Standard Lesson

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words: From Image to Detailed Narrative

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
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After looking at an image that tells a story, students brainstorm about the possible events and characters the image illustrates. Students then write from the point of view of one of the characters in the image, sharing the character's thoughts and feelings, describing the events that led up to the picture, or imagining the events that followed.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

This lesson uses artworks as inspiration for narrative writing. Why use artwork? As Rochelle I. Frei (1999) explains, art "can be used the same way as written text can to expand children's knowledge of the world, and to understand what children do when they make sense of that world. . . . Art can provide a window into how children negotiate their understandings of images and their knowledge of the world" (386). In Frei's project, students explain their understanding of pieces of art, revealing details about their literacy processes and strategies. The same kinds of revelations, likely on a more advanced level, are revealed in this lesson, where students explore background actions and other narratives related to the art they study. All students can find success "where they are" through this exploration of culture, vocabulary, voice, and characterization in the specific context of the inspiration artwork. Because of the open-ended nature of this lesson, it is particularly appropriate for multi-leveled classrooms and classrooms with special-needs students and English Language Learners.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Board and markers or chalk
  • Copies of a picture that tells a story
  • General classroom supplies




  • Find a "Norman Rockwell"-type picture, i.e., any picture that is telling a story with people and a clear situation. The Saturday Evening Post is one source for this kind of picture. You can also look at online art gallery resources (listed in the Resources section).
  • Copy the picture for each student and have the original available for fine details.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics of narratives (e.g., sequence, storytelling).
  • explore connections between images and words.
  • use detailed vocabulary to write their text.

Instruction and Activities

  1. Distribute the picture to the students.
  2. Ask students to examine the picture individually for a few minutes, jotting down on a piece of scratch paper or in their writer's notebooks any features or details that they notice.
  3. Consulting their notes as necessary, students brainstorm about the possible events and characters this picture illustrates. As students share their ideas, place the words or phrases under headings such as Character, Setting, Situation, and Vocabulary (see example). This is especially helpful for nonnative speakers, who may need help with vocabulary and spelling. Of course, this step may be only oral for native speakers.
  4. Ask students to write from one character's point of view. They may write about the character's feelings and thoughts, tell the story that leads up to the picture, or narrate the events that follow. Encourage students not only to describe the picture but to invent an original story related to the event illustrated. Students can sketch out the sequence of events for their narratives using the Timeline Tool.
  5. Remind students of the characteristics of narrative writing. You might write the information on a piece of chart paper or on the board so that writers can refer to the list while working.
    • Focuses a clear, well-defined incident or series of related events.
    • Develops plot, character, and setting with specific detail.
    • Orders events clearly.
    • Uses description and dialogue as appropriate to develop setting and character.
    • Shows events rather than just telling about them.
    • Establishes and maintains a tone and point of view.
    • Uses a logical and effective pattern of organization, such as chronological order, flashback, or flash-forward.
    • Uses transitional words and phrases to maintain coherence and establish sequence within and between paragraphs.
  6. Based on student need and experience with writing narratives, you might add one or more mini-lessons that will help students complete their work. Any of the following items would make excellent mini-lessons for writers composing narratives:
  7. If you want students to create a more formal piece of writing, allow additional class sessions for them to revise, type, and edit their papers. Alternately, you might have students do simple "first draft" writing, or write in their journals or writer's notebooks.


Student Assessment / Reflections

The results of this activity range from a restatement of the vocabulary from the brainstorming on the board or chart paper to a detailed story with fleshed-out characterizations, depending upon the student and his or her abilities; therefore, a variety of finished products may result, each reflecting individual student's efforts.

  • If students write their stories in their journals, you might read and simply note things that stand out as specific and well-detailed.
  • If students complete multiple drafts of this piece, you could use the Peer Review: Narrative lesson plan to give students the chance to do self-assessment and revise their texts. Then use similar guidelines to respond to their writing.
  • For more formal feedback, use the Narrative Writing Rubric.