What's Going On In This Picture? Activity | Facing History & Ourselves
Assorted images of the outdoors organized in a grid on a beige wooden table.

Picture This

Students engage with an intriguing image that lacks context or a title, drawing on their close viewing and analysis skills.


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At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • Advisory
  • Civics & Citizenship
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies


  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion


About This Activity

This routine encourages close viewing, inferencing, and analyzing as students engage with an intriguing image. After students have experienced this routine a few times, ask them to send you ideas for images. You can also invite them to co-facilitate the routine with a peer or facilitate it on their own if they are comfortable doing so. 

Sources for intriguing images include the New York Times weekly feature What’s Going On in This Picture?, museum collections (consider local, national, and global museums), and photographs from the Sierra Club.

Preparing to Teach

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Steps for Implementation

  1. Before the start of class, project an intriguing image so students see it as they enter the room. Don’t reveal the title or any context.
  2. In pairs or triads, have students analyze the image using the See, Think, Wonder strategy in order to infer what is happening or what the image might represent. Model the strategy by examining the image and listing on the board a few things you see. Then have your students spend two minutes on each step of the strategy.

    See, Think, Wonder Prompts

    • What do you see? What details stand out? (At this stage, elicit observations, not interpretations.)
    • What do you think is going on? What makes you say that?
    • What does this make you wonder? What broader questions does this image raise for you?
  3. Before groups share their responses with the class, ask them to create their own title for the image.
  4. Debrief in a class discussion, and finally, reveal the details about the image.


Share your screen to project an intriguing image. Don’t reveal the title or context. Then provide students with a link to an “Intriguing Image: See, Think, Wonder” Padlet or a Google Doc with three columns or text boxes. Model the strategy by examining the image and typing a few ideas into the Padlet or document. Then lead students through the strategy, giving them about two minutes for each step.

Let students review what everyone wrote, and send them into small breakout groups to create their own title for the image. When they return, have one person from each group type their title in the chat or report it to the class before revealing details about the image.

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