Lesson Plans

Exploring Portraiture as a Storytelling Tool

Students practice interview techniques under journalist supervision. Image by Kim Pate. United States, 2018.

Note to educators: This is the fifth of seven lessons in the Everyday DC unit, and all seven lessons can be found here


Students will be able to prepare and conduct journalistic interviews to identify quotes to accompany portraits. They will also be able to apply portrait photography skills to taking portraits of their classmates.


  1. Review the term portrait, and how a portrait is different from a self-portrait/selfie.
    1. Share images from the Everyday Africa project, and guide students in identifying which images are portraits. As students review portraits, ask them to describe the following: 
      1. What do you see in the image?
      2. What feeling is communicated through the image? How?
      3. What story do you think this portrait is telling about everyday life in Africa?
  2. Option: For students who are unfamiliar with the Everyday Africa project, share the first 90 seconds of the video Everyday Africa: A Photographer's Toolkit
  3. Project, or ask students to view, images from the @everydayafrica feed. Guide them in considering the following?
    1. Which images are portraits?
    2. How do you know?
    3. What do you learn about the subject through the photo?
  4. Ask students to read the captions of the portraits they've found aloud.
    1. What do you learn about the subject through these captions? 
    2. What do you learn about Everyday Africa?
    3. What kinds of questions did the photojournalist ask to get that information? Make a list of possible questions. 

Introducing the Lesson: Conducting Interviews and Composing Portraits

  1. Based on questions the students identified in part 4 of the warm-up, model how to ask open-ended questions that encourage longer, more nuanced responses — especially around communicating everyday life in a place.
    • Ask them to think of what kinds of questions they could ask people in their communities to learn more about how those people experience everyday life.
    • List the questions in a place that all students can see.
    • Option: Select two students to conduct a model interview in front of the class using the questions brainstormed by the entire group. Use this model interview to highlight techniques that work well, and to offer tips on ways that the two students could have conducted an interview that produced more details.
  2. Students break into pairs. They identify who will be the first interviewer, and who will be the first person to be interviewed. Each person should have the opportunity to interview, and to be interviewed.
  3. Each student interviews their partner. Inspired by Everyday Africa, the interviewers should guide interviewees in sharing what they think everyday life looks like in their communities. They can also ask the interviewee to share media stereotypes about their communities that they think misrepresent their everyday lives. Note: The interviewer should listen for moments that really stand out from the interview.
  4. Students practice listening for new information, for personality traits and other information that someone might not get from just seeing a photo of the person. They should be prepared to share one moment that popped from their interviews with their partners by the end of the exercise.
  5. Share the video "Shooting with Yagazie Emezie," and ask students to watch for the following:
    1. What techniques does Emezie use to interview people she doesn't know?
    2. As a photojournalist, what details is she drawn to as she interviews people about their everyday lives?
    3. What techniques does Emezie use to compose portraits
  6. After students watch the video, ask them to work with their partners to brainstorm ways that they could compose portraits of their partners that would accurately learn what they learned in their interviews. For example, how might a student compose a portrait of a partner who described a strong interest in athletics? If a partner shared a moment of struggle of resilience, how could those emotions be reflected in the portrait?

Students take advantage of natural lighting to capture portraties of their classmate. Washington, D.C. 2020

Extension Activity: Portrait Photography

1. Students practice taking portraits of their partners. 

  • In doing so, students apply different photography skills (shooting at different distances, different angles, with and without flash, etc.).

Optional: If students need a review of techniques, have students look at photographs from Everyday Africa and sort photos into categories based on the technique evident in the photograph (high angle, low angle, juxtaposition, etc.) Students may also benefit from examining the following video from Everyday Africa contributor Allison Shelley about different techniques that photojournalists employ to tell stories

2. After composing and taking several portraits of the person they interviewed, students select a strong portrait that they feel conveys important information about their subject. 

3. Finally, students write an accompanying caption that incorporates a quote from their interview.

"She wasn’t ready. Still Pretty." Image by Taimia Ivey. United States, 2018.


Students prepare and conduct journalistic interviews to illuminate their portraits and apply portraiture photography skills to taking portraits of classmates and their contexts.

Sample rubric:


Exceeds Expectation

Meets Expectation

Needs Improvement

VA:Pr5.1.8a: Collaboratively prepare and present selected theme based artwork for display, and formulate exhibition narratives for the viewer.






VA:Re.7.2.6a: Analyze ways that visual components and cultural associations suggested by images influence ideas, emotions, and actions.




Educator Notes: 

This lesson plan adapts exercises and activities developed as part of the Everyday DC unit, which was written by Pulitzer Center and D.C. Public Schools. Here is the original PDF for this lesson plan, which was written by Fareed Mostoufi (Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting) & Andrew Westover (DCPS).

This photography and curation unit is inspired by the Everyday Africa project created by journalists Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill and supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Everyday Africa, a collection of images shot on mobile phones across the continent, is an attempt to redirect focus toward a more accurate understanding of what most Africans experience on a day-to-day basis: normal life. 

The Everyday DC cornerstone unit is an opportunity for students to apply photography, photo analysis, and investigative reporting skills to the creation of photo essays that reflect their everyday realities as residents of Washington D.C. Students will create group photo exhibitions that they feel accurately and responsibly represent their communities. Participating schools had the opportunity collaborate with DCPS and the Pulitzer Center to select students who will help curate a district-wide Everyday DC exhibition featuring images from all schools participating in the unit. For support creating a photojournalism project with your students, contact education@pulitzercenter.org.

DCPS Standards:


Analyze ways that visual components and cultural associations suggested by images influence ideas, emotions, and actions.

Additional Resources:

For an easily accessible PDF containbing images from Everyday Africa, please click here.

For a PDF containing images from last year's Everyday DC exhibition, please click here.

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