There is one thing I like to do with my classes. Settle them quick. Lessons can fly by in an instant. One cannot afford to lose time, sometimes. A better way to settle a class, other than using a cattle prod or a sedative, is to give them a challenge based on time. I have shared this simple strategy with teachers that have attended my workshops.

At the beginning of the lesson I display a photograph from the galleries of one of the following apps: Guardian Eyewitness, Reuters Galleries or Life. All the students need to do is to write whatever they wish based on the photograph. That is it. For example, I recently shared this image with my Year 8 History class (Secondary 2).

The moment I display the image I play a song from the Music app and the students have until the end of the tune to complete the writing task. I only give them a rough idea of the duration. For example, I displayed the following photograph via the Guardian Eyewitness app. I do not give them any information regarding the photograph. All I seek is writing. Words, letters and ideas.

Photograph used for writing task

“A ruined street in Aleppo after heavy shelling. At least 22 people were killed in the latest clashes, after a truce to mark Eid was breached.” Narciso Contreras.

The music that the students listened to with this photograph was 1970 by Iggy and The Stooges from their Funhouse album (1970). It is quite a frenetic, rampant and chaotic bit of music. It went for just over 5 minutes.

Funhouse album cover The Stooges

Upon conclusion I asked the students to share their response with one other person and then to share it once again. So iPads were passed around the room and the students read the responses of their classmates. Members of the class read the works of their fellow students to the class. The responses are quite good. They felt that the music assisted with the mood and their concentration. It allowed them to either “switch on” or “switch off” if you get my drift.

The students focus. They are driven. They enjoy the challenge. Beat the clock. Simple. They like to read and hear the responses of other students in the class.

Well, what did the students produce by the end of the 5 minutes? I have added their unedited responses below.

When I see this image I get a feeling of depression and loss. It looks like something of catastrophic power has occurred like a tsunami, fire or a earthquake. I can see that everything is black and colourless. It is not inhabited any more compared to how it was. I have empathy and feel that it used to be a place of joy and were many things happened. It may have happened in a city or important place. Not many people are there except for the three people of the street taking in all the things which are happening. It tells me that such normal places can be destroyed instantly from the earth. To get through painful events on this people rely on others and there generosity. Rich countries must help these places out. By donating time effect food money and shelter. The destroyed existing place can be rebuilt to what is was before.


“As I walked through the deserted, destroyed city of my home town birth, I looked around with wonder at the destruction the earth can cause in a small period of time. It was almost like mother nature had something against us that day, the amount of havoc it had wreaked throughout this place. Everything was so dreary, not only was everything physically destroyed, it had a feel to it as if gloom was pressing upon it and it felt defeated from what had occurred. There was no colour left for our eye to rest upon, no man made wonders that had been what this city was all about – everything it once was, was everything it now wasn’t. The few people that trudged through the town, had eyes downcast and a depressed falter to their step as they saw the effects to a place that was once so close and dear to their hearts”.


This place was destroyed. I was shocked on what happened to my hometown. Why did this happen to me. Every building everything i see is gone it brings back memories on e when it happened. The buildings falling, the light poles crashing down. It was terrible the loud bangs. I walk these streets now thinking if we will recover from this disaster. Lives lost and many injured these things will always be stuck in me head. Why did i survive i could have been one of those people killed. Even though people survived they have lost everything there families the possessions how are they going to recover from this.


All the broken, run down buildings as they crumbled in front of me that day when I walked down the street. The sky was grey much like the streets that day. I wanted to run away but I was trapped. I was angry, sad, broken and annoyed but I couldn’t let my emotions take over, I had to be strong for the few people that were left. I walked past the rubbish and glass not knowing what to do that day but the one thing I did know was that I had to leave, get out.. Move away.


It is very dull
It looks like there was a big war going on
There was only several survivors after whatever has happened
Rubble, dust, nearly everything is broken
Homeless people
People need help
No food, water or shelter left over
A very sad day for humanity
A fire has destroyed the city
The picture is mainly in black and white with some colours in the background
People need to donate money to restore this area which has taken the damage
His photo looks like it was taken somewhere in America
It looks like a very densely populated area
It lied like many people would be injured, killed or just left the area
There was a lot of damage meaning a lot of money and possessions are gone


I step outside and am absolutely devastated. The disaster that struck last night was unbelievable. Those people coming in and climbing onto people’s balconies and killing all living things in sight. I’m lucky I survived. Me and five other friends of mine lived in a small shack in the main city where this happened. Two of my friends and I went out to dinner and came back to this we went back to our shack and all I remember seeing was my three other friends dead on the floor with the rest of our shack. I went through all the rubbish and ash with the others and just started walking, I couldn’t believe what I had just seen but it got worse. I don’t think just the group of people were here there must have been an earthquake or something.


