Picture Prompts For Writing: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

How can we use images to develop and scaffold the writing process for children?

What are picture prompts for writing?

Everything that makes a learner is already in children. Unlocking and developing this potential is one of the most significant rewards as instructors. Children are born with an innate ability to learn, but it takes time and effort to develop their natural skills.

Children have all the skills to be enviably creative because they are naturally interested, energetic, driven, spontaneous and exploratory. In this article, we will look at how simple visuals can be manipulated into different manifestations to generate ideas. This playful approach can fuel the creative writing process and be incorporated into all kinds of student writing. 

Our job is to help each kid discover and develop their unique talents while also allowing them to do so from a position of strength. Simple imagery can create new thoughts that act as writing prompts. Whatever type of writing you are developing, an intriguing image can generate story ideas to spur on child imagination. The key to helping each kid flourish is providing a secure atmosphere in which innate talents may grow, develop, and mature.

Why should we use picture prompts in KS1 literacy?

Children benefit significantly from visual cues in their quest to make sense of the world around them. Picture writing prompts can help a child add more meaning to their work and put them on a path to developing the art of writing. Whether your school is trying to embrace a daily writing challenge or advance non-fiction writing, picture writing prompts are a very useful utility. In recent years, Dual coding has received a lot of attention and it has shone the light on the importance of incorporating pictures in all kinds of writing. Descriptive writing assignments can also benefit from inspiring images that help pupils generate new adjectives. 

Using a wide variety of ever-evolving skills and expertise, images can…

  • Invoke recollections
  • Develop vocabulary
  • Generate fresh ideas ideas
  • Sequence and organize ideas
  • Assist memory
  • Develop imagination
  • Encourage us to "think beyond the box.

Picture prompts using dual coding methods
Picture prompts using dual coding methods

How should we use picture prompts?


A simple image or series of photographs might prompt children to describe what they see. Amazing images are waiting to be explored using rich language. This type of generative activity can very quickly help young school children find the words they will use in a piece of writing. Argumentative writing can be developed with pictures that cause someone to take a certain position. This conflict can be discussed through Oracy activities acting as the perfect writing stimulus. 

Fear of giving an incorrect response is eliminated by opening the assignment to interpretation. The children will believe that this is a secure place to express their creative thinking without fear of consequences. Talk is the prerequisite for personal writing as children discover what they believe by entertaining different perspectives. 

Encourage pupils by asking:

  • Can you locate a picture of anything you like?
  • What do you think you've noticed so far?
  • What is it, exactly?
  • Is there anything else it may be?

Children will soon be talking, reasoning, and explaining due to this process. For children who don't want to talk, we can show them how to make observations, play with words, and develop imaginative ideas. They'll develop the confidence to join their friends and give it a go on their own in due time.

Using picture icons as a writing prompt
Using picture icons as a writing prompt

Sequencing picture prompts for structuring writing

Fantasy images are very useful for stimulating new ideas but the photos don't always have to be stunning images. Simple icons available from sites like the Noun Project can be used instead of complex imagery that might distract the child away from the task at hand. These visual writing prompts are often one colour and represent one idea. As pupils place the image next to another they often combine the meanings and generate new ideas. This can act as a very effective story starter for even the youngest children. Having a collection of story picture prompts in your top draw will mean that you'll always have new ideas ready to be forged.

How do we go about using a simple photo prompt to structure writing? Request that the children select two or three photographs that they like or find fascinating.

You may then use a simple yet engaging statement to link these images.

For example:

'A big dinosaur once went into a dark wood and discovered a magical potion.'

Using pictures to sequence ideas together
Using pictures to sequence ideas together

Celebrate the children's innovative ideas that they came up with, which you then expressed aloud. Children can then choose two or three additional images they like and explore them by linking them. You should expect to hear them discussing the photographs in various ways shortly after you introduce them. Using their speed, they can connect and expand their thoughts.

It is possible to create high expectations for vocabulary and creative content in young children as early as the stages of language development allow for sensitive inquiry.

For example:

  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What are their options?
  • What are their movements like?
  • What are their emotions?
  • What's the best way to put it?

By linking more and more photos, children may build on this.

As time goes on, they'll be able to compose whole stories, poems, and recounts that enable them to immerse themselves in their creativity and communicate the fascinating worlds they possess in their thoughts.

Ordering ideas using 'Writers Block'
Ordering ideas using 'Writers Block'

Picture prompts can help build tomorrow's enthusiastic writers

Utilising imagery into a daily writing habit is not cheating. We are utilising a different medium to help pupils order and combine their thoughts ready for writing. Children will remember good experiences like this for the rest of their lives, creating a formative sense of what it means to be a writer. If you are interested in this process and want to explore other areas relating to this practice you might want to read our other articles on:

  • Dual coding
  • Dialogic teaching
  • Oracy
  • Colourful semantics
  • Critical thinking
  • Mind maps
  • Graphic organisers

We educate even the youngest children to own language without limitations via empathetic, enjoyable and liberated creative activities. After all, the world is their oyster, and they are more than able to put these abilities to use - all we need to do now is plant the seed.