Strategy #6: Reading photographs

Photographs are commonly interspersed within much of our students' reading materials and have tremendous power to communicate information. "Reading" photographs along with the related text presents a unique set of challenges for students. However, we can guide them to use questions to decode, evaluate, and respond to photographic images.

Example Photo 1

The photograph above is provided as a reference as you work through application of the following steps.

1. The Five "W" Questions:

A common approach to understanding what photographs communicate is to ask the Five W's:  who, when, what, where, and why. While the "Five W's" may seem simplistic, they are a starting point for better comprehension.  

Have your students utilize the Five "W" questions starting with this basic comprehension set:

  • Who or what is in the photograph?
  • When was this photograph taken?
  • What is happening in the photograph?
  • Where was this photograph taken?

Adding the fifth W, "Why?" builds on basic comprehension to encourage critical analysis for visual literacy:

  • Why did the photographer select these particular elements to include in the photograph?
  • Why did the photographer emphasize certain elements and not others?
  • Why did the photographer take the picture at this moment?
  • Why did the photographer take the picture from this angle?