You’ve probably heard the saying that a “picture is worth 1,000 words,” right? This post is going to talk all about using photo writing prompts in the middle school or high school English classroom to encourage students to unpack the moments represented by those images, to serve as inspiration for creative writing, to practice close reading and abstract thinking.
Ways to Use Visual Writing Prompts
➡️ The first way to use photo writing prompts is to teach close reading.
Photographs are accessible to students. It’s easy to notice details and discuss what they might mean. Students can talk about connotations before jumping to analysis of written texts.
Try asking students what details in photographs can symbolize, what messages are being sent about society and/or human nature, what themes are suggested.
➡️ Next, use photos as journal writing prompts. I try to choose images for the journal that evoke an emotional response, abstract images, or images of different settings or characters that can serve as story starters. There is something about seeing a photograph that helps students to write. If they get stuck, they can look at the image and describe some of the details.
➡️ Finally, you can ask students to bring in photographs from their childhood (which serves as a great way to get to know your students). Students usually love doing “show and tell” with their pictures, even high school students. Then, you can ask them to brainstorm details they notice, take a look at exemplars, and choose their own photograph to inspire a personal narrative or memoir.
Questions for Photo Writing
- Tell me what is happening in the photo.
- What events led up to this moment?
- What are you thinking?
- Which details are important to describe more than others? Why?
- What is missing from this photo and why is it important?
- Why should we care about this photo?
- What does this photo reveal about your identity and/or values?
- Who is in the photograph? Tell me about him/her/them.
- What emotions does this photo evoke? Why?
- What does this photo symbolize on a deeper level?
Photo Writing Prompts for High School
Here are three prompts that you can try out this week. For these particular images, have students focus on writing dialogue, using descriptive details, and creating a memorable character. Or, just project the image, set the timer, tell them to write, and see what they come up with! Then, of course, give them the opportunity to share.
Thanks for reading this post! I hope you’re inspired to try using photo writing prompts with your middle school or high school students.
- Try creating your own prompts using Google Slides.
- Grab one of my ready-made digital writing journals.
- Check out my photo writing lesson plans & materials.
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