How to Teach With ‘What’s Going On in This Picture?’

Now we encourage you to try the activity in your own classroom.

Step 1: Choose an image to use.

Take some time to browse our collection of images, including these slideshows of some of our favorite photos from What’s Going On In This Picture. You can use the most recent image, which is always listed at the top of this page, or you can select an image from our archives that your students may find interesting.

Step 2: Moderate a discussion.

Use VTS’s guiding questions and facilitate discussion about your chosen image. You can also encourage students to join the conversation on a classroom forum or in our comments section.

Step 3: Reveal the “backstory”.

Every Thursday we reveal the “Backstory” about that week’s photo and what it represents. On all the previous images, you can scroll to the bottom of the page for the big reveal. Share the revelation with your students and have them answer the question, “How does reading the caption and learning the backstory help you see the image differently?”

If you have tried this with your students, let us know. How did it go? Was there anything surprising about the experience or something you would do differently? Do share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Things to consider when attempting to use these images with your students:

  • What is your goal or purpose for using What’s Going On in This Picture?

  • How will you integrate this activity into your larger curriculum?

  • Which image will you use?

  • Where and how do the students participate in the discussion?

  • Will you use the Visual Thinking Strategies facilitation model?

  • Are there any additional scaffolding that you may need to provide to help your students participate in this activity?

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If your students are 13 or older in the United States or the United Kingdom, or 16 or older elsewhere, they can post comments directly to The Learning Network. They don’t need a New York Times subscription to do this, but they do need to create a free account to post their own comments. If your students are younger and still want to join the conversation, you or a parent can post on their behalf.

Table of Contents

In the examples above, teachers use “What is happening in this picture?” as a daily or weekly practice, warm-up, and starting point for a class discussion. Some teachers have taken this feature even further:

  • Christa Forster, a high school English teacher, used “What’s Going On in This Picture?” in her 9th and 10th grade English classes to practice the skills of accurate reading, analysis and writing evidence-based paragraphs in preparation for her Shakespeare unit. According to her students, it somehow makes Shakespeare less intimidating and more fun to teach.

  • Claudia Leon and Margaret Montemagno, two English as a New Language (ENL) teachers, used the activity to work on claims and proofs while focusing on academic vocabulary development. One strategy they use is to provide students with a version of the photo tagged with relevant vocabulary. Another strategy is to use a large T-Chart to keep track of claims and evidence.

  • Jodi Ramos, a middle school English teacher, has used this feature to expand students’ knowledge through current events. After students discuss the chosen image and see the big reveal, they learn more about each topic. For example, for the image of people in tree-like costumes, the students watched a short video of someone from Switzerland explaining the tradition.

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If you’re a “What’s happening in this picture?” teacher otherwise we’d love to hear about your experiences.

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