For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.
— THE EDITORS
This issue’s Classroom Guide is organized around one two themes: Words and Images, and Old and New Media. Since both themes deal with visual images, there is no separate Visual Analysis.
Theme: Words and Images
Words and images mingle in our day-to-day lives. Magazines, newspapers, Web sites, films—all have both words and images. Television news probably has the busiest mix: You see visual images of events and news presenters as you hear them tell you about a news story. At the same time, a stream of words crawls across the bottom of the screen that usually tells different stories from the ones you’re hearing and seeing. You’re taking in several messages at once. Try this experiment: With a classmate, watch a tv news channel for at least 15 minutes. Have one person be the “recorder,” writing down what stories the anchor and reporters are telling, what the images are showing, and what stories are reported in the crawl at the bottom of the screen. Have the other person be the viewer, paying close attention to how the recorder is watching. Is he or she looking at the pictures? Reading the crawl? Which of the several stories is he or she paying most attention to? When the 15 minutes is over, have the viewer try telling the recorder what he or she just saw and heard. How much of it sank in? How much gets remembered?
In the activities that follow, you will have a chance to focus on the way words and images can work both together and separately. To do so, you’ll be reading the magazine on two levels: First, you’ll be reading as you usually do, to get the information in the articles, but second, you’ll be watching yourself read. Not literally, of course, but the activities will ask you to pay close attention to how you read the magazine, just as you paid attention to how you watched the tv news. By doing so, you’ll come to understand more about what you’re reading, and more about how you learn.
What different kinds of written texts appear in magazines?
Before you can compare and contrast the written word with the visual images, you need to get a little clearer about the different kinds of written texts. With a partner, choose an article in this issue of Saudi Aramco World. Look at the different functions that the written words serve. For example, some of them comprise the article itself. There are also often quotations from the article—called “callouts”—that are set apart. Why do you think they’re there? When do you read them—before you read the article? After you look at the pictures? What other writing do you see? What does it do? When do you read it, and how does it affect your understanding of the article? Make a list of the different kinds of written words. When you are done, join up with another pair of students and share with each other what you’ve discovered.
How do written words and visual images combine to tell a story?
Let’s start with “The Virtual Immigrant” on page 24. Working with a group of four or five students, read it by following these steps:
- Start with the photos and quotes that run across the top of each two-page spread. Keep in mind that the photo sequences were originally each a single lenticular print on an art-gallery wall. That is, they were the kind of images that change as you slightly shift your point of view. The only way to show that in a print magazine, however, is as a series of photos showing a process. Begin by describing the process in each spread. Then read the quotations that serve as captions for the photos. What do they tell you about the people in the photos? Write a sentence that summarizes the story you “read” in the photos and quotes. Based on what you have seen and read in the quotations, discuss with your group what you think the article will be about. Write down your predictions.
- Now read the body of the article. As you read, or when you’ve finished, write down what you consider to be the most important points. Compare your notes with your group members’ notes. Then discuss: What is the article about? What story does it tell? Write a sentence that summarizes what you read there. How does it compare to your prediction? How does it compare to the story you read and saw in the photo spreads? Now think about the two parts of the story together: What bigger story do they combine to tell?
- Finally, look at the rest of the photographs that accompany the article. What do they add to that bigger story you have already pieced together?
When you’ve completed these activities, step back and reflect on what you’ve read and done. Write answers to these questions: What is the difference between the story the article tells and the story the photos tell? What would happen to your understanding if there was only one, or only the other?
Now let’s turn to a different situation in which words and images work—or don’t work—together. Have you ever gone to a museum or gallery? If you have, you know that each object or painting has a tag to identify it and often some written text telling about it. Do you read the written text? Part of it? Sometimes? In “A Global Guide to Islamic Art,” Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair write, “Museum labels, despite their good intent, often tell us everything except what we most want to know.” Has that ever been your experience? Read the introductory section of “A Global Guide to Islamic Art.” How do the authors suggest you approach works of art instead? Choose one of the photographs that accompany “A Global Guide to Islamic Art.” Discuss it with a partner. What is your first impression of it? It can be as simple as “I like the colors.” Then try to put into words what you specifically like about it and what you don’t like about it. What would you like to know about it that would help you understand it better? Then read the caption that goes with it. Does it tell you what you “most want to know”? If it doesn’t, go online and do a bit of research to answer your questions about the work of art. Then write your own caption. Keep in mind that you want your caption to somehow enhance the viewer’s understanding and/or appreciation of the artwork.
Theme: Old and New Media
This theme builds on the work you have already done. You have thought about how different forms of text can tell different parts of a story. (Remember “text” can be either or both visual and verbal, either or both images and words.) Knowing that they tell different parts of a story makes you a better reader or viewer. In the next activities, you’ll think about the different media in which visual and verbal texts are presented. Specifically, you’ll think about the differences between “old media,” like magazines, and “new media,” like computers.
Look again at “The Virtual Immigrant.” In the previous activities, you explored how the photographs and written text presented different, complementary aspects of a larger story about call-center workers in India. Now think about how “The Virtual Immigrant” could be presented online, taking advantage of what the Internet can do that print media cannot.
If you were going to post “The Virtual Immigrant” online, how would you do it? Think about it as a series of Web pages. What would the article’s first page look like? What would you include in it? Would you include live links? If so, where and to what? Which visual images might you include? As you think about how to transfer “The Virtual Immigrant” to the Web, think about the different aspects of the story that the photos and the article tell. How might you divide—or not divide—those aspects of the piece on your Web site? Would you need to add anything that is not in the piece now? Are there pieces you would choose to omit? Why? And, since audio is available on the Web but not in print, what might you use it for? Make a storyboard of the screens of your “Virtual Immigrant” Web site. Post them around the room; visit each other’s storyboard sets. Then visit the Saudi Aramco World Web site at www.saudiaramcoworld.com to see how it presents “The Virtual Immigrant.” How is it similar to and different from your storyboard? As a class, discuss how the Web is similar to and different from the magazine as a medium for the piece.
Now turn your attention to the Virtual Walking Tour, a piece that appears in very different ways in the pages of this magazine and on the Web site. Start by reading the brief text in the magazine. What does the article’s text tell you about Al-Haram Al-Sharif? What do the photos show you? Do they make you want to see more on the Web site? Choose one of the photos and describe it to a partner as if he or she couldn’t see it. In your description, include your perspective—whether you are looking up or down, from the edge of a room or from the center, and so on. Then switch roles, with your partner describing a different photo to you in the same way.
Before you visit the Virtual Walking Tour on the Web site, predict how it might compare to the magazine article and photographs. How do you think they will be similar? Knowing what you know about the Internet, how do you imagine they will be different? Then go to www.saudiaramco world.com and take the tour with your partner. Navigate around the spaces, clicking on the “hot spots.” Discuss with your partner what you can see online that you couldn’t see in the magazine. If you were recommending this piece to someone, would you suggest they look at it in the magazine, online or both? Why?
||Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Eliot, Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.
This article appeared on pages 44-45 of the January/February 2009 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.
Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for January/February 2009 images.