20 Prompts for Photo-Inspired Writing in Secondary ELA

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Using photography is an excellent way to inspire writing.  Photos can be used to prompt personal narratives, persuasive essays, creative pieces, op-eds, thematic analysis, and more!  They also drive high-interest discussions about the world and our personal experiences.  Consider using photos from current events in the news, famous historical events, or the most beautiful photos from the year.

Below, I have provided a list of 20 prompts that can be used with pictures, photos, and images in order to target Common Core skills.  I have not included any actual photos in this blog post because I wanted to provide a list of prompts that could be used for any photo throughout the school year.  Pair these prompts with quirky, humorous, moving, emotional, interesting, or controversial photos, and use them as prompts for quick writes or essays during writing workshop.  


Click on the image to download a FREE copy of these prompts.

Click on the image to download a FREE copy of these prompts.

1.  What's the story behind this photo?  Use your imagination.

2.  What life experience does this photo remind you of?

3.  What is this image trying to communicate?

4.  What issue is depicted in this photo?  What's your opinion on this issue?

5.  Start a new story inspired by the photo.  Begin with "That was the day the world changed..."

6.  Find a captivating photo and let it inspire a new piece of writing.  Share your photo and your writing with the class.

7.  What is the most important element of this photo and why?

8.  How would the message of this photo change if it was in black and white and not color?

9.  Write a caption for this photo and explain how it goes with the photo.

10. Write a dialogue bubble for the person or people in this photo.  How does this dialogue relate to the photo?  Explain. 

11. Someone in your class dropped this photo on the floor, and you found it.  Write what happens next.

12. What is the dominant color in this photo?  What would happen if the color was changed to something very different?  Explain.

13. What is the tone of this photo?  Is it happy, sad, anxious, hateful, loving, etc?  How do you know?  Explain.

14. You're walking through Times Square in New York City, and a fortune teller hands you this photo.  Write what happens next.

15. How does this photo relate to a world issue?  Explain.

16. How does this photo relate to your life?  Explain.

17. How does this photo relate to another text (story, novel, painting, song, movie, etc.)?  Explain. 

18. How does this photo use contrast to help communicate the overall message of the photo?

19. How does this photo use repetition to help communicate the overall message of the photo?

20. Someone just hacked your Facebook account and posted this photo as your profile pic.  Whoever did this seems to know you.  Write what happens next.

What prompts would you add to this list?  Leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you!


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Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA.  She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University.  She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas.  Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.


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