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Focus Lessons: A Review and Giveaway!


I can still remember watching my dad as he prepared the trays with solution, set up the equipment, and flipped on the eerie red hue activating the hallway’s “Dark Room In Use” sign.  I would perch myself in the narrow room’s corner on a metal stool, watching as he carefully went through each step. I was most fascinated with the dipping, swishing, and lifting of the paper. Sliding in, swish, swish, tap, and back out. It was like music, carefully timed, carefully tasked, and as I got older, I was able to help reveal the images of the black and white five by sevens.

My dad was not a photographer, he was a physics teacher using photography to capture movement in his known and classic experiment called “The Ball Drop.” As a little girl, often finding myself wandering the halls of the high school, I had watched this pattern for years. It wasn’t until I was a student in his classroom that I really understood the intricacies of it all. As a participant in physics class, suddenly, all the numbers, measurements, and movements came together. 

As I read Ralph Fletcher’s newest book Focus Lessons, I felt my story with photography paralleling his as he talked about his experience and influencers on his process. He had not necessarily immersed himself in the craft of photography. However, the integrations photography had made across his life impacted his curiosity and knowledge. It was as though he, too, was participating in an experiment but only halfway. He was learning bits and pieces across time, that would later take on new meaning: using photography to enhance and connect writers to writing. For Fletcher, this experiment will have been a worthwhile undertaking for the writers, teachers, and classrooms intended for this book. 

Focus Lessons: How Photography Enhances the Teaching of Writing by Ralph Fletcher is split into two parts. Part one reads like a story of the coming to be of Fletcher joining the world of photography. Part two dives into the connections teachers can create for their students in classrooms. Let me walk you through the magnificence that comes from this second part of the book. 

Chapter five is packed with craft lessons connecting elements of photographs and photography to create corresponding writing connections. For instance, photos that represent a mood, a truth, or active motion can be catalysts for creating these moves of mood, truth, or action within a piece of writing. In the margin of each craft lesson, there is a photo tip as well, encouraging readers to capture their own images in connection to a writing minilesson. Text examples accompany every lesson of both Fetcher’s own writing or pieces from student writers to demonstrate the lesson in action. 

This chapter sparked my interest immediately, not just as a teacher of writers, but I was excited to try one out myself. I even had a lesson and image in mind as I read.

I chose lesson seven on pages 53-54 titled, “Take a Wide Perspective.” This lesson intrigued me because, as Fletcher points out, we often challenge students to “write small,” when, in fact, “a wide-angle focus can be just as useful in writing as it is in photography” (p. 54).

I even decided to borrow the first three lines of his example poem, because they so perfectly aligned with the image I chose. The title of his sample poem was “Family Photo,” and the lines were: One last picture/before we head off/in different directions. I also felt like Fletcher would give me a pat on the back for lifting a few lines and not feeling guilty about it. 

This is a quick snapshot of my husband before he ran a 25K back in 2013. I’ve always loved this photo. There is so much living inside the image, and the idea of panning out with a wide focus intrigued me when considering lines that would accompany this moment.

One of Many

One last picture

before we head off

in different directions.


This sea of headbands,

Caps, and long sleeves

Later to be shed.


Palpable anticipation,

Layers with mind shifts, and head games

While playlists await the spark.


We hear it…BANG!

Adrenaline filled eyes shift forward

And a storm of wind erupts from the curb.


We stand on the side

Hands cupped around our mouths

In hopes of amplifying an unheard scream.


And all of you, run away

Into your tunnel

In search of something ahead. 


(Betsy Hubbard, 2019)

Like Fletcher’s lesson challenges, I tried to take the focus off of my husband and onto the moment, the bigger image within the image, the sea of awaiting energy, and uncertainty. 

Fletcher continues us on this journey of connections in chapters six and seven. He offers questions and prompts to help engage writers and observers in ways to “unpack” a photo and attempt to see all of its parts. Using pictures as mentors and encouraging writers to take and use their own photos in a structured and intentional way. The idea being students should bear a purpose in mind with photography and the links to writing, capturing an element of a moment or zooming into something previously unseen. 

In the final two chapters of the book, Fletcher reminds us to experiment and not force a spark between photography and writing. He also encourages a “cushion of time.” This moment of internalizing an image, whether it is one a student has taken or one they are looking at for the first time, writing from a photo is not a hurried experience. 

After finishing the final lines of this book where Ralph talks to Ralph in a sort of question-answer internalized interview, I felt nourished. The kind of nourishment I find when a book encourages me to explore the unknown and pass the mundane. Fletcher offers us a feast of what photography has shown him in its relationship with a writer and encourages us to take a bite. 

Note: A review copy of Focus Lessons was provided by Heinemann. To win a copy of Ralph Fletcher’s book titled, Focus Lessons see the information listed below. I also can’t say goodbye without mentioning, if you haven’t read this beautiful post by Amy Ellerman describing how to use some of Fletcher’s incredible photography, take a look here

Congratulations to Mary who commented on this post and won a copy of Focus Lessons by Ralph Fletcher!


