Visual Literacy by John Dabell

Children are consuming images at an extraordinary rate and it is therefore imperative that they learn how to ‘read’ them and develop the skills of exploration, critique and reflection.

Given the power of photos to influence and persuade, it is vital for children to become better “readers” and canny consumers of visual news and messaging.

Visual literacy is what we see with the mind and not just our eyes. It is our ability to construct meaning from visual images.

In Thoughts on Visual Literacy (1997), Philip Yenawine says,

Visual literacy is the ability to find meaning in imagery. It involves a set of skills ranging from simple identification – naming what one sees – to complex interpretation on contextual, metaphoric and philosophical levels. Many aspects of cognition are called upon, such as personal association, questioning, speculating, analyzing, fact-finding, and categorizing.

Being visually literate means being active, forensic and creative users of the visual language of images and teaching children how to interpret and create visual texts is an essential component of the English curriculum.

How can we support pupils to decode images and understand the world around them? How can we develop their skills to distinguish between sensationalism and healthy journalism; between fact and fake; between evidence-based statements and empty noise?

Visually literate learners are able to make judgements about the accuracy, validity and integrity of images but this is no easy task. It is a thoughtful and sustained form of understanding that requires some strategic planning and careful resourcing.

Take a Picture

News pictures are a rich-source of material for grabbing children’s attention and then exploring the events behind them, within them and around them. A picture is a starting point for helping develop critical thinking and for asking and answering the basic questions Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? Pictures communicate meaning and can be ‘read’ in the same way as written or printed text can be.

Looking at a picture and what it says to us will depend on the opinions, beliefs and values we hold. What we see isn’t always what others will see and whilst the picture might represent a real-life story, there can be many stories wrapped inside that need bringing out. A visual is like a Babushka doll when you really start looking.

Using images and combining them with talking and writing tasks is a sure-fire way to increase vocabulary, grammar, and narrative skills. You can find the images yourself or visit dedicated websites where there are lots of collections to tap into.

One of my favourite go-to websites is run by Sam Daunt where you will find a whole pile of images to use for writing inspiration.

The following picture is from the non-fiction or ‘faction’ collection and the questions show how they can instantly get children involved. It’s certainly a powerful and unusual image and the sort of thing that encourages plenty of thought, talk and writing with plenty of room for development, extension and challenge.

Using these images involves intra-personal and meta-cognitive as well as inter-personal collaboration.


The Headington Shark

  • How did the shark get there?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Was anyone in the house at the time?
  • Were there any eyewitnesses?
  • How did the residents of the street react?
  • What happened to the shark in the end?
  • Write a newspaper report about the arrival of The Headington Shark.
  • Write a transcript of a police interview with a witness or the person responsible.

Another must-visit website is the images shed of the marvellous The Literacy Shed website, at

Here you will find lots of inspiring images that can be used as writing prompts. From abandoned places and landscapes to flying houses and statues, the images are stunning and can prompt some seriously creative discussions and writing.

Picture Perfect

Images and news photos are dynamic picture prompts and superb ways to develop narrative writing,  personal writing, argumentative writing or expository writing. They contain information and ideas and allow the viewer to place them in context or invent their own as well as being critical consumers.

Picture prompts can be productively used for making inferences or an educated guess as to what is going on. They can also inspire children to make some sort of personal connection and write from the perspective of one of the people, animals of things shown.

They contribute to children’s overall visual literacy by supporting their ability to

1) view, understand, analyse and evaluate,

2) design and create, and

3) acquire, consolidate, communicate and transfer knowledge and understanding.

It’s always a worthwhile activity to compare news stories and pictures by looking at different newspapers, magazines and websites – some are similar but others handle subjects and events differently. Pictures have a powerful way of shaping our perception of what has happened.

You Get The Picture

Visually literate learners should be able to read and write visual language but this takes time and this is why regularly looking at pictures in the news can help children comprehend and appreciate the images created by others.

To be an effective communicator in the 21st Century, learners need to be able to interpret, create and select images to express a range of meanings.

In a thoughtful and insightful report, The Visual Literacy White Paper, Dr Anne Bamford, Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, says that to be visually literate learner should be able to do 7 key things:

  1. Understand the subject matter of images;
  2. Analyse and interpret images to gain meaning within the cultural context the image was created and exists;
  3. Analyse the syntax of images including style and composition;
  4. Analyse the techniques used to produce the image;
  5. Evaluate the aesthetic merit of the work;
  6. Evaluate the merit of the work in terms of purpose and audience; and
  7. Grasp the synergy, interaction, innovation, affective impact and/or ‘feel’ of an image.

This is quite a list and somewhat of a tall order for any individual teacher to tackle alone but collectively teachers can use opportunities within different subjects to develop these skills and build visual literacy.

Dr Bamford says,

“Pictures exist all around us. They surround us…Understanding pictures is a vital life enriching necessity. Not to understand them is visual illiteracy.” 

Picture News can certainly play a key role in helping teachers support children communicate more effectively by teaching the basic principles of visual literacy.

Using the photos in Picture News will enable children to develop a greater sophistication of understanding and move beyond the superficial to a higher order of visual literacy.

Interacting with news pictures encourages children to critically investigate images and enhances their verbal and written literacy skills and vocabulary.  ‘Getting the picture’ is a serious business but a fun one too and is best developed through contact with a varied menu of images fuelled by thoughtful and challenging questioning and discussion.


Bamford, A., The Visual Literacy White Paper (2003) Commissioned by Adobe Systems PTY Ltd,  Australia

Beaudry, J. