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Pictures to Stories

If a picture could tell a story, what would that story be?

This activity involves sharing a picture with your child or children. It can be done in one-on-one or small group, classroom settings. The child views pictures that show people in various situations. These situations can generate possible explanations. It is important to use pictures that have enough content or information for children to consider but not pictures that might be overwhelming, unsettling or traumatizing. This activity will help children imagine and learn about different points of view in hopes of helping them develop compassion, emotional sensitivity and problem solving skills.

This activity can be helpful for elementary and middle school age children, depending on the pictures selected. Feel free to use magazine clippings, online images or other sources to select pictures that would mirror the child's own experiences. Younger kids would benefit from simpler pictures.

Basic rules for storytelling

  • If the story is being told in a classroom or small group, an adult may wish to have clear parameters about the purpose of the activity and expectations for participating.
  • Determine in advance how much of the story each child can tell before moving to the next child. In a small group, each child may tell the whole story, each in a different way. In a larger group, each child may tell part of the story with the adult using a transitional open-ended question such as "And then what happens?" for the next child.
  • If this activity is used in a group for a story telling exercise, parents or teachers can repeat back to the group the sentence that each child creates. It may also help to write down each sentence so as to create a record or memory of the story.


The adult may start out with the statement, "Take a good look at this picture. What do we see? (Ask the group for details) A young boy sitting against a brick wall with his head down and his backpack beside him. Let's tell a story about what is happening in this picture."

Pictures to stories activity

First child: "The boy's name is Matt and he is sad because he missed the bus to get to school."

Second child: "He missed the bus because his parents got up late and were really rushed. So he did not have time for breakfast and he is late for school. He is upset because he thinks the teachers will be mad at him."

Third child: "He really likes to go to school and has never been late before so he does not know what will happen."

The adult can facilitate this story by recording it on paper or on a marker board. Provide specific praise as each child contributes to the story. The adult can ask open-ended questions that help prompt children to develop the story line or consider a different direction. Here are some suggestions for helping to expand the story...and for all involved to experience different points of view.

  • "That is a really good possibility. Are there any other ideas from others in the group?"
  • "What might have happened that caused this child/person to feel this?"
  • "What do you think this child should do?"
  • "What do you think the other people in the picture are feeling?"
  • "What do you think people around her will do?"
  • "What do you think people who know the persons in the picture would do if they were in the picture?" "Why?"
  • "What do you think will happen next?"

Other variations:

  • The adult facilitator could also help promote perspective taking by inviting the child or group to consider a different starting point to the story. They could begin with, "What if the girl did not miss the bus to school, but missed the bus from a field trip back to school, how would the story go?"
  • Children can be encouraged to use gestures, facial or body expressions that help to show the specific feelings or actions they are adding to the story.
  • Children could also be encouraged to act out parts of the story they have just created!

After the story is told and written by the group, consider putting it all together with the picture and re-telling the story or several versions of the story based on one single picture!

Download the Activity

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