I love the Trams

poem by Libby Hathorn , illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

Learning Intention: 

I am learning how to discuss an illustrator’s use of visual techniques so that I can understand how these choices impact on the viewer response. 

Success Criteria: 

  • I can define the terms salience, vectors and reading pathways.  
  • I can recognise these features in a visual image. 
  • I can begin to explain why an illustrator chose to use these techniques and the effect of these choices. 

If you have a digital subscription, play the recording of the poem on The School Magazine’s website. Alternatively, read the poem aloud to students. Do not display the text or illustration yet. Ask students to close their eyes as they listen to the poem and visualise the words that they are hearing.  

Next, provide students with a text only copy of the poem (without the accompanying illustration). Ask students to mock up a quick illustration of the poem. Ask them to zoom in on the key descriptions of the two types of trams (sleek red snakes, blunt-nosed slinky vs. toast-rack wide, gnashing tracks, swaying). Then ask them to consider how they will represent these two trams through their drawings and how they will arrange the images to contrast the prams and the time periods that they come from.  

With their illustrations in mind, introduce the following terms to students:  

  • Salience / salient image: the element of the image that stands out and is the first thing that grabs the viewer’s attention 
  • Reading pathways: the path a viewer takes through a text, from most to least salient image 
  • Vector: a line that leads the viewer’s gaze from one part of the image to another 

Ask students to analyse their illustration and identify the salient image and the reading pathway. Then ask them to find vectors in their drawing or see if they can include vectors in a second draft.  

Explain that images, like words tell a story. The story of an illustration can be decoded through analysing an illustrator’s use of visual techniques. Ask students if the story in their illustration makes sense. At this point, students will probably identify that their image is a bit jumbled up and does not tell a coherent narrative.  

Display Marjorie Crosby-Fairall’s illustration. Identify the following visual techniques and discuss their effects:  

  • Salient image: the green and red trams, juxtaposed. This is due to their placement in the top centre of the page and their use of colour. The effect of this salient image is to alert the viewer immediately to the main idea of the poem: the contrast between old trams and the new. 
  • Reading pathway: (this is one interpretation, rather than the definitive answer) after looking at the two prams, viewers track their gaze down to the crowd of people starting at the left and moving to the right. The viewer then looks at the stone columns of Central Station above the trams, before finally observing the pedestrian and coloured glass windows in the background. The effect of this reading pathway is to look at the topic of the poem first, then to jump into the past by looking at the historical fashion of the crowd (also note the use of sepia), before finally returning to the present by looking at a modern, renovated Central Station.  
  • Vectors: there are many vectors in this image including the lines created by the rectangle tram, the gutter of Central Station, the tracks on the ground and the placement of the crowd. The effect of these lines is to encourage the viewers’ eyes to track forwards and back to take in details of each of the elements. It also creates a sense of movement which suits the topic of the poem: transport.  

Finally, to consolidate understanding provide students with a table of three rows and the initials T.E.E. written down the side. This stands for:  

  • Technique 
  • Example 
  • Effect 

Ask students to choose one visual technique, provide an example of the technique in the text and explain its effect. For example:  

  • Technique: Salience 
  • Example: The old green tram  
  • Effect: The tram’s colour makes it stand out. It is placed in the centre of the image which makes it look like the main topic in the poem.  

Extension: ask students to choose another illustration in this issue and write a TEE paragraph on it.