Observing, Describing & Inferring with {Picture of the Day}: Reading Photos "Closely"

Photo courtesy of Barbara Saia of Happy Go Smile

What do you observe in this picture? What details do you notice? What do see when observing it "closely"?
 What inferences can you make based on what you see in this picture?  

These are just a few of the questions that get kids thinking about some of the answers to many of the questions we ask them during close readings of a text.  Picture of the Day is an inferring strategy I started with students last year to increase their reading comprehension, in the particular area of Inferring. A toughie for a lot of kids.  Practicing this reading skill with pictures instead of text gives students an opportunity to use the same part of their thinking brain as they do for comprehending text, but without the taxing part of decoding text. 
When students are "doing" Picture of the Day, they are:
 Observing Details in Pictures;
 Describing Details in Pictures;
 Analyzing Details in Picture;
 and Making Inferences about Details in Pictures.

Most of the time, I would pull pictures from a variety of online sources like some of the following sites. I must say, you need to preview some of these daily pics, last minute doesn't always work for this because you never know what the picture of the day will actually be until, that day, and it might not be a topic of conversation you're ready to have...most of these are very appropriate for middle and high school. 

In fact, there are also a variety of Picture of the Day pinboards on Pinterest worth checking out as well. 
Also, the New York Times picked up on the teaching power of pictures last year and started a column in the Education section called...and I bet you can guess...Picture of the Day

Larry Ferlazzo, a high school ESL teacher in Sacramento, CA, also weighed in on the topic of using pictures, photos and images last year with this post, which I love because it talks about the powerful language component that is nurtured through Picture of the Day. His post is entitled
"Using Images with English Language Learners" but there is a wealth of information and links for all learners in the article.  At first, I jumped up and down when I read how much research supported the use and discussion of pictures when teaching young language learners. This is exactly the reseach behind Picture of the Day (and my other language & phonics product called Label It! Vocabulary Building for Young Writers.  

You are more than welcome to adapt Picture of the Day in your classroom like many of the teachers at my school have done, in various different ways.   

The way I do it with my reading groups is like Morning Work, for the first 10 minutes of class, after they  come to my class. I project a picture onto the board with my LCD projector and they discuss what they see with their neighbors, the details they observe and inferences that can be drawn based on evidence in the picture or their schema.  This is by no means the only way this activity could be structured.  This activity can be done whole group, small group with support (teacher or peers), or as a cooperative literacy center (we will transition to this after doing it whole group for a week or two.)

 They write down their observations and their justified inferences, Monday - Thursday, in their Reading Response Notebooks (nothing to photocopy or run off) 

In the beginning, I create an anchor chart that looks something like this...however, once they get the hang of it, they don't need it anymore (don't you just the Gradual Release of Responsibility? I do, it's so awesome!)

I also demonstrate a mentor example of what theirs might look and sound like...this anchor chart was written using the ballet picture below it.

Before I talk about

Then, on Fridays, I give a Picture of the Day assessment. A sort of formative way to give them feedback. The practice during the week is collaborative, guided and scaffolded, then Friday is their turn, to think it through, without help, collaboration or discussion.  The assessments are not perfect by any means, after all, Inferring is not a skill/strategy that students "get" overnight, but for most students, even high ones, there's lots of room to grow.

In addition, this activity is appropriate for regular ed, special ed, specialists, interventionists and subject area teachers.  My husband teaches at NC State University, when he read this blog post, he said, "I could totally use this idea in my university level courses" and I couldn't agree more.  This activity is so 21st century because it gets kids thinking, communicating, analyzing and writing at the highest levels. (Use my Bloom's Posters to teach Levels of Thinking to your students...and get them speaking the language of higher order thinkings skills.)

The best part about using pictures to teach inferring is that it correlates to the following Common Core standards for elementary grades, K-6.

RL.1 & RIT.1 - "Read closely to determine what the [picture] says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific [picture] evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text."

SL.2 - "Integrate and elaluate  information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually...."

SL.4 - "Present...supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning...appropriate to the task."

SL.5 - "Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays...to express information and enhance understanding..."

When I first introduced Picture of the Day to my 2nd grade reading groups, I used a picture of some otters because we are the Lake Myra Otters. It was a picture of a mother and pup otter, similar to this one HERE.   Here's what they came up with (in addition to using the language and expectations of critical thinking in my classroom):
Pretty good, huh? I was really impressed...and this was Day 1 with it.  You can imagine, their observation and inferring skills only got better, with pictures AND with text reading. 

Here's what my 3rd graders came up on Day 1 of introducing Picture of the Day.

So, you can put the system together yourself by finding pictures from the websites above and creating your own assessments OR, if you want my system for yourself, you can have it for your very own. I have bundled  together for you what I did, it's called:

Here's what you get:
180 days of pictures in a PDF Slideshow Presentation
38 Assessments (one for every Friday, there is a K-2 version & a 3-6 version)
1 Assessment Rubric
 13 page Picture of the Day How-To Instruction Handbook

Please be sure to check out the product preview for more details and explanations...and as always!

Happy Reading! -Jen


  1. What a wonderful post! I have never heard of Picture of the Day, but it makes so much sense. I'm excited to get started...Thank you!!

    :) Kaitlyn
    Smiles and Sunshine

  2. This is fabulous! I hadn't thought to use Picture of the Day in this way! I used it as a writing prompt for Writers' Workshop. I'm switching up this coming year. I like your idea MUCH better. Thanks for sharing! I pinned this post:)

  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Thank you for sharing. I've used photos before for writing, but this just takes it to another level.


  4. This is a great idea- thanks for sharing!

  5. Oh my goodness, your post gave me a lightbulb "aha!" I teach 1st grade special education and have been trying to figure out close reading for my non-readers and students with OT concerns. Photos can provide the practice they need, while building language. Thanks so much!!

    1. Great! I'm so glad this post flipped a switch on teaching inferring to your students. Take care.

  6. Thank you for posting these great instructions and pictures. I am going to use these in my resource ELA classroom this year! I just downloaded your packet from TPT. Heather

  7. I really love what you do with the Picture of the Day!! Can i ask WHEN you do it? do you do it as a morning work thing or during your reading instruction time? I am struggling with "time" already and we haven't even started!!!! thanks for sharing, Jen!

  8. I love Picture of the Day and so do my Kindergarten students. We started it in December as part of our calendar routine. Now ALL my students know what it means to infer and what it means to use their schema in all subjects.

  9. I have a question about the timing. In your center chart you have them rotating thru centers every 1/2 hour. How does this look for 3rd graders? I am concerned that they will not be able to sustain the same picture for that long. Thanks for your insight. I tried this today. Whole class and it went awesome. Just need a little clarification for when I fully release it to them! :)

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for your question....in your whole group modeling, you will be positively reinforcement effort, stamina and perserverance to find as many observations in the picture as possible. Do not settle for 3 or 5, expect 15 or 20. And the observations side of the sheet can just be a list with bullets since there is no justification for the facts. It is what it is and everyone should agree that it belongs on that side. You also encourage them to talk out "orally rehearse" what they see...don't just go straight from the picture to immediately writing. Yes, this was done with 3rd graders in 1/2 hour rotations. When I released it to them to complete on your own with their group without me, the 30 minutes were loosely about 10 minutes just discussing, talking and speaking and listening to each about the picture, 10 minutes of writing the Observations and Inferences in a T chart format and 10 minutes reading each other's work and giving each other feedback and/or critiques about their work that day. Does that help?
      Jen :-)


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