What is going on in this picture?

What makes you say that?

What more can we find?







The teacher selects an interesting image (photograph, painting, drawing, advertisement, poster, book cover, etc.)



A copy of this picture is placed on the overhead projector. There are many sources of pictures on the Internet, including museum and library websites. 



The students are asked, "Please look at the picture silently for a minute and think about what you see."



After a minute the teacher opens up the question to the room, "What is going on in the picture?"

  • The students' responses often start out with the obvious — "There's a man walking a dog and another man riding a bike. The picture looks old. I think it was taken in a city."

  • As students share, the teacher:

    • Points to the area being discussed by student

    • Paraphrases responses

    • Links contrasting and complimentary responses



When a student offers a qualitative statement, the teacher asks for more information. "You said the picture looks old. What makes you say that?"

  • The students justify their answers by providing evidence from the picture. They may say, "It's in black and white, and the cars in the back all look like they were made a long time ago."



Next the teacher asks, "What more can we find?" 

  • At some point students will begin to share differing opinions and provide justification. One student may say, "The man on the bike is wearing a suit. I think he is going to work on his bike because he doesn't have a car." The teacher then asks, "Does everyone agree? Is that why this man is riding his bike in a suit?" Another student might say, "I don't think so. I think he just likes riding his bike. Maybe they didn't make clothes for riding a bike then."



The discussion goes on until students have shared all they can about the picture.


The teacher summarizes what the students said. "So, after looking at this picture we think that, maybe relatives — who lived a long time ago. We can tell this because of what they are wearing and because the picture is black and white."


A follow up activity might have the students write a few sentences about what they discovered, or read a text related to the picture.



When students share about their reading, the teacher asks the same kind of VTS questions about the text. "What is happening? How do you know that?" The teacher makes a point of showing the students how sharing their ideas about the story are the same as when they discuss images.




A variation of VTS was offered as a Bright Idea from Gemma De Vita, a teacher from Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. In her Picture Description activity, she makes copies of an interesting picture and has the students glue it to a page in their notebook. The students write three to six sentences or questions about the picture and then share them. This allows the students to have a picture book with their own notes to remind them of what they are learning and thinking.



Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Art Adventures

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National Geographic


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