One Story Lesson Plan — The Power of Portrait


The Power of Portrait


In this lesson, students will evaluate the portrait photos in the first four pages of “For Their Own Good.” Teachers will have the opportunity to review the principles of what makes a strong photo.


  • Students will build a critical vocabulary for analyzing portraiture
  • Students will develop an understanding of how to compose effective portraits to accompany profile pieces
  • Students will be better able to articulate interaction of image and text in effective storytelling

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.a. Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.


Two to three 30-minute blocks of time or one extended 90-minute period

Materials / resources

“For Their Own Good” story by Ben Montgomery and Waveney Anne Moore; PDF of pages designs

Handout: Portraiture vocabulary

Lesson step-by-step

1. Walk through the portraiture vocabulary handout with students. To help remember the six elements, a gesture can be accompanied with each element as it is taught.

  • Facial Expression: use your hand to make a circle around your face
  • Focal Point: bring the tips of your fingers to the outside corners of your eyes
  • Gesture: make a fist and bring your arm across your chest
  • Clothing: pinch your clothing at the shoulders
  • Setting: draw an imaginary rectangle frame with your fingers
  • Object: place your closed fist in your opposite hand

As you teach the elements, have students make the gestures and repeat the words.

2. Using the projector for the whole class or individual screens if you’ve got a computer lab, ask students to look at the first three pages of “For Their Own Good” and examine the portraits.

Ask students the following questions:

  • On Page 1, what’s the effect of the shadows across Bill Hayes’ face? How would a photographer create those?
  • On Page 1 what is the effect of the placement of his hand near Dick Colon’ face?
  • One Page 1, what is the effect of combining Eddie Hoine’s line of sight with the quote about the strap?
  • On Page 1, what’s the effect of combining his cowboy hat with the quote about shame? Why is he the only one photographed wearing a hat? (the second question is a good time to review the idea of status objects).
  • What is the difference in the impact on the viewer between the long shot of Superintendent Lenox on Page 2 and the close-ups on Page 1?
  • Does the ground level shot of the grave markers on Page 3 constitute a portrait?


For an in-class activity, have students work in teams to compose portraits of one another. Ask them to create two portrait shots of the same person: one to show a hobby or passion, the other to show a mood.