Beacon Lesson Plan Library

The Secrets Photos Keep

Cynthia Youngblood
Santa Rosa District Schools


Students examine family photos to find hidden clues, answering questions about the photos and writing essays on how photos can be a powerful tool in helping them learn about the past and unearth critical truths.


The student selects and uses appropriate pre-writing strategies, such as brainstorming, graphic organizers, and outlines.

The student drafts and revises writing that: is focused, purposeful, and reflects insight into the writing situation; has an organizational pattern that provides for a logical progression of ideas; has effective use of transitional devices that contribute to a sense of completeness; has support that is substantial, specific, relevant, and concrete; demonstrates a commitment to and involvement with the subject; uses creative writing strategies as appropriate to the purpose of the paper; demonstrates a mature command of language with precision of expression; has varied sentence structure; and has few, if any, convention errors in mechanics, usage, punctuation, and spelling.

The student understands that works of art can communicate an idea and elicit a variety of responses through the use of selected media, techniques, and processes.


-Pens or pencils
-Paper for each student
-Teacher’s personal family photos (to show as model photos)
-Photos of famous families from magazines or books (to show as model photos)
-Students’ family photos
-Handout: The Secrets Photos Keep (one per student)


1. Gather personal family photos to use as models or samples for students' essays.
2. Find famous family photos from magazines, books, or websites.
3. Look at suggested WebLinks.
4. Make copies of the handout The Secrets Photos Keep for each student. (See attached file.)
5. Make copies of Evaluation Form: Florida Writing Rubric Scale for each student. (See attached file.)


1. Tell students that today they will study photos of famous families and search for hidden clues in those snapshots. Tell students that their family photos that may be in an old shoebox in the back of a closet may reveal more than legendary fashion sense.

2. Show them teacher-selected famous family photos from magazines, books, or websites. You may also show the students some of your own personal family photos. Tell students that when people look at photos in depth, intense memories often start spilling out. Sometimes those memories are overwhelming and change the way we see the past.

3. Ask the students some of the following questions about your selected photos of famous families and your personal family photos:
(1) What do you feel when you look at the photo? Curiosity? Joy? Sadness because someone in the picture is no longer alive? Note the feelings that arise.
(2) Consider who’s taking the picture. What is the interaction between this person and the subjects? Who is making eye contact with the camera clicker? Is the photographer trying to structure what’s going on? (You can’t structure intimacy. The photographer can’t make you look comfortable being together if you feel awkward.)
(3) Search for nonverbal cues: Who is touching whom, and how? Is someone comfortably reciprocating a hug? Who is gazing at whom? What do you imagine their eyes saying?
(4) Pay special attention to the space between certain people. Do they look comfortable being close? If they could shift, where would they go?
(5) Who is positioned in the center- the place of honor?
(6) Imagine what the people in the photo might say to each other. What would you ask a person who has died? (Having a photo to stimulate your imagination will help you formulate your most important questions.)
(7) Ask people in the picture what they remember about that day. (You’ll be less likely to project things into the photo that may not be there.)

4. Tell students to select five old family photos that appeal to them and bring them to class the next day. (Spontaneous shots yield richer material than posed photos.)

1. Tell students to choose one of the photos that they selected. Have them respond to the questions on the handout “The Secrets Photos Keep.” (See attached file.) (Teacher should provide samples or photocopies of family photographs for students who fail to bring their own photos to class.)

2. Formatively assess their responses to the questions.

1. Return students’ responses to questions.

2. Tell each student to write an essay on how photos can be a powerful tool in communicating ideas and eliciting a variety of responses and in helping one learn about the past and unearth critical truths that were never realized. Students should use answers to the questions about the family photos as supporting details. Students will submit the photos or a photocopy with their essays.

3. Tell students that their essays will be evaluated by using the criteria developed by the Florida Writing Assessment Program. Review criteria on focus, organization, support, and conventions. (See attached Evaluation Form.)

4. Begin writing the assigned essay. Finish for homework.

1. Students turn in writing assignments with photos attached.

2. Teacher evaluates students’ essays using criteria developed by the Florida Writing Assessment Program. (See attached file.)


Students’ responses to questions about their personal family photos will be formatively assessed. Students’ essays will be summatively evaluated by using the criteria developed by the Florida Writing Assessment Program: focus, organization, support, and details. (See attached file.) Student essays should reflect an understanding that works of art (photographs) can communicate an idea and elicit a variety of responses, which will be evaluated in the focus and support areas of the rubric scale.


Students could use any photo, such as a picture of a group of their friends.

Web Links

Web supplement for The Secrets Photos Keep
Kennedy Family Photographs

Web supplement for The Secrets Photos Keep
Richard Nixon Family Photographs

Attached Files

The Secrets Photos Keep.     File Extension: pdf

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