The 5 Ws of Photos

Posted on November 4, 2011

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Describing + Interpreting Photos

In this lesson students watch a video on how to interpret photographs, then go on to describe and identify a series of famous photos using the 5 Ws strategy outlined by the presenter. There is an optional conversation activity at the end.

The lesson is best suited to upper-intermediate and advanced learners who have a certain amount of cultural baggage, i.e. those who will be familiar with some of the most iconic photographs reproduced in mass media. Have a look at the video first before seeing how it can be exploited.


Step One : Video and questions

  1. Tell your students they are going to watch a short video on how to interpret photos. Show them the video a couple of times and ask them to take notes while they watch.
  2. Stop the video at 0:28, put your students in pairs and get them to ask each other the 5W-questions mentioned by the presenter (see downloadable .doc below).
  3. Get some open-class feedback from your students.
  4. Stop-start the video (tricky, but not impossible) between 01:25 and 01:56 so your students can read the entries in the Explaining-the-image form at the end of the clip.

Questions for student A + B


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Step Two : Describing photos pairwork

  1. Google-search some well-known photos and put them on separate sheets (Student A and Student B) for your students to describe and interpret. You can download a copy of some of the photos I’ve used in the past by clicking here or on the image below (of course, you will probably want to choose different photos, which are more relevant to your teaching context).
  2. In class, ask your students to take it in turns to describe some or all of the photos on their print-outs (encourage them to use the 5 Ws strategy from the video). The student who is listening should close their eyes and try to build a mental image of their partner’s photo. If they think they recognise the photo, they should explain what they know about it.
  3. Finish up the activity by allowing the students to show each other their photos and eliciting any comments they would like to make.

Note : When describing their photos students should not mention the names of any well-known people who may appear. Instead of “It’s The Beatles crossing a road”, they should say “There are four young men crossing a road etc”.

Optional Step Three : Conversation

  1. Put your students in groups and ask them to discuss the following general questions on photography.
  2. Note : The document below is designed for projecting. If you’d prefer a photocopiable version, click here.

That’s about all I think! If you’d like to see some more photo-based activities, here’s a few on a previous post!

Hope you find this activity useful!
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Posted in: Video Lessons