Caption Writing Activity

Pat Graff
La Cueva High School
Albuquerque, N.M.

Purpose: Students will learn the basic principles of caption writing and write a few captions for assigned photographs, sharing their work.

Instruction: Teacher should go over these basic principles of caption writing, adding others as needed.

  • Avoid stating the obvious. (“Looking into the camera…”)
  • Identify all people in the picture who are seen clearly. be sure to follow a pattern in doing the IDs, and tell your reader the pattern (“left to right”, etc.)
  • Don’t start a caption with a person’s name or the name of the school.
  • Try not to start every caption in the same way. Be creative! Use a prepositional phrase (“During the state soccer tournament”) and -ing words (“Kicking in for the last few yards”), or other techniques. Don’t overuse any one technique!
  • For stand-alone feature photos, compose a headline to go with the caption.
  • Give the reader a lot of information in the caption. Use two or three sentences, if possible.
  • Using quotes in a caption adds a personal voice.
  • Be sure photographers are trained to get IDs and additional information as they take the pictures. Caption writing is so much easier this way!
  • Always include a photo credit. (“Photo by…”)

Practice: Using a collection of old file photos, have students write captions for the pictures. It helps to have them work of groups of two or three to collaborate on this. Depending on time available, have them do one or more captions. Then have them read the captions aloud to the class as they show the class the picture and do group critiques of the captions.

NOTE: You will probably not have names readily available for old file photos, so tell students they can invent them. However, caution them that making up information for regular publications work is an absolute NO-NO!

If old file photos are not available, clip photos from newspapers and magazines, removing the caption and photo credit.