Lesson Plans

Visualizing Gun Violence

Rev. Jesse Jackson

A double-exposed photo shows the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a news conference about the shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. Image by Carlos Javier Ortiz. Chicago, 2013.


Students will be able to analyze how the selection of information and the order in which information is presented affects their perceptions of stories about gun violence in order to create their own photo essay using images provided in the attached resources. Students will also consider the causes and aftermath of gun violence in order to produce policy recommendations to reduce violence in their own communities.

Warm-up and Introducing Resource 1:

View the slideshow in Resource 1 as a class without reading the captions. Consider:

  1. What story do you think the photojournalist is documenting?
  2. Where do you think this story is taking place?
  3. What is the tone of these images? How do they make you feel?

The photo series is entitled “‘Too Young to Die’: Shedding Light on Chicago Gun Violence.” View the slideshow again, this time taking turns among your classmates in reading out the captions. As a class, discuss:

  1. What were your predictions about the story? Were you correct?
  2. Does the additional information (title, captions) change the tone of the images? Does it change how you feel?

Think about the stories you have heard about guns in the news. As a class, brainstorm a list of stories and/or topic areas. Once you have a list, discuss:

  1. Are most of the news stories you hear about guns positive or negative? Is this reflective of how people in your community view guns?
  2. Who are usually the subjects of the stories that you hear? (Victims of violence? Perpetrators of violence? Gun owners? Police?)
  3. What usually happens after an incident of gun violence?

Introducing the Lesson:

“Although too many young people in Chicago are lost to violence,” Carlos Ortiz writes, “those who survive a serious injury are also left with physical and psychological wounds that often go unnoticed.”

Often, when we are presented with a news story about violence, we hear only about the shock of the incident and its immediate consequences. In today’s lesson, we will explore a long-term journalism project that looks at the under-reported root causes and complex aftermath of gun violence in Chicago and Guatemala through written stories and photos. We will consider how the selection and ordering of information shape our perceptions of stories and evaluate the impact of contextualizing incidents of violence in stories of everyday life. Finally, we will consider the impact of violence on our own communities, and what you can do to address it.

Introducing Resource 2: “A New Beginning: Ondelee Perteet

1. Read the article and answer the associated questions.

2. Look at the pictures associated with the article and read the captions. In small groups, place them in an order that you think best tells Ondelee Perteet’s story and/or best reflects the story as Carlos Ortiz tells it in his article. Be prepared to justify the order you choose.

3. As a class, view the photo series in the order Carlos Ortiz chose. Discuss:

  • How is your group’s order similar to Ortiz’s? How is it different?
  • Do the differences in order change your perceptions of Ondelee Perteet’s story? If so, how?
  • Why do you think Ortiz chose to begin with the photo he did--one of a person and place never mentioned in the written story?
  • Why do you think the picture of Ondelee in the hospital after being shot appears near the middle of the series?
  • What is the effect of placing two photos of Ondelee and his date at the prom at the end of the series? What is the effect of pairing them with the two photos directly preceding them?

Introducing Resource 3: “Guatemala: Meeting Michael

1. Read the article and answer the associated questions.

2. View the photo series and read the captions.

3. As a class, discuss:

  • What stands out to you about the order of the photos?
  • Why do you think Ortiz chose the placement he did for the photo of Michael? What would be the effect of placing it at the beginning or ending of the series?
  • What is the effect of placing image 4 in the same series as images 7, 9, and 11? Compare and contrast the images.

Discussion and Activity:

1. Why do you think Ortiz chose to photograph these stories in black and white? What is the effect?

2. Both resources you have examined tell stories of gun violence with a focus on one victim. Individually or with a partner, create a list of differences and similarities between the written stories and between the photography series. Consider: Why do you think these two stories belong to the same project? What is the effect of reading/viewing them together? Be prepared to share.

3. In groups, use the photos and captions from all three resources you have examined to create a photo essay that tells the story of gun violence in Chicago and/or Guatemala. You can use as many or as few photos as you would like and place them in any order. Be prepared to present your photo essay to the class, and to provide your rationale for the selection and order your group has used.

Extension Activity:

As a class, discuss:

In both stories, Ortiz refers to “endemic violence.” Something that is endemic is native to and constantly present in a given environment. What does it mean that violence is endemic to these two places? What causes does Ortiz cite for the endemic violence in each place?

Your assignment:

Do some research to find out about recent incidents of gun violence in your community or a neighboring community. Determine whether the causes of violence are similar to those cited by Ortiz and what some additional causes may be.

Write a policy brief that includes:

  1. Statement of the problem: What is the issue, and why should people care? Be sure to reference relevant incident(s) you found in your research.
  2. Context for the problem: What root causes can you identify?
  3. Policy recommendations: What can be done to reduce incidents of gun violence in your community or a neighboring community?
  4. Sources: Be sure to list any sources you consult for any/all sections of your policy brief.

As a next step, present your policy brief to your class. Discuss the similarities and differences you find among your classmates’ policy recommendations. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the different policy options presented as a class.

Finally, consider mailing or emailing a copy of your policy brief to your House and/or Senate representative to encourage them to address this issue through legislation. You can find out who your representative is and how to contact them using this page for the House and this page for the Senate. You can also call your representatives and deliver your policy recommendations to their office over the phone.

Educator Notes: 

These resources contain disturbing content and images. Educators should be sure to preview them.


Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.


Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

For the activities in Introducing Resource 1 and Discussion and Activity, students will need printouts of the images in all three resources, or access to a computer on which they can organize the photos.

The Extension Activity can be completed by students individually or as a group project.

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