Guide to Interpreting Picture Prompts

  • Nov 22, 2022
  • Yang Li
Ms Heni’s Guide to Interpreting Picture Prompts
Got a Picture? Not a Problem!
A guide to interpreting picture prompts and how to think outside of that box!

• Carefully read all the instructions first. This is very important as the task may state what kind of essay to write.
• Usually a creative response (but not always). A picture prompt does not always have to be a creative response so you could write an exposition or persuasive essay.
• There is no right or wrong way to respond but it is important to apply the prompt.

There are three ways in which you can respond to a picture prompt. They are:
Realistic: representing things in a way that is accurate and true to life
Futuristic: having or involving very modern technology or design
Abstract: existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence

By looking at the picture presented, think about what would take place in this location. Decide whether it would be best suited to a realistic, futuristic, or abstract response. What would be the most exciting thing that could happen in the picture?

Write about what happened just before the picture was taken.

Write about anything unexpected in the picture.

Think about what would happen if the picture was unfrozen. What would happen next?

Imagine what is happening outside the ‘frame’ and write about that!

The story could be told from the point of view of something in the picture such as a tree, phone, or statue. (Think of ‘Beauty and the Beast’! Many inanimate objects in this story have been personified.)

Decide who is taking the picture. Why are they taking the picture? What are they thinking about? Write a monologue of their thoughts.
Tip: Try to avoid writing about aliens, war, super-natural and monster themes in upper primary and secondary levels. This is especially important when writing exams. Try writing a mystery story instead!

Tip: Limit dialogue to 2-3 lines. You are not writing a play script and you do not want your essay to
be too dialogue heavy.

Tip: Structure your essay carefully and aim for a problem or climax in your essay earlier than later.

Other useful writing tips to keep in mind:
• Do not be scared to take a risk when writing. For example, thinking outside the box is
encouraged as assessors read the same things many times. Think about how your essay is
going to stand out from everyone else’s when you all have the same topic to respond to.

• You can apply the entire picture from the prompt or just part of it. Clever writers may add to
the existing picture and go beyond the prompt provided. (This does not mean you draw
additional pictures or doodle on the page but rather, apply your imagination and creativity
expanding on the prompt. Never draw pictures on your homework or exam paper.)

• Use the five senses where appropriate and aim to imply rather than tell the reader what is
happening at each point of the story. (These are: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.)

• Emotions and feelings play a big part in storytelling and should be carefully considered. Aim
to connect the reader with your character/s and set up a care factor. For example, a character
we care about makes for a great read. Think about Harry Potter or other great characters you
may have read about. How do they make you feel? Would you have made the same choices
s/he did?

• Watch your tenses and try to be consistent. Your story may have a flashback or flashforward
scene or two. (Review Y4 Writing notes on flashback stories.) Stories may begin at the end
and via a flashback, may let the reader know how your character ended up where s/he did.

• A moral or a lesson taught or learned by a character is something you may wish to also
consider. Good story telling may have a message for the reader applied directly or indirectly
through the actions of your characters.

• It is not advised to write a poem as a response and diary entries should be carefully
considered. Aim to write a complete essay addressing the prompt to the best of your ability.

• Apply interesting expressions, phrases, and idioms. Clever language choices and vocabulary
will brighten your sentences and create vivid imagery in the reader’s mind.

• Metaphors and similes – check out this YouTube clip
Happy writing!