Standard Lesson

Rummaging for Fiction: Using Found Photographs and Notes to Spark Story Ideas

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Six 50-minute sessions
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Found notes and photographs can provide inspiration for pieces of creative writing. After reviewing a sample story written from a found note and image, students search the Web for found images and notes that they find interesting. They then sketch the found image and label the parts they identify.  They select one character from the image and write questions about how that character relates to other elements in the image. Next, students imagine what would happen if the character they identified in the image found the note they selected. They then write an interview with the character from their image or a description of the image from the character's point of view. Students use an online tool to further develop the character they identified and to map the setting and conflict for a short story. Finally, students draft a short story based on the character, conflict, and setting they created.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In "Literacy in the Arts," Peggy Albers argues that "if we want children to represent meaning visually, musically, and/or dramatically, along with their written texts-in other words, to create a semiotic system-we have a responsibility to teach them how to create meaning in many sign systems" (8). Albers' work provides useful theoretical background to support offering students the opportunity to connect art, existing text, and their own writing in the classroom.

The NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies supports Albers' claims, noting that the "[i]ntegration of multiple modes of communication and expression can enhance or transform the meaning of the work beyond illustration or decoration." The implication for teachers and the students in their classrooms is the need to study and produce an "interplay of meaning-making systems."

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 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).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 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.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).




Student Objectives

Students will

  • select photographs and found notes to use as sources for creating conflicts and characters in an original work of fiction.

  • identify and create original examples of setting, character, conflict, and resolution.

  • engage in the processes of brainstorming, drafting, editing, and revising to complete an original work of fiction.

  • submit an original work of fiction for peer editing and evaluation.

  • use their knowledge of character, conflict, and resolution to edit and evaluate a peer's original work of fiction.

Session One

  1. Share with students the goals of the assignment and look at a Sample Story from Found Image and Letter to discuss the relationships between the image, letter, and story. In this sample, the photograph and letter are directly related, but they certainly do not have to be.

  2. Take students to a computer lab with print capability and direct them to the Online Photograph and Document Resources page that you bookmarked earlier.

  3. Instruct students to find an engaging image of a found photgraph and an interesting found note or excerpt from a letter or journal. Photographs should contain at least one person who is not an easily recognizable historical or cultural figure.

  4. Have students copy and paste the images and text they find into a word processing document and print them out for use in the next session. Ask students to include the Web address for each resource in the document.

Session Two

  1. Begin this session with a study of the found images, having students sketch on a clean piece of paper the major components of their found photograph. Ask them to examine the details in the photograph closely, but not to worry about creating an actual copy of the photograph. Instead, encourage students to use stick figures, basic shapes, and simple symbols to represent each component.

  2. Have students use short, concrete phrases to label the individual components they have identified.

  3. Then, have students select a person from the photograph. They should write ten or more questions about how individual concrete details in the photograph relate to the person they selected. For example, they might pose questions about the relationship of this person to other people in the photograph or to specific objects or places depicted in the photograph. Is one detail more significant than another? Why is this so?

  4. Finally, have students select a name for the person from their photograph.

Session Three

  1. Shift students' focus from their images to the found letters or notes. Have students read their found note or excerpt and imagine that the character they identified in the photograph discovers the note. What might happen when the character discovers the note? What is its significance to the character? How does the character feel about the note?

  2. Ask students to use their found note and photograph to respond in writing to either option A or B. Students will use this brainstorming activity for work in Session Five.

    • Option A: Write a one-page description of the photograph from the point of view of the character you selected in the photograph. Your response must incorporate three or more details from the photograph, answer five of the questions about the photograph that you created in the first session, and explain what happens when the character in your photograph discovers the found note.

    • Option B: Write a mock interview session with the character you selected in your found photograph. Your response must incorporate three or more details from the photograph, answer five of the questions about the photograph that you created in the first session, and explain what happens when the character in your photograph discovers the found note.

Session Four

  1. Explain to students that they will use an interactive tool to further develop the character they selected from the found photograph and to establish a setting and conflict for a short story. They can use the response they wrote in the previous session as a starting point.

  2. Provide students with access to ReadWriteThink's interactive Literary Elements Mapping Tool. Have students use the tool to plan their short story by completing the graphic organizers for character, conflict, setting, and resolution.

  3. As students work, use the guiding questions in the Teacher's Guide for the Literary Elements Mapping Tool to help students complete the activity. The Guide suggests questions for each step in the tool to help students think through how to incorporate the various elements.

  4. Have students print out a copy of each of the graphic organizers they created in the mapping tool as soon as they complete them. Note that work done in the tool cannot be saved.

Session Five

  1. Have students use the notes and graphic organizers they compiled from the previous sessions to write a draft of their short stories. Remind students to include all the elements of a short story in their writing. You may want to give students a copy of the Short Story Editing Guide to serve as a checklist for the expected elements of their work:

    • Characterization, including concrete details about primary and secondary characters

    • Setting, including concrete details about where and when the story takes place

    • Conflict, including clearly established protagonist and antagonist

    • Resolution, including a believable resolution to the conflict
  2. Allow students time in class and at home to complete their stories.

Session Six

  1. Give each student two additional copies of the Short Story Editing Guide. Have students use one copy of the guide to review their own work.

  2. Have students exchange papers with a partner and use the second copy of the guide to review their partner's paper.

  3. Allow students time in class and at home to revise their short stories based on their self-editing and the feedback from the peer-editing.

  4. Students should turn in the final draft of their short story, along with all of the work they completed during sessions one through four. Final work should include each of the items listed on the Short Story Completion Checklist.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Use the Short Story Completion Checklist to evaluate each student’s performance in completing the following steps in the writing process: brainstorming, drafting, editing, and revising drafts.

  • Use the Short Story Editing Guide to evaluate and offer feedback on each student’s final draft.

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