Picture prompts are an integral part of the New Jersey standardized tests at almost every grade level. Many teachers think that all the students have to do is describe the picture. WRONG!  Students must write a story that includes the picture. Here are some strategies that I use when teaching students how to write a picture prompt:

1. Explain that students will have 25 minutes to see the picture for the first time and create a story that includes it.

2. All stories must have the 3 C's and 1 P in order to be a story. Those are: Characters, Conflict (problem), Conclusion (solution to problem) and Place.

3. Create 3 columns on the board, Before, Now and After. In the Now column ask students to give you scenarios that describe what is going on in the picture right now. Ask them to try and incorporate the problem into their scenarios.

4. Go to the Before column and write down an event that could have led up to or caused each of the Now events.

5. Next go to the After column and write down events that could arise from each of the Before and Now events. Ask students to try and incorporate their conclusion into these scenarios.

6. Remind students to give their characters names and to use dialogue between them.

7. Encourage the students to take literary risks like using flashback or exploding the moment.

When practicing Picture Prompt writing in class, make sure the students stick to the time limit so that when they get into the real situation they already know what 25 minutes feels like. Encourage them to proofread what they've written. As they write, keep them abreast of the time every 10 minutes and let them know when they are down to 5 minutes. Encourage peer editing by creating a peer picture prompt checklist that asks students to identify the 3 C's and 1 P in someone else's work. Students can switch papers and discuss ways of making their stories better.