Easy Ways to Use Photos in an ELA Class

I love to take photos, look at photos and be inspired by photos.  And I especially love to use photographs in my English classes as a way to teach short story elements, mood, point of view and as inspiration for all types of student writing.  Here are five easy ways you can use photos in your class.

There are so many ways to use photos as writing prompts for students in your class. Here are a few of my favorite prompts to use with photos.

  •  If I were there I would…
  •  What happens next?
  • What happened just before this photo was taken?
  • Who took the photo? Why did they take it? Describe the photographer.
  •  Describe the photo to someone who can’t see it.  Use vivid and clear language to paint a picture with your words.
Grab a FREE copy of a writing planner & writing paper to use 
with any photo HERE!

When teaching students about point of view I love to incorporate photos and I love to find photos that show people from different places and different time periods. I often buy vintage postcards at antique shops or buy sets of photo cards from places of historical significance. The photo cards / post cards can be used as task cards at a writing center or stations.  

As practice for writing in different points of view you can use the following prompts.
  • Tell the story from the point of view of one of the people in the photo.  Use first person. 
  •  Tell the story from the point of view of one of the people in the photo. Use third person.
  •  Tell the story from the point of view of one of the objects in the photo. (You may not tell it from the point of view of a person). Use first person.
  •  Tell the story from the point of view of one of the objects in the photo. (You may not tell it from the point of view of a person). Use third person.
    I find vintage photos especially fun to use for point of view practice - a great way to get students to think historically, put themselves in someone else's shoes and to think from a perspective that may be a bit challenging for them. I picked up these vintage photo cards when I was in Alaska! I've had them for over 10 years and have used them every year since I bought them!

Find photographs of people from all over the world, of different ages and backgrounds. Use them as the inspiration for a character in a short story. Print them out and ask students to use them as their protagonist or antagonist.

Look for photo of places – use them as a setting.  Photos could be of a bookstore, landscape, a castle in France… be creative and imaginative as you are looking.  Use photographs from different time periods to add an extra creative element.  I took this photo on a hike this winter... I love the light and would use this photo as inspiration for the setting of a short story.  You could even assign students different genres of writing.  This photo could be used as a setting for a science fiction story, a fantasy, a romance, a mystery... 

Find a photo of a problem – it could be a broken down car, people arguing, a terrible storm, a shipwreck and use is as an inciting incident in a story or the main source of conflict.

Source photos that represent different moods – they could be somber, creepy, dark, or uplifting.  Students can brainstorm different words to incorporate into a short story to help create the mood of the story using the photo as inspiration.

Check out my Photo Prompts Resource - it includes 48 photo prompts that can be used for creative writing, point of view practice, shorty story inspiration and more!  Click HERE.

Just as photos can be used as writing prompts, they can also be used to inspire a poem. Photographs are a fabulous way to encourage use of imagery and other figurative language as students paint a picture with their words. Use photos of objects and ask students to write a poem personifying the object or have students use a vibrant photo of a street scene to practice writing with imagery.

With the increased popularity in fun fonts and inspirational quotes there are so many beautiful posters available on line to use as classroom d├ęcor. However, why not use your own photos or your students’ photos to create your own! Source a quote online and then create your own poster in Canva or in one of the many free apps for a smartphone. I used Photo Collage Maker for the photo below. Send them to yourself and then print them out and decorate your room!

  • Take Your Own – I am always on the lookout for photo opportunities for use in my classroom – it might be funny, quirky, interesting or beautiful… but if I can use it I will.
  • Your Students – chances are your students have 100s, if not 1000s of photos on their phones – ask them to submit one with their own writing prompt!
  • Vintage / Antique Markets – look for old photographs and postcards… my students have always loved working with vintage pictures from our local museum. (Check with your local museum to see if you can access their collection online.
  • Online -If you are only planning to use the photographs with your own students in your own classroom you can find endless photographs on the internet.  Some of my favorite websites for sourcing photographs (and they allow commercial use) are Unsplash and Morguefile.
For more fun photo ideas in your ELA classroom check out the following resources from my Coffee Shop Colleagues!

Nouvelle ELA - 5-Minute Journal Prompts
The Daring English Teacher - Descriptive Writing Mini Unit
Room 213 - Descriptive Writing Learning Stations

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