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Essaying—from Broadsides to Flash

Lesson Plan by Christine Spillson

Featuring: Issue 19.1, The First Folio

Audience: High School, College, or Continuing Education Writing Class


  1. To discuss the relationship between personal storytelling, image, and language.
  2. To learn what “flash” nonfiction is.
  3. To create/draft flash personal nonfiction in response to generative image pools.
  4. Use poetry and visual art as models for how image can be used in a prose genre that also emphasizes precision and concision.
  5. To have students engage with the portfolio of broadsides and weave together multiple points of inspiration and experience to explore an idea.

In-Class Time: ~50 minutes

Lesson Suggestions:

  1. Have students read the poems and respond to the art in the portfolio of broadsides prior to class meeting.
    • Have them pay close attention to sensory details and imagery in both the poetry and art.
    • Have them identify moments of storytelling and acts of mythologizing in the poetry and art.
  2. During class, discuss student observations and ask questions about themes of storytelling rooted in image and language that are present in the portfolio poetry.
  3. Introduce “flash” nonfiction (short prose, anywhere between 5 – 1,000 words, sometimes called “micro-(non)fiction” or “short-shorts”; here’s a definition from Writer’s Digest).
  4. Ask students to select at least five of the images (from either the poems or the art) in the portfolio that instigate a memory of a personal experience or instigate an emotional/intellectual response that connects to a memory.
    • Provide a short amount of time for students to respond to the images—emphasizing first reaction and quick response—no more than a couple of minutes to write a couple of sentences responding to each (approximately 10 minutes).
  5. Discuss with students what they gravitated towards and why—did they stay rooted in the original image or take a sideways step into another image that was associated because of their own personal context?
  6. Discuss how flash nonfiction can often move associatively and have areas of sharp transition or juxtaposition.
    • Ask the students to look at their responses and select at least three that could share thematic unity—what would that be?
  7. Provide students at least 15 minutes to respond to this prompt:
    • Reverse it! Drawing from the (at least) three responses that could share thematic unity, reverse the process—don’t describe your reaction to the image, but rather describe/concretize the image using your response to it. Let that memory or emotional response influence the language that is chosen and what is focused on.
  8. Now there is a core of a flash essay to work with that is already rich in imagery. Ask the students to take the draft home and expand into a flash piece of 750 words while prioritizing those images.

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