One Story Lesson Plan: Framing the story — How photographs convey messages

January 20, 2015 at 5:07 pm


Framing the story: How photographs convey messages

This lesson is a short activity designed to help students consider how news photographs, when presented in a certain order or packaged in an intentional way, can convey messages or frame a story in a specific light. Students will work in groups and discuss their findings with the class.


  • Students will evaluate photographs to determine what messages or themes they convey.
  • Students will create photo packages that present or support specific interpretations of a news story.
  • Students will reflect on the power of photography to connect readers to a news story of significant impact.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.


Two 60-minute class periods

Materials / resources

Individual student access to “Other Than Honorable” online series

“Other Than Honorable” ZIP packages of page designs (5.7 MB) and photos (4.6 MB)

Computers with Internet access (one per group of three students)

Presentation rubric

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1 — 60 minutes

Give students in-class time to read through the first three parts of this series, “Disposable,” “Left Behind,” and “Locked Away.” They can do this on their own devices or use a computer lab for the class period.

Day 2

Assign groups, explain assignment (10 minutes)

Assign students to groups of three. Explain that they will be using photos related to the “Other Than Honorable” series to create photo packages that frame the story in a certain way. Before letting students break to work, you’ll want to have a class discussion that helps them anticipate the assignment.

Ask: “You’ve all heard the phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ What does that mean?” Respond to answers, and if necessary, explain that we often relate to images because they help convey emotions or perspectives that are difficult to put into words. Photographs also help us experience emotions, tragedies and successes that are part of the shared human experience.

Explain to students that photojournalism often crosses the boundary between neutral and subjective for exactly this reason — we expect images to convey emotion or perspective in ways that news stories, or words themselves, do not. This doesn’t make these images less “true,” but it is possible to construct a reality out of images that might be different if it were explained fully in words. To help students see how this might happen, they will use photographs from this series to construct a photo package that conveys an assigned emotion or theme.

Write these words on the board, and assign one to each group:

  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Hope
  • Despair
  • Lost
  • Supported
  • Troubled
  • Suffering
  • Ignored
  • Love
  • Commitment

Explain that as a group, students will sift through these photos and select ONLY those that relate to the word they’ve been assigned. They’ll download those photos and package them in a slideshow presentation.

Group work — 20 minutes (or more, as needed)

Let groups work at their computers, walking around to question, push/challenge and assist as needed.

Presentations — 30 minutes

Ask each group to present its slideshow (such as a presentation made in PowerPoint or similar) and explain why the images they chose represent their word or theme. As groups present, ask students to make note of which images resonate most strongly, which are seen among many themes, and which photos are missing altogether. Use the rubric included at the end of the lesson to assess presentations.

Debrief — Written student reflection or class discussion

As a class or as an individual writing assignment, ask students to reflect on what they learned in this assignment. What does this tell us about the power of an image? What does it say about the care and obligation journalists have in using photography to tell a story? How can we use these lessons to evaluate how the photos were used throughout the series (both in print form and online)? What are the ethical considerations involved with selecting photos to elicit certain emotional connections/responses from readers? Are these photo packages students created any less “true” than the stories you read yesterday? What angles of the story are missing or not accurately/wholly conveyed through these photo packages?


For advanced students: Assign them to compare the use/treatment of images between the website and print version of this series. How did the form/use/placement/captioning change? Did that affect their perceptions of the story? Which presentation was more meaningful/effective for the reader?

For students who need additional help with this kind of critical analysis: Begin by looking at the entire series of photos and ask students to label each photo with the word (from the above list) that best applies. Then, they can sort out the photos more methodically into like categories.