take a picture of it, and add it to the collage OR make the entire collage by hand, take a picture of it and post it to ThingLink.
  2. Allow students to research different collage/juxtaposition art styles besides Barbara Kruger and co-opt their style for one of their quotes.

So where’s the writing Theriault? Patience… I’m getting there. So the next step is for them to find the universal themes from the five quotes they created. They wrote down the quotes and then made connections, like this:

Theme Construction

Their job was to find at LEAST two connections for each quote with something they were familiar with. Then they needed to write a sentence explaining the connection between the idea and the quote. That sentence then becomes a theme statement. See how we are slowly building up their ability to address literature? Lastly, while the students are using the quote as a stand alone picture, they are more than welcome to demonstrate their ability to integrate the quotation into a sentence by using one of the techniques they learn in our “Tune-it Up Tuesday” activities.

When Ra’s al Ghul puts the idea of justice above the reality of human life he demonstrates the problem that “when someone is seeking, he only sees the thing that he is seeking.”

Once they have done this then they use a free screen shot tool from the Chrome store or just native to the Windows or Mac OS and they make sure they have five images of quotes. Then they picked their four favorite and using an electronic collage tool they created a ThingLink. In the ThingLink they were to drop two pins on each quote which represented the ideas or objects that connected the quote to the theme. Then they submitted the public link to their Thinglink to our Canvas LMS (you could use a Google Form to collect and organize their submissions into one spreadsheet). After submitting them they presented them to the class and demonstrated some of the ThingLink “pins.” Here are two examples:

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 8.57.54 AM

The creator of this ThingLink will use the bottom left quote to create something later. 

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 9.05.55 AM

This student used all five images in the ThingLink and created a ton of connected “pins.”

So students presented these ThingLinks and shared some of the connections, but WE WEREN’T DONE YET.

Then they picked one of the quote images and using the thematic connections they made on paper they published a blog post about that theme, using the quote from the novel as both an original image and as an intertextual support for their ideas. They published this writing on because publishing OUT is always better than turning IN.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 8.59.34 AM

Here is Caitlin’s blog post about being “Drunk In Love.” Remember this is at the beginning of the school year and she’s fairly new to online publishing at this point. 

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 9.07.25 AM

Here is Katrina’s blog post about “Wish You Were Here” using a quote from Siddhartha. Katrina’s posts were pretty epic.

Let’s go back over what the students have done so far in this active reading and content creation activity:

  1. Reading a novel
  2. Finding the essence of the novel that resonates with them in the form of crucial quotes and keeping them in a log
  3. Learning how to co-opt famous artistic styles in their own creations
  4. Learning how to turn a vertical image into a landscape image
  5. Learning how to use original art to create something that they can use in a personal blog post without worrying about copyright laws.
  6. Learning how to use photo manipulation and enhancement tools.
  7. Learning how to use a typography app like Notegraphy
  8. Creating new work suitable for public publishing
  9. Created a Thinglink
  10. Created a Collage
  11. Made thematic connections between the quotes from a novel and their own life and learning
  12. Presented in class.
  13. Published a piece of writing online that addressed literature and used original artwork created by the student.

I can think of more, but I think you get the picture.

I want you to imagine all of the skills your students will have after doing this. Skills they can use in your class, in other classes, in their personal life, in a job. And could students still do this assignment without reading the novel? Of course. The only thing you can be sure of what students do with a novel is what do you want them to DO with it, do you want them to fill out a fill in the blank study guide, take a test… or MAKE something, maybe make more than just one thing, something that will make your student a part of the global conversation about the novel.

I’ll probably make a few changes to the assignment. This was my first year doing this and there are always adjustments. Doing assignments that are new, that don’t come from a published book or from a paid consultants, bag of tricks gives you a bit of forgiveness from your students. If they have never seen the task before then there is nothing to compare it with. No teacher did it before so they can’t say “so and so did it better.” Trying something new is liberating. It’s an adventure.

If you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments below. I’m okay with assignments that evolve and change every year because:


PS: Could you use this in a history class while reading primary documents from The French Revolution or WWII? Of course you could. Could you use quotes from scientists on a unit about ethics and science? Yup. What about quotes from designers or chefs in a consumer and family arts/science class. Now you are seeing the bigger picture.

BONUS Item: Here are the slides/pictures I used on a #CAedchat Twitter Chat using movie quotes. Feel free to use and modify for a professional development activity at your school or district.


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