UKEdMag: Six Words One Photo by @JaneH271

Hemmingway is credited with writing the story - ‘For sale. Baby shoes never worn.’

Legend has it that this was in response to a bet to write a six word story that could actually make people cry. Whether he actually did or not is not important here. What is important is the brevity of narrative used to sum up a whole story. This is an exercise that works well in class with pupils of all ages.

This is an extract from the March 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. You can freely read the online version by clicking here, or click here for details to order a printed edition.

six words one photo logo

It would be a good idea to ‘model’ this with pupils as a whole class exercise. Use this image (or any image of barbed wire) as an example. If you use the acronym ‘SIFT’ it will help pupils to analyse photographs:

barbed wireSEE

Ask pupils to work in groups and generate words from this image. Begin with ‘concrete words’ – i.e. what can they SEE.

“sky, blue, barbed wire, spikes, curls, clouds”

What can we infer from this image? This isn’t to generate words but to help us understand the context.

“That it is a dangerous situation – we are
stopping something or someone either getting
in or getting out – there is tension here. Is it to
protect or limit?”

Then use words that describe feelings or situations that this may make them think about.

freedom, harm, pain, escape, confined,
prisoner, sad, scared, barbs, fear, hope,
alone, no entry

The next stage is to actually think about where this could be. Who is looking at it? Who is narrating the story. It is important to stress that there is no wrong answer here.

Words can be written on ‘post its’ or pieces of paper and physically moved around to see what stories emerge. Place the words on paper around the room so pupils can go and choose words after walking round and looking at a whole range of ideas that have been generated collectively.

Barred entry, alone. Blue sky blocked.
Confined, imprisoned, no escape, no hope.
Freedom barred, no hope of escape.

If we are told something of the context of the image, does this alter our viewpoint? In actual fact the barbed wire in this image was on top of an amusement arcade in Cleethorpes! Does this change our view of the story?

Vandals again, barbed wire – no thefts!

Ideas to develop the use of images to create six word stories

  • Give the image to the whole class, but only tell half of them where it was taken.
  • Get pupils to compare their stories.
  • How much are we influenced by what other people tell us about images and stories?
  • How much do we infer from images?

stately homeThe photograph (left) is an image taken at a light show at a local stately home. The six word stories are examples from a year 6 class in Barnsley. These could be used as part of your modelling exercise and for pupils to discuss their responses to the actual stories as well as to the image.

Villagers startled and amazed by vision.
Drawn as moths to a flame.
Bright light quickens the villagers’ heartbeats.
Bright light quickens the villagers’ footsteps.
In a lightening flash, all was revealed.

In order to extend this, ask pupils them to create an image which could be used for a six word story. Discussion of guidelines could include:

  • It is important to Include some element of mystery or ambiguity – how could you do this?
  • Take your image from an unusual angle so that the viewer has to really think.
  • Only take part of your subject – the section that is missing could lead to mystery and questions.
  • Think about ambiguity of setting, place an object somewhere you would not expect to find it.
  • Use the same image but edited in different ways – does this make a difference to the story that is produced.

Give a different edit of the same photo to different groups. Does colour help us determine the mood of an image? Do we automatically assume one image is older than the other? Does a black and white image make us look at the subject matter in a different way? Can we be manipulated into looking at an image in a certain way. This covers the ‘T’ techniques section in the acronym ‘SIFT’.

Jane Hewitt is a freelance photographer and educator. Look beyond the obvious – there is beauty in everything. Author of ‘learning Through a Lens’ & Author associate ITL. Find her on Twitter @Janeh271 and read her blog at

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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