Visual Literacy (photographs): a suggested lesson plan

 According to the glossary of Australian Curriculum English…

Texts can be written, spoken or multimodal and in print or digital/online forms. Multimodal texts combine language with other systems for communication, such as print text, visual images, soundtrack and spoken word as in film or computer presentation media.

Here is a simple lesson plan to introduce students to the experience of reading and understanding a visual text.

  1. Select an interesting photograph and share with your students via the whiteboard or an ICT tool such as VoiceThread. Use the following questions with the whole class to discuss the photograph and make meaning from it.
  2. Then provide each pair or group of students with another photograph and ask them to discuss their photograph using the same set of questions.
  3. When they have finished, they could present their findings orally to another pair, group or the whole class.
  4. As a writing activity, they could write a story about the photo, a diary entry for one of the people in the photo or a statement from the photographer to explain the photograph.
  5. With older students you might talk about how images can be manipulated in order to present a particular point of view, and why this might be done.

Questions to ask about the photograph
•    Where might this photo have been taken?  (What clues in the photo helped you to answer this question?)
•    When do you think it was taken?  (What was the time of day, era, season? Again, what clues helped you to answer this question?)
•    Who is in the photo? What are they doing?
•    Is there anything in the photo that you don’t understand?
•    Why do you think the photographer might have taken this photo?
•    Where would the photographer have been standing when he took the photo?
•    Does the photo look as if it was arranged by the photographer or just taken as events happened?
•    Do you think the photograph has a particular message for the viewer?
•    Has the photographer made use of light and shade?  (If so, what effect has been created?)
•    What is the centre of interest in the photograph?  (Where does the photographer want us to look?)
•    What might be happening outside the frame?  (Are there likely to be more people, for instance?)  If you knew what was happening outside the frame might this change your understanding of the photo?