Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: Single Class Lesson

Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom

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Photojournalism Overview and Questions for Teaching

Lesson Overview

Students will examine photographs from newspapers and write a headline and story to accompany one.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• visually analyze a photographic image.
• write a headline and a story to accompany an image chosen from a newspaper.
• compare what they see in a photojournalistic image to what they read in the story accompanying the image.


• Image of Their First Murder by Weegee
• Images and articles collected from newspapers—action scenes, sports scenes, images that appear in narratives
• Paper and pens

Lesson Steps

1. Use the following questions to examine the photograph Their First Murder by Weegee. Do not tell students the name of the photograph.
• What can you tell about each person in this photograph?
• What are they doing? What are they reacting to?
• How do we react in front of a camera?
• How are the women's expressions different from the kids?
• What do you know about the place where this scene is happening?
• What title would you give to this photograph?

2. Once students have given some suggestions for titles, discuss the background information about this image, provided in the Image Bank (click on the thumbnail above). How are the students' interpretations of this image similar to or different from what was really happening at the scene?

3. Explain to students that they are going to examine images from newspapers and write a headline and a story based on what they see. They should think about their experience looking at the Weegee image when they examine their newspaper photos.

4. Read some headlines from recent newspapers. What do they have in common? A good headline should communicate the main idea of the story. It should also attract the reader, inspiring him or her to read further to learn more. Students will collaboratively create headlines for a number of images.

5. Divide the class into groups of approximately five students.

6. Give each group one image from a newspaper to work from. The images should depict current events in the news—for example, sports stories, actions scenes, or scenes of war from around the world.

7. Each student will work individually to brainstorm ideas for a headline for the image they are examining. Tell them that they will write a story under this headline to go along with their image. Once they have decided on a topic for their headline, students will write a story to accompany the image and headline. Students' stories should be at least three paragraphs in length. Remind them to be aware of transitions between sentences to unify important ideas. Students should also use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Once students have finished their stories, ask each of them to look at the headline they drafted and adjust it, if necessary, to fit the story they wrote.

8. Once each student has finished writing, have each present his or her headline and story for the class. Discuss the different ways that each student interpreted the same image.

9. Once the students have read and discussed their stories for one of the images, read aloud the original story that accompanied the image. Discuss how different the students' interpretations were from the the story that actually accompanied the image.

10. Wrap up the lesson with a discussion of the role of photographs in newspapers using the following questions.

• Most often, an image in a newspaper or magazine is used to direct your attention to a story. Do you feel that you tend to read more stories that have images with them, or without them? Why do you think that is?
• Look back at the images pulled from the newspapers. How well do you think most images in newspapers connect with the story they accompany?
• What do the images add to the story, or leave out? What moment in the story do they tend to focus on? Why do you think the photographers and/or editors chose that moment?

Their First Murder / Weegee
Their First Murder, Weegee, before 1945. © International Center of Photography


Students will be assessed based on their completion of the assignment to create a headline and story with three paragraphs. Students will also be assessed on their participation in class discussion and sharing their work.


• Is there a difference between a photograph made for a newspaper and a photograph made by a famous art photographer? Do you consider images such as Weegee's Their First Murder, or any of the images you have seen in the newspapers, art? Is photojournalism an art form? Debate this issue of art vs. photojournalism as a class.

• While these documentary images seem to be a direct record of actual events, they actually reflect an interpreted view governed by logistical, aesthetic, and sometimes political choices. One of the most important choices a photographer makes is about what to leave out of the picture.
Reexamine images from the newspapers used in the lesson and use cropping marks to isolate areas of the photos and change their compositions. How can you alter the story the photo tells by cropping the image? Write a story to accompany a cropped image and compare it to the story that accompanied the original image. How did eliminating certain figures or details alter the image? How does this affect your view of documentary images?

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–12

Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12
5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications Connecting and Applying What Is Learned in the Visual Arts to Other Art Forms and Subject Areas and to Careers
5.2 Compare and contrast works of art, probing beyond the obvious and identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images.
Careers and Career-Related Skills
5.4 Investigate and report on the essential features of modern or emerging technologies that affect or will affect visual artists and the definition of the visual arts.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Responding to, Analyzing, and Making Judgments About Works in the Visual Arts
Make Informed Judgments
4.3 Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art and change or defend that position after considering the views of others.

English—Language Arts Content Standardsfor California Public Schools

Grade 7
1.0 Writing Strategies
Organization and Focus
1.1 Create an organizational structure that balances all aspects of the composition and uses effective transitions between sentences to unify important ideas.
1.2 Support all statements and claims with anecdotes, descriptions, facts and statistics, and specific examples.

Grades 9–10
1.0 Writing Strategies
Organization and Focus
1.1 Establish a controlling impression or coherent thesis that conveys a clear and distinctive perspective on the subject and maintain a consistent tone and focus throughout the piece of writing.
1.2 Use precise language, action verbs, sensory details, appropriate modifiers, and the active rather than the passive voice.
Research and Technology
1.3 Use clear research questions and suitable research methods (e.g., library, electronic media, personal interview) to elicit and present evidence from primary and secondary sources.
1.4 Develop the main ideas within the body of the composition through supporting evidence (e.g., scenarios, commonly held beliefs, hypotheses, definitions).
1.5 Synthesize information from multiple sources and identify complexities and discrepancies in the information and the different perspectives found in each medium (e.g., almanacs, microfiche, news sources, in-depth field studies, speeches, journals, technical documents).

2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)
Writing Standard 1.0, students:
2.1 Write biographies, autobiographies, short stories, or narratives:
a. Relate a clear, coherent incident, event, or situation by using well-chosen details.
b. Reveal the significance of, or the writer’s attitude about, the subject.
c. Employ narrative and descriptive strategies (e.g., relevant dialogue, specific action, physical description, background description, comparison or contrast of characters).