Learning About Voice Through Photographs

Please Note: this material was created for use in a classroom, but can be easily modified for homeschooling use.

Finding one’s voice is a challenge for many writers. In this exercise, students use classic photographs to explore the concept of voice.


  • Students will use brainstorming techniques to explore the tone and content of the photograph.
  • Students will use first person narration to convey decisions he or she has made about a person in the photograph.
  • Students will use the first person to provide the reader with a sense of the speaker, including the person’s feelings and mood, thoughts at the moment, age, and origin.


  • At least four computers with images loaded
  • Notebook paper OR word processing programs for every student


  1. Before students go to the computers, review first person narration. Ask the students for examples of first, second, and third person narration. If you haven’t talked about the concept of voice already, introduce it now. One effective way to do this is to ask students what different voices they use in speaking. For example, how do they talk to the school principal? To their best friend? Or how do they talk to their mother when they want to stay up late vs. when they’re angry with her for enforcing a rule? Each of these is a different "voice" that can be used in different circumstances. The same kinds of voices can be used in writing. Read a brief passage from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  2. Following are four photographs that students can look at on the Web. Bookmark the computers you’ll be using to view these four photographs, or provide students with the list of URLs.
    • Four boys, New York, Helen Levitt, 1940

    • Family in the desert, Refugees in the Korem Camp, Sebastio Salgado, 1984


      • Provide the students with one photograph each. (You might pull photographs from magazines or use picture postcards.) As a class, come up with more questions to consider about a person in the photograph (e.g., Is this person funny? What is his or her favorite food? Does he or she like to read?). Have the students write a short story using this person in the photograph as the first person narrator.
      • Collect an assortment of excerpts that provide examples of different voices. Find examples both from popular children’s literature, as well as the popular press, computer manuals, and personal letters. Read the excerpts without identifying their sources and ask the class to guess at the speaker. Use the same list of questions you devised for the photographs to lead your discussion.
      • Ask the students to rewrite one of their paragraphs using all simple sentences (one subject, one verb) and then a third time using all compound sentences. Discuss sentence length and the need to vary sentence structure in writing.

      Standards Correlation
      Standards at McRel:

  • Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, and classic and contemporary works.
  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
Finding one's voice is a challenge for many writers. In this exercise, students use classic photographs to explore the concept of voice.
3 |
4 |
5 |
loading gif