How to Read Pictures

We all read pictures. We look at pictures to understand what the picture tells us and to understand the story better. Pictures tell a story. We all instinctively understand pictures. It is important though to make sure to teach the skills to read pictures. When children start school and are not yet reading, they read pictures. Then as they start reading, words and pictures together tell the story with even more depth as illustrators provide clues to deeper meaning and understanding.

As children go through school they will continue to read pictures. Pictures of news stories, paintings, etc We never stop reading pictures. With this blog post I hope I can help you form a lesson to teach children how to read picture clues to improve close reading and critical visual thinking skills.

This is particularly important for children who are not yet reading!


First teach children to name what they see. This is the first step in reading a picture. Go through the picture and ask, “What is this? What are they doing? What is going on?”


Once the child has named what they see, they might say something that isn’t completely fact but an inference or opinion. Ask them, “What makes you say that?” Why do you think that?”


Once you have gone through the picture, go through it again and see if you can pick up further details.


The next stage of reading a picture is verbalizing what they wish they understood more about the picture. What they wonder?

When you are teaching this as a mini lesson, you can make an anchor chart “I notice…” and “I wonder…” this is a good one to start off with.

To add to this charts discussion, you can also ask what the pictures remind them of. Have they ever been in a situation like that, etc.

If you are also teaching inferring, then a good anchor chart would be “Observe… Wonder… Infer…”

I Do – We Do – You Do

Every single time that you read aloud to your class, make sure that you are always referring to the illustrations and pointing out details that help you to understand the story. If you model to stop and examine the pictures, students will do the same. If you are reading a book that you are creating a unit on then always make sure to create one of the anchor charts I mentioned above. Once you have practiced this skill enough, your students will automatically give the importance to pictures and photographs. This skill will carry on over to different disciplines and span their lifelong learning journey.


Here is a lesson for RL3.7 – It is geared towards third grade but I think any teacher can find my tips and tricks useful. Check out this blog post for more information on teaching to this standard.

RL3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).