Recurring Lesson

Utilizing Visual Images for Creating and Conveying Setting in Written Text

3 - 6
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
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Setting is an essential element of literature for both readers and writers.  The aim of this lesson is to help young writers effectively communicate the concept of setting in narrative writing to their readers through the use of visual image prompts (photographs).  The students are first asked to describe the setting of their photograph.  Then, through the process of sharing, attempting to replicate the images through drawing after hearing their partner's description, and conferencing with a partner, students decide if their word choice, literal and inferential descriptions, and details accurately conveyed the setting to their audience. This lesson is meant to be an introduction to setting, which could be followed up with more intensive instruction through a literature unit or writing assignment.


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From Theory to Practice

Our students live in a world where information comes to them in visual and auditory form much more frequently than in written form.  Thus it is not surprising to see evidence that they sometimes have difficulty making the connection, via imagination, between written word and the experience that it represents.  Students have difficulty telling about or drawing accurate pictures of the setting of stories they have read.  They have even more difficulty creating their own description without lapsing into fuzzy abstractions and clichés.  Photographs can become subject matter for talking about and writing as well as exemplars for writing.  This lesson allows students to explore setting through photography and explain their reasoning and connections.


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

  • 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.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of 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.

Materials and Technology


  1. Review the National Geographic Kids Photo Gallery and select and print two photographs for each student.
  2. Plan for small group and whole group activities, internet access, computer access (for the reflective process), and drawing materials.
  3. Review pictures to be used during introduction and teacher modeling.


Student Objectives

Students will

  • review the ways authors effectively express story setting (be specific by listing who, what, when, where, why, and the five senses).
  • write a detailed description of a setting (photograph).
  • determine if their description was detailed enough so the reader could complete the drawing activity.
  • use peer feedback to make changes to their description to improve its development and more accurately represent the setting to their audience.


Session One

  1. Display three pictures on the board or projector and give the students a vague sentence that could apply to any of the three.  Ask if they can identify your picture.  Lead students through a discussion about why it is difficult to identify your picture.  What could have been said to make identification easier?  Write student suggestions on the board.
  2. Conduct a discussion of why setting is important.  Remind students of the ways authors express the setting of a story.
    • Where?  Setting is a place.
    • When? Setting is time.
    • Who?  Setting as character.
    • What? What do you place in your setting?
    • Why? Why you selected your setting.
    • Sense.  Use of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound.
  3. Model how to describe a setting using the suggestions listed on the board.  Cover the photographs and ask the class to read back the model paragraph.  As the students are reading the description that was just created, the teacher will draw a picture based on the written portrayal.  Compare the drawing, photograph, and description. Make adjustments to the paragraph as needed if the drawing is too difficult to create because of a lack of detail in the written description.
  4. Distribute photographs and instruct students to select one of the two they are given.  They must not let anyone else see their picture. Using the list created during the teacher modeling and the different ways authors express setting, the students need to describe the setting using the image that they chose.  Give students 10 minutes to complete a written description of their setting.


Session Two

  1. Place students in cooperative learning pairs.  Each member will share his/her writing twice.  The first time the partner just listens to the writing.  During the second reading, the partner should write key phrases or words that are described in the setting.  After each partner has shared, the students have 15 minutes to try and recreate their partners’ photograph (using and art mat with paper and crayons or the Doodle Splash Student Interactive).
  2. Give students a chance to examine the drawings, show the original photographs, and conference with each other.
  3. Using peer input, the students should adjust their description of the setting.  They must elaborate on details that were not effectively communicated and incorporate information that was not included in the initial draft.
  4. Have students share their writing with the class and respond to the process.  How did their writing change?  What had the greatest impact on their choices?



  • Hang all of the pictures on the board.  Have each student read his or her description.  Have other students in the class see if they can identify the correct picture prompt.
  • The addition of music and sounds could help students connect with the picture prompts and communicate the message and tone more effectively to their intended audience.
  • This lesson could be easily adapted for a history, geography, or science lesson.  Students can be given photographs of historical settings, geographical places of study, and animal habitats. 


Student Assessment / Reflections

At the end of the lesson the students should have the opportunity to write 1-2 paragraphs (either in class or for homework) including:

  • What ways we can express setting in our writing?
  • How did conferencing with your audience change your writing?
  • Why is it important to identify your audience and what you want them to know about setting?

Students will be assessed on the accuracy and detail of their explanation for how setting is used in writing, the revision of their pieces and clear account of how writing for an audience influenced their writing, and give a detailed rationalization for identifying and communication to their audience (students should have at least one example from the lesson).


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