The deteriorated street that I walked through made my hairs stand up on end. It made me edgy and jumpy. The road on which I walked was messily paved and water had gathered in the lower parts. The tall buildings felt like a trap, slowly closing in on me, engulfing me into their terrorised insides.
The sky was a dark grey and I could feel the tension in the air, the only noise was my shoes tapping on the uneven ground and the low rumbling of distant thunder. It was getting closer, I could tell. I quickened my pace and my shoes were tapping steadily, mirroring my heartbeat. Almost there I thought to myself.


I was there when the bomb hit. The explosion blocked my ears and sent a ringing throughout my whole body. I couldn’t move I couldn’t see all I could do was feel. Feel the hurt, the anguish, the tragedy. My family was killed in that explosion, lives were destroyed, houses were ruined just for some stupid war. My neighbourhood that I lived in and loved was no longer a happy place it was a place of sorrow and of hurt. I’m now homeless left to fend for myself nobody to help me or love me. I go back sometimes to where it all happened, rubbish fills the streets and house are mangled into shapes unknown to man. It is a time of reminiscence to those who I loved that wee taken from me. I loved and I still love.


Once a life full of amazement and colourful creation, now a town full of poverty and dark grey dullness. I wish it was the same as it was before, i wish my life would be the same. I was born in this town with a life ahead of me, full of inspiration and hope, until the moment our lives were turned upside down forever. In 1998 a bomb landed through my home town killing a heap of people, all of my friends and family. Our lives were never the same after that….. Everytime i step outside of my destroyed home, i see the narrow street and remember seeing all of the helpless bodies laying all over the floor, blood streaking down their faces as well as tears and screaming loud voices of my neighbours as they saw the moment their lives were ripped out from them. Suddenly, everything they had ever done and achieved in their live, was vanished for good, and all of the homes that shared all those memories were destroyed. No one could look out our town the same, there was no longer any smiling faces, laughter from everywhere nor was there any sight of anyone throughout the street. I could not even remember what my old town was like, the only memories i had were before the bomb went off and all of the helpless and sad memories from after the bomb. My life has changed for good! I hate it!


My feet touch the dirty remains of what was once the city I used to live in. The rubble and waste make it harder for me to walk, I’m amazed to see what has happened shock runs through me instantly. I feel like the whole city has been torn apart, roofs breaking wearing away, stone decaying slowly like its been eaten by something. I look around, I see no one it feels wrong these streets used to be filled with people and now.. Now there is nothing except the little remains. I slowly inhale a deep breath, suddenly my nostrils are filled with a disgusting scent, it smells of deadness, emptiness. Like there is no life around, everything looks so gloomy and dark it gives a ere feeling in the pit of my stomach. I slowly continue walking through the street, rubbish everywhere, dirt in the atmosphere and sorrow for the people who used to once live here.


It was just me and my amigos. Walking down what used to be our concrete jungle, the place we used to dominate and walk the streets not afraid of anyone. There were things to be afraid of but we were the kings and we ruled. All of our childhood memories lied here now in this burnt and destroyed street. The fire ripped through when we were away, now there is no be left but us, the memories have to live on but we can’t seem to find a way out, the street seems to go for miles and an eternity with no end. We see the ruined apartments, rubbish every where, the bitter scent and sting of the building’s corpses fills ours noses. Even the sun has gone away, the temperature has a gloomy feel to it. So we just keep walking, walking, walking through a never ending street of devastation that can never be repaired, our homes lost in the rubble and path of fire. Destroyed and gone forever…


Then, as the people left, I could still hear the cries of the wounded. They destroyed everything. Even the kids had no chance. They came with guns, and left with body bags. They shot people down left right and centre. They strolled up buildings, laughing, they got the people in the buildings and chucked them off the rooftops. They started playing a game. Chuck a kid off the roof, shoot them as they fall. Many succeed. They got their tanks and blew up the roads, placing kids on the roads, and blowing them up with them. It was horrible. They brought in rats, dogs, horses and their weird ligars. The animals haven’t eaten for days, you could smell the hunger illuminated off them. The let their animals loose. They finished off the remains of the children’s and adults. This, was horrible.


