Photo Writing Prompts for Middle School

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Getting middle school students to write does not have to be an uphill battle! This lesson offers prompts you can use to get your middle school students writing about photographs.

Photo Writing

Are you interested in helping your middle school students write longer and deeper pieces? Students at this age are often well able to express themselves, but they might be a bit hesitant about really digging into a writing assignment. Having a good prompt and strong content for them to write about can make all the difference.

Middle school students are often deeply immersed in visual culture and look at many kinds of photographs over the course of each day. Whether you're using photos to support a social studies curriculum; to examine, analyze or critique popular culture; or to help students reflect on their own lives, the medium can be an important one for supporting all different kinds of writing.

The prompts in this lesson are designed to get your middle school students writing thoughtfully about photography. You can modify each prompt to meet the specific details of particular photos as well as the needs and abilities of the students in your class.

Photographic Content

Sometimes, we look at photos primarily for the content; they tell us stories about someone or something, or they help us form deeper and more nuanced understandings of the world. This section offers writing prompts oriented toward helping students analyze the content of photos.

  • Who are the major figures in the photo? What do they look like, and what emotions do they seem to be expressing? Write about how you know who these people are and what you think they are doing.
  • Where do you think this photograph takes place? Describe the details of the setting as well as what the location makes you think, feel, and wonder.
  • Write a story about what you think is happening in the photo. It's fine for your story to be speculative and fictional in nature.
  • What are some of the objects in the photo that seem significant to you? Write about each of the objects you see and what you think they might represent in relation to the rest of the photo's content.

Photographic Form

On the other hand, sometimes the most important aspect of a photo is not its content but rather its form. The prompts offered here help students focus more deeply on the technical aspects of photography as a genre.

  • Describe the use of light and dark in this photo. What do you think the photographer is doing through his or her use of light and darkness? How does it influence your way of responding to the photo?
  • Write about what is in the foreground and the background of the photo as well as what is or isn't in sharp focus. Speculate about what the photographer intended by foregrounding some people or objects over others.
  • What surprises you in the form of this photograph? Be as specific as you can in describing these surprises and what they cause you to think and feel.

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