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Painting Pictures with Words:

Basic Brush Strokes of Image

Kathleen B. Scales
Ozarks Writing Project
Summer Institute 2008
A Comparison
A Comparison
The amateur writes: “Bill was nervous.”

The pro writes: “Bill sat in a dentist’s waiting

room, peeling the skin at the edge of his
thumb, until the raw red flesh began to
show. Biting the torn cuticle, he ripped it
away, and sucked at the warm sweetness
of his own blood.”
(Robert Newton Peck as quoted in Noden, 1998, “Image Grammar,” p. 157)
Harry R. Noden
• 30-year career as an English teacher, Noden has taught
every grade from seventh through college with the most
of his teaching experience in middle school.

• Noden has contributed articles to The Reading Teacher

and the English Journal, which honored him with the
Paul and Kate Farmer Award for the best English
Journal article of 1996-97.

• He has been involved with various NCTE committees

and the NCTE Assembly for the Teaching of English
NCTE Position Statement on the
Teaching of Grammar

• This resolution was prompted by the continuing use of repetitive grammar drills and
exercises in the teaching of English in many schools. Proposers pointed out that
ample evidence from 50 years of research has shown the teaching of grammar in
isolation does not lead to improvement in students' speaking and writing, and that in
fact, it hinders development of students' oral and written language. Be it therefore


• Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English affirm the position that the
use of isolated grammar and usage exercises not supported by theory and research
is a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing and that, in order
to improve both of these, class time at all levels must be devoted to opportunities for
meaningful listening, speaking, reading, and writing; and that NCTE urge the
discontinuance of testing practices that encourage the teaching of grammar rather
than English language arts instruction., retrieved June 7,

“Image grammar developed from the study
of the writer as an artist and of
grammatical structures as the artist’s tools
for creating images” (Noden, 1999, ix).
“These brushstrokes, which include
appositives, participles, and absolutes, are
simple tools to help students compose
more interesting sentences” (Lilly, 2003, p.
“I discovered I could stop using labels without
stopping grammar. Students created images
with their sentences, and they didn’t even know
they were using participles or writing complex
sentences…these playful forays into label-less
grammar ended up in students’ essays,
enriching them with concrete details and craft—a
grammar instruction that actually improved
writing” (Anderson, 2006, p. 29).
Absolute Brush Stroke
• Noun + ing verb

• Function: adds to the action

Core: The car went into the parking lot.

Engine smoking, gears grinding,

the car went into the parking lot.
Paint with ABSOLUTE Brush Stroke

The man jumped out of the airplane.

Appositive Brush Stroke
• A noun that adds a second image to a preceding
noun, restate the noun

• Function: expands detail in the reader’s


• Core: The car went into the parking lot.

• The car, a 1936 Ford, went into the parking lot.

Paint with APPOSITIVE Brush Stroke

My friend plays his guitar.

Participle Brush Stroke
• ing verb or phrase

• Function: evokes action, makes the reader feel a

part of the experience

Core: The car went into the parking lot.

Sliding on the loose gravel, the car went into the

parking lot.
Paint with PARTICIPLE Brush Stroke

The deer came out of the woods.

Adjectives-Out-of-Order Brush
• Shift two adjectives after the noun

• Function: intensifies an image, gives it rhythm

• Note: avoid 3 adjectives in a row. Place 1 before the noun
and two after

Core: The car went into the parking lot.

The old car, rusty and dented, went into the

parking lot.
Brush Stroke

The sun rose over the lake.

Action Verbs Brush Stroke
• Verbs that do action
• Function: effective image tools, energize

• Core: The car went into the parking lot.

• The car chugged into the parking lot.

Brush Stroke
Rainy Summer Sky
Rolling, draping, folding
Clouds hang like icing
borders on a cake glazed
smooth with gray

Edges congealing, a
summer front, moist and
cool, slides over my street.

Dripping, sighing, sagging

Air, heavy and suspended,

rain settles in for the day.
Graphic Organizer and Example

Zooming In
Ask: How does it feel? What
does it look like? How does it
sound? How does it taste?
How does it smell?

Observation Impression Brush Stroke

Cat, branch, dangle, A cat in trouble, Claws digging, feet
struggling, feet kicking kicking, the cat clung to
the branch.
Practice Zooming In
“Gessi the Great”
Copyedit Activity
The famous escape artist was hanging
upside down above a parking lot in a
straight jacket. He was suspended from a
crane. His name was “Gessi the Great.”
He twisted and twirled in the wind as a
crowd watched silently. The crowd was
large with about fifty onlookers. Finally,
Gessi wiggled out of the jacket and tossed
it aside. He was lowered to the ground by
the crane operator and greeted by cheers.
Image Grammar Writing Activity
Favorite Person or Place

• Prompt: Place your photo of your favorite place or

person in front of you. Imagine you are attempting to
describe your photo to a friend you are talking to on your
cell phone. Obviously, your friend can not see the photo.
Write an extended paragraph describing how you would
“show” that photo to your friend.

The most effective image grammar writing will:

• Use each of the basic brush strokes at least once. May
be used more than once or in combinations
• Demonstrate that the writer is able to “zoom in” and
capture some significant detail or details of the photo
• Shows the reader instead of tells the reader
I’d like to know…
• What ways can you think of to present the
mini lessons on brush strokes that would
be effective?

• If this was your first time to paint words

with brush strokes, how was that
experience for you? Like? Dislike? Why?
Image References


Harry R. Noden photo,, retrieved

June 7, 2008
Noden, H. (1999). Image Grammar CD [CD-ROM]. Porstmuth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Michelangelo’s David,,

retrieved June 7, 2008.

Rusty Car photo. , retrieved June 13,


Anderson, J. (2006). Zooming in and zooming out: Putting grammar in
context into context. English Journal 95 (5), 28-34. Retrieved June
7, 2008, from
Lilly, N. (2003). Dead or alive: How will your students’ nonfiction writing
arrive? The Quarterly 25 (4), 29-31. Retrieved June 7, 2008, from
Noden, H. R. (1998). Image grammar. In C. Weaver (Ed.), Lessons to
share on teaching grammar in context ( pp. 155-168). Portsmouth,
NH: Boynton/ Cook.
Noden, H. R. (1999). Image grammar. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Noden, H. R. (2007) Image grammar activity book. Logan, Iowa:
Perfection Learning Corporation.