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Focus Lessons, How Photography Enhances the Teaching of Writing. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Focus Lessons,  please leave a comment about this post by Thursday, December 12th, at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post by Saturday, December 14th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – FOCUS LESSONS. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

57 thoughts on “Focus Lessons: A Review and Giveaway!

  1. I am hooked by the idea of checking out some of these lessons—we have a great photography class in our building, wondering about collaborating?! Crossing my fingers for a copy, thanks for sharing:)


  2. I would love to win this book! I love Ralph Fletcher. One of my favorite books of all time is Fig Pudding. I truly feel like it does not truly get the recognition it deserves! This would be a great compliment to Craft Lessons, which is use with my senior literacy block students.


  3. Hi Betsy! I attended your session at Nerd Camp this summer and enjoyed it as I always do your columns. I would love the chance to win Ralph Fletcher’s book, and already your post has got me thinking of some ideas I can use with my students. Thank you!


  4. Photographs, especially old ones, have allowed me to revive the spirits of my ancestors. My grandparents and their extended family lived all around me growing up. When I took a creative writing course, a “real author” told me that he had “discovered” my voice in a story I wrote. I can still hear the voices in my head! Many of the old photos bring them back to life too.

    Great link and connection to the photographic process!!!
    Still paws2rd4vr


  5. Would love to have a copy of this book! Ralph Fletcher is so down to earth and realistic about writing instruction in the classroom. The idea of using photography as writing prompts I first heard from Kelly Gallagher. One of my high school colleagues implemented it immediately on a weekly basis and student engagement increased significantly.


  6. Thank you for the opportunity to have a book like this. I would love it. I am a PD book junkie. I have almost all of Heinemann’s published books. It looks great!


  7. After reading your post I am intrigued. My husband is a photography teacher and I teach writing. We can’t wait to get this book.
    Thank you!


  8. As soon as I saw Focus Lessons advertised,
    I knew I wanted it for my students! I love Fletcher’s books and have learned so much from him. Can’t wait to read and share this one
    With my students!


  9. What a beautiful poem! I would love to read this book, as I have been a fan of Fletcher for a while AND I think that photography could be a great way to inspire writing!


  10. Since I love all that Ralph Fletcher writes, I know this one is going to be a treasure. I have had my students do quick writes off photographs and paintings in the past, but I like the idea of kids taking their own photographs and experimenting with how photographs and stories can serve each other and support writing development.


  11. Thank you for such a wonderful review. I was fortunate enough to sit in Ralph Fletcher’s session at NCTE when he went into some detail about this book. I would love to have a copy of my own.


  12. My students love working with mentor texts, especially when they have a photograph or picture on to lean! In the same way we embrace and frequently use Noden’s Image Grammar, Fletcher’s Focused Lessons could seamlessly weave into any writing curriculum. Will purchase for sure at one point! Several of Ralph’s books have found a home on my ”writing teacher shelf,” and he remains as one of my go-to writing gurus along with P. Kittle, K Gallagher, J Serravallo, and so many other. Thank you for this post and preview to Ralph’s new masterpiece ♥️


  13. This book sounds very interesting. I am always looking for a fresh take on ways to make writing more relevant. I think I could benefit from try some of these exercises myself. Thank you for sharing.


    1. I feel like Ralph Fletcher has become such a strong mentor to my thinking about writing for myself, other educators, and students. Since reading Joywrite, I’ve been inspired to see. Self and writing so differently. I follow his Instagram. His photos are inspiring. So was yours.


  14. I can hardly wait to get my hands on this book! What a perfect way to bring an art form into the writing classroom. I’m looking forward to adding to my teacher toolbox of lessons.


  15. We live in such a visual age- continually bombarded with images. I love the idea of using those images to engage students in critical thinking and writing.


  16. This book sounds like a wonderful compliment to The Art of Comprehension in the way that it encourages students to look at mood! I would love to have this book to share with the teachers I work with and the classes that I’ve introduced to AoC!


  17. Photography has always been a passion of mine and it sounds like this book marries it with my other, teaching…fingers crossed I am lucky enough to win a copy!


  18. Betsy, so much love for this post. 1) The connections to your dad and physics. 2) The way you split the book in your review. 3) Your writing from a picture as you used a lesson. This book is on my reread list after hearing Ralph at NCTE!


  19. I have stepped away the past few years from using photos in student writing. Your post and the new book is pushing me to use such an amazing strategy.


  20. I like that you not only reviewed Ralph’s book, but you tried one of the lessons and wrote a great poem. I was a yearbook photographer in high school and did the whole darkroom thing. I loved everything about the process, how the image slowly came forth and the smell of the chemicals. A lost art in this digital age.


    1. When I first heard about the book, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. But, the name kept popping up at random times. Your article convinced me that it would be perfect for my fifth graders. I’ve been teaching writing for years and need some new lessons that will get my learners excited about writing. And ot course if Ralph Fletcher wrote it, it’s got to be good! Thanks for posting this article.


  21. I was fortunate to take a graphic arts class in high school in which I learned how to take and develop quality photos. As a writing teacher, I can see the connections between photography and writing. I would love to read this book!


    1. What a beautiful way to incorporate photography. I would love the chance to read this book. Thanks for posting and hosting such a great giveaway!


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