Picture Writing Prompts


This writing activity has never failed me.  All that is needed are interesting pictures, and there are many places fun photos can be acquired.  I ended up with files of pictures because I didn’t want my kids distracted by searching for them, either online or looking through my boxes of personal pictures.

If you’re anything like my family, dragging out the family photos starts a long and winding journey down memory lane.  Wonderful and fun for bonding, but not so great for getting their writing assignment completed.

The same thing would often happen if I handed my kids a magazine and asked them to find a picture they wanted to write about.  Minutes could quickly tick away as they enjoyed their magazines.


Argynnis adippe auf Centaurea jacea 01The following is a list of potential places to get quality photos before you begin this assignment.  I usually began my year with a good store of pictures, filed and labeled (yes, I’m a tad OCD).  Then I added to it as new sources drew my attention.

  • National Geographic – I cut out pictures I wanted to use and pasted them to construction paper
  • Outdoor, nutrition, health and fitness, any magazines that interest your kids – same as above
  • Google the topic you are covering in History or Science and give them five minutes to find a picture under the Images tab

The best resource I have had the pleasure of using in a book written by Chris Van Allsburg.  If you recall, he is the author of Polar Express, Jumanji, and Zathura.  He has written several more but these three were made into movies.  Harris Burdick 2

If you are not familiar with his book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, you are missing a real treat.  I own the portfolio edition, and the pictures are 16 X 12 black and white drawings.  They are each mysterious, some are eerie and all are beautifully drawn.  There is a back story that is intriguing and draws the kids right in.  As a matter of fact, I have had several adults write stories from these pictures too!

There are 14 pictures, each with a heading.  Each picture is different, so I have never had the problem of having a disinterested kiddo.  Some of my own kids have written many different stories about the same picture.

Harris Burdick

I always follow the same steps when asking my kids to write.  It is seldom enough to simply get them interested – they must feel at ease with the entire process.  That is the way to make kids love writing.

After choosing a picture, ask them to discuss it.  Usually, if they have siblings, it’s best for them to have a chance to share with each other.  This can also be done with other family member or with you.


Writing Lists


The following is a short list of simple questions that help stimulate the writing brain:

  • What is happening in the picture?Harris Burdick 3
  • What are some of the details they see in the picture?
  • What do they think it would feel like to be there?
  • What would it sound like?
  • What would it smell like?
  • When looking at the picture, what emotion is elicited?
  • Why did they choose that picture?

They should be writing their answers in lists, which they will use later to help them add depth to their story.  Always, always, ALWAYS let them decide when they are ready to begin writing.  If they only need a brief discussion before beginning their story, let them forge ahead.  If they need more prompting, discuss longer.

Sometimes it is helpful if they actually say the story out loud.  Then you can help them design an outline to follow.

How much help they ask for will be determined by how comfortable they are with the writing process.  The goal is to help them love writing, or at least feel good about writing.  Providing all the help you can at first will make the process much easier and less stressful later.

Let the Writing Begin

After they have chosen a picture, discussed it with you or other family members, written lists and possibly an outline, it’s time to begin writing.  It seems like a lot to get there, but the process will quickly become a habit.  And all the prep is worth what you will see in returns.

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If you have any questions, suggestions, or want to leave a comment, please feel free to leave one below.  I will reply to all comments.







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8 Replies to “Picture Writing Prompts”

  1. What a great article as a replacement teacher I always question why their regular teacher only gives their students a limited amount of time to think about they’re writing because (like you) I believe it’s important that the students choose when they begin to write. And when the don’t get this option they end up hating writing as a subject. So, what I thank you for giving me permission o do what’s right by the kids.

    1. Thanks Amberlee. I feel that if teachers and parents could just take a deep breath and remember that the fact that the kids are writing should be the focus – not what they are writing. And it can be a pretty scary thing to look at a blank sheet of paper and start writing without any help. It’s a process that should be giving the time it deserves!

  2. You know I never knew this could be a fun activity and I would surely try it with all my family members and maybe even ask them to put out a story, I mean we would have so many stories to hear to at the end of the day and this is a super fun activity that could even be done in small family gatherings
    Really loved this article

    1. Shrey,

      My kids still ask to use the pictures so they can write stories, and they are in their 20s and 30s. It’s fun, and I think the fact that they can be completely creative without worrying about being judged is a tremendous part of their enjoyment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and would love to hear about the family’s stories!


  3. Interesting idea. I’m guessing this is aimed at primary school students? Being a high school teacher myself, I haven’t much experience with that aspect of teaching, but I can see how this could be used for grade 9’s and 10’s as well. Using photographs to prompt descriptive writing and comprehensive explanations would be a good starter for a lesson. Thanks for the idea!

    1. This is geared towards all ages. I have found that high school students enjoy picture prompts just as much as the younger students. And it can be more that just a starter for lessons. Picture prompts are a wonderful way for kids to understand how many different ways we all view the same world. It’s lots of fun to have kids write from the same picture prompt and then share their stories. Of course, always always remember that what they are writing about is never the focus in creative writing. It’s the writing itself, and the fact that they are owning what they are putting on paper.

  4. You have some really good tips there for getting kids writing. My son has two learning disorders and really struggles with his writing. He has great ideas in his head but struggles to get them out. Sometimes he struggles to come up with an idea so your suggestions would help. Your strategy is very similar to how the book “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” came about.

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