Mona Voelkel

Archived News

MTV Series: “What’s Going on in this Picture?

A Thinking Routine adapted from Ron Ritchard’s book, Making Thinking Visible and the New York Times’ weekly feature, “What’s Going on in this Picture?”

Courtesy of Library of Congress

A Thinking Routine that strengthens inferential thinking, observation skills, develops vocabulary and increases a sense of global connection.

What’s Going on in This Picture Image Set  (Use “Speaker Notes” to see photo information.)

New York Times. “What’s Going on with this Picture?”


  1. View a photograph (without any identifying captions) and discuss these questions with your students:
  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  1.  As the discussion moderator, stay neutral and accepting of multiple interpretations.  When students make a claim about what is going on in the image, gently ask them, “What makes you say that?  This encourages them to provide evidence from the image or from their background knowledge to support their claims or inferences.
  2.  Think about not revealing the origins of the photograph at  the end of this activity but instead use the photograph on another day as part of a teaching lesson.

What’s Going On in this Picture? Extensions

Before the group discussion, have students answer the 2
questions in partnerships. This gives students who need
more thinking time, such as ENL students, a chance to talk
with a partner and reflect before the whole group

Partnerships can use the “What’s Going on in This Picture?” Thinking Sheet as a “script” to support ENL students or students with language disabilies.

To encourage active listening, have students pose the
“What’s Going on in This Picture?” questions to their partner. The student can interview their partner and jot down his/her responses. Later, during conferencing or when students return to the whole group, make partners responsible for telling the group what his/her partner thought was going on in this picture and why.

Over time, the the questions can be used to prompt thinking and to draft an analytical paragraph:

Topic sentence/Claim:
What is going on in this picture?

What is going on in the picture that makes me say that?

Another thing I think is going on in this picture…

What is going on in the picture or world that makes me say that?

Every Monday, the NY Times Learning Network posts an uncaptioned photograph and invites students around the world to participate in a “What’s Going on in This Picture?” activity. Students are invited to post their inferences and evidence on a live blog moderated by Visual Thinking. (Students must be 13 or older to post but a teacher can post for younger students.) On Thursday, the photograph is identified with links to the original captions and/or news article. An exceptional and highly recommended learning experience with intriguing pictures for students in Grades 3-12. 


After extended practice with the “What’s Going on in This Picture?” thinking routine, have students use these questions to make claims about written text and support those claim with evidence from the text:

What’s going on in this text?
What makes you say that?

Sample Thinking Sheet:

Leave a Reply