As I walk down the ruins of the street I once knew quite well, I hear the loud sound of crumbling rocks falling from the balconies above. I see only five other people who are brave enough to walk down the road, wondering where everything went wrong. The street was once had a very vibrant feel with children running and cheerfully playing in the streets. How did it come to this and more importantly, why?


The buildings are destroyed
By war and erosion they’re in the debris of the abandoned over ridden
It looks as though the buildings are places where slums and low life people would live. It shows the poverty in the world that we have. This may also be an image from a war that was of mass destruction, where asylum seekers left because of the lifestyle of poverty, and uncleanliness. It looks as if it was a pretty descent place before the tragedy came upon This city.


As we strolled through the ruins a great feeling of depression and despair washed over me. Everywhere I looked rubble covered the floor on which my feet were trudging through. Nature had won. The cyclone hit early yesterday morning and 24 hours later we could see it showed no mercy or remorse. The life of these once bustling streets had been taken away in an instant. The doors of houses and apartments had been left ajar and windows had been shattered. Jordan.D

The warfare between Israel and Egypt created a massive mess and the people will take a while to clean this up, some cities have been severely damaged, the streets look abandoned and have rubbish everywhere, some people are just looking at the damages and there are three people walking down the road and in the background there seems to be a taxi, most of the buildings in the picture are fairly damaged, all of the metal poles in the picture are bent which indicates either bad weather or some warfare, the style of the buildings indicate that it’s in the Middle East.


Utter horror, devastation, trauma. The buildings have collapsed, and among them many people also. War, we need peace in this world, it needs to happen now. A highly populated area. Many people will have to relocate to find peace again. The money it will take to rebuild the structures, the buildings, the shops, the lives.

A bombing, bloodshed, bullseye flying everywhere, tankers, battalions, men who have left their family to defend their country.

Sad, no colours, grey, glum, people trying to escape.
People coming together to help rebuild the community, people helping out. A sense of community. Love can be found within it all.

A taxi, possibly transporting someone at the time of the event. Forced to run away from where the carnage was taking place. Hope, hope that everything and everyone will be ok. Love, love for your family and community.


Very little population
Concreted all over
This place is a dark and gloomy place. But no one knows its real
story. The grey towers, polluted and cluttered with more rubbish than
anyone has seen in their life. More plastic bags than would be needed
to float an island. The concrete structures tower over the
unsuspecting people like villains over they’re foes, the feeling of
inferiority is overwhelming. The people, the only colour in a jungle
of blacks and whites. The civilians unable to be seen, only three
tourists who may never be seen again.


Grey, smoldered, rural area dwells within the earth beneath. Shanty houses covering up every square meter of the area, not a word to be heard, dead silent as the papers of rubbish floats around miserably in the air. Three explorers walk the streets to be in a well known described as a ‘dead town’. Isolated…with no one inhabited, no living thing could exist in such a dull place.

Windows broken, screeches from doors, it could turn out to be an abstract art painting, but instead it is reality. The pollution fills the air, making it hot and sticky to walk in, and poisonous to inhale and exhale. The buildings look as to be as old as God, it looks as if no one has lived here for decades, you feel lonely, away from the population, you feel scared, maybe thats why its rural, because no one wants to live in such an empty area.


Then, there was a cyclone. I was freaked out of my mind. What should I do? I ran downstairs and got out of the building. But it was coming my way. It was the end or was it?
I quickly found a car and started it up by connecting the two wires together. A drove off as far as I could. I was a good navigator so I knew where everything was. I drove fifty kilometers away into another town.

It had been two months since the cyclone. I haven’t heard anything from the town but I was determined to find out what happened. So I got in the car and drove back. I was a long ride but I eventually got there. It was an absolute mess. I got out of the car and saw about 7 people in the street. All the buildings were wrecked.


As the flames burn though the building walls. Lives are taken away from their burnt bodies as the unforgiving flames takes them. The flames didn’t stop, they kept coming destroying anything in its path. As the countless lives are lost I can see people doing everything they can to protect their loved ones, their belongings and themselves. These people jump out of their homes from 10 meters above the ground in the hopes of surviving. But when they believe they are safe the force of the ground coming upon their feet seriously injures them or worse kills them. We have come here today to see the devastation that we bring upon ourselves our technology has brought us great fortune but also great loss. This is why we must take care of everything we create and protect that of which we do not own.


I was one of the last human being on earth. I was a happy person living a normal life until the virus of flesh eating people who never stopped running felt no pain and look disgusting with blood drawling from there mouth there eyes rolled to the back of there head. Some people known them as zombies. It’s been 22 years since the first attach. My friends family and enemies are all gone eaten alive by these monsters most of them died because of the lack of eating so we are now rebuilding our city of 12 I have met two people during this time they lost everything the only bad thing is I think one is starting to develop the virus inside them which freaks me out.


The destruction of (place name here) was a devastating time in human history. Buildings were destroyed, bodies were laid out on the street, belongings trashed and survivors were to shocked to know the grand scale of the situation. The cyclone left nothing but rubble as it past through the city. Homes we no longer homes, hospitals were no longer hospitals and stadiums became the only place for comfort in this time of despair. Children left without parents no longer had a place to call home but more children kept coming looking for a home after their parents did not survive.


Everything was grey, there was no colour in this world anymore. Ever since the bombs went off and the bullets ripped through the houses, no one is safe but no one wants to leave. I thought of all this as I walked through the dead, lifeless buildings, including my destroyed home. I missed the laughing, the festivities and most of all the people that I lost like my parents. Many of the children were on a school trip when they attacked this city, and we’re spared but many of the people left behind we’re taken, and the city turned into a dead, grey barely standing houses and apartments. I was slowly walking towards mine taking it in slowly, still in shock. There was walls collapsing and you could still here screams of the people that might still be in their somewhere. My friends and I did not know what to do how to act. We didn’t know if we should cry or laugh, help people or run. Everything we had ever known in our lives had been destroyed. I could still smell the burning, and rotting of bodies and the stench of burning rubble. I could hardly see due to the colorless sky everything started to blend together as one and then I was on the ground, weeping and sobbing, my friends were trying to pull me up, yelling at me that people were coming again they were looking for whoever was alive and spraying the buildings and ground around us with bullets, I looked around for escape and saw my home the only place that I felt safe I started running.


I feel the tension between me and my siblings as we walked through what used to be my city. Now, a cold, destructive place. No sign if other life, just, nothingness.
The dullness stretched across the sky gave this place the sensation of war, and mayhem.
A war zone in itself.
We walked through our old city knowing, this moment would affect our lives forever.
It feels as if if I touched something, it would crumble in my delicate hands.
Our city was no more gleaming, instead it was slowing seeping slowly into the darkness, nothingness, abandoned.
I felt the need to scream, but I knew nobody would come to us. We were alone.


Cold, alone, as I watch my town breath it’s last breath as its dry pavement becomes wet with the blood of my brothers and sisters. The thick stench of those who have met their fate fill my senses as if I have been sent to a hell without hope of a saviour. Children cry out for anyone who will listen as they crawl through rubble and cry out in the mist of death their pain as they slither through shards of glass. The air is thick as it poisons us with every shallow breath. My face is smothered in dried blood rinsed with a path made by my tears.


My street.
My has it changed.
It used to be bustling with people, bright, full of life.
Now here it is, dull and dead. A week ago a bomb was dropped on my beloved town. I was out of town and have come back and this is what I see. What a difference. The day was scary but the sight before my eyes was worse.
My life, the people I knew has now gone. My entire life has been destroyed by one careless act.

I had never even thought about a situation like this let alone be in one. I could never had imagined this is what would happen to me.

My life feels as if it is over, all my belongings taken from me, family, friends, neighbours, all gone.

Why was I the only one to survive.
Some might say I am lucky, I say I am cursed with the loneliness and emptiness that will now be forever with me.


They left as quickly as they came. They left our home in a mess. everything was left to be grey and to die in the shadows of what had just came and conquered our people. We fled but they were too fast. we couldn’t keep up but some hid and of those who did little survived. I was one of the few who did. But now our city isn’t worth living in, it’s shanty at the best. rubbish cascaded the streets and we were overflowed by explosions bullets and screams. But the sky remained a light summer blue so there was hope for us yet. So from the wreckage we collected the remains of our belongings and picked up our children and left for a better home. One that is not and will always be grey. One that provides shelter and a place we can call home. A place made of dreams that form everlasting bricks that form our home. that will last forever.