A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

6, 7, 8

Students use visual literacy skills to analyze the components and message of an image. They listen carefully and seek to understand the different opinions and perspectives of their classmates. The students identify issues that are meaningful to them and create a simple image and text to communicate a message that causes others to think. 

PrintOne 50-Minute Class Period with Optional Extenders

The learners will

  • use visual literacy thinking skills to explore the meaning and emotions presented in an art image.
  • discuss ways to listen with generosity to value others' perspectives.
  • identify a difficult issue that they care about.
  • examine the elements of design and language to communicate effectively.
  • create an image and text to advocate for a postition.
  • A single image for students to look at closely, such as a piece of art or Obama's Hope poster or Rosie the Riveter
  • You may also look at one of these images from NYT "What's Going On in This Picture?" feature.
  • Optional: 10-15 cutout images from magazines of popular culture, emotional things in the news, people, and places (showing shared values of respect, patriotism, freedom, safety, individualism, equal opportunity, personal happiness and success, justice and fairness)
  • Poster materials or technology for making memes
Teacher Preparation 
  • In the final project students create a "meme." Show them an example of what that means to you. You can provide a variety of examples of simple graphic images that portray powerful or subtle meaning. These images may come from historical events like elections and protests or from art pieces. For example: Here's a link to visuals used by the United Farm Workers in the 1960s and 70s as they fought for worker justice with the assistance of a consumer boycott. And here is the iconic I Am a Man sign held by the striking sanitation workers in Memphis--the event that brought Dr. King to the city of his death.
  • Learn about visual thinking strategies here https://youtu.be/d-YVvNiAm6Q



Elements of Design: line, color, texture, shape, symbol, space, juxtaposition, font

  1. What are ways we are all alike?
  2. How do you feel when you are truly heard?
  3. What are ways to show others you are listening?


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Display a visual image, such as this piece of art that encourages observation and interpretation. Look at elements of design to communicate tone, feeling, and message. Give these Visual Thinking Strategy prompts and have them pair up to discuss before sharing in whole group:

    1. Observe the image quietly. (Build up tolerance for looking carefully for a time).
    2. What is going on in the picture? (Accept all responses without judgment; paraphrase their inferences.)
    3. What do you see that makes you think that? (Ask for evidence of their inferences. Keep it safe for risking.)
    4. What more do you see and think?  (Encourage wondering and observation.)
    5. Thank you for making observations of this art. We bring our own interpretations to art from our different experiences.
  2. We have different experiences because we have different traits and backgrounds that make us who we are. For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we want to focus on issues of justice, fairness, and respect for differences.

    Our world is made up of very diverse people. Our differences make a more colorful and interesting world, and our world needs a variety of skills, interests, and traits to be vibrant and smart. Brainstorm a list of ways people can be different, such as hair color, religion, food tastes, skills, interests, and so on. Optional: See the handout "Step to the Line" to facilitate a powerful activity to build understanding of our diverse traits. 

    Because we are different, we see things from different perspectives. It is not always easy to agree and get along with people who see, think, or believe differently. 

  3. One of the reasons people fight with yelling is because they don't listen with generosity. Have students first write words on two charts that define the words listen and generosity. Ask students to think, then turn to their neighbors and discuss and come to a definition of what it might mean to "listen with generosity." Then discuss as a whole group. Some words that come out in their discussion and debriefing may be:

    • listen first before giving your point of view
    • take turns talking; don't interrupt
    • repeat back what you hear without judging 
    • be tolerant of differences
    • show respect for a different point of view
    • listen with the idea that different is not wrong
    • seek to understand before trying to be understood
    • be kind and supportive to the person who is talking
  4. Ask the students to share an experience in which they either observed disrespect for another or felt that someone treated them with disrespect. Tell the students to use their generous listening skills in this whole-group discussion. (Give them time to think/write their thoughts on a note card before sharing.)

    Debrief how it felt to listen to the stories and to be heard while sharing. 

    Optional: Tell them to leave their name off the card. You collect all the cards and read them anonymously. 

  5. Optional: Although we are different, we are also alike in many ways. Pass out images cut from magazines of people, places, and symbols related to current events and interactions. Have students pair up and pracitice generous listening as they talk about what they see and how the images relate to the following shared values:

    • respect for others, patriotism, freedom, safety, individualism, equal opportunity, personal happiness and success, justice and fairness

    Debrief and discuss ways we are alike. Discuss how it felt to listen and be listened to generously. 

  6. Advocacy is one form of doing service to make the world better. By sharing messages of respect, we are advocating for a better world. Watch this video that defines Advocacy.

  7. Project: Make a poster or meme with a simple image and text that commuicates to others the importance of treating everyone with respect, justice, and fairness. For example, it could be an image of a lonely teen with the word INVITE across the top or the word LISTEN with symbols of conflict in the letters. Show them some examples of what you have in mind (see Teacher Prep above).

    Put up the posters around the school or post a meme on social media to let others know the ways we can help others through respecting our differences. 


Student posters should demonstrate thought and attention to visual design to communicate a message of respect, justice, or fairness. 

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Identify different types of communities with which an individual might identify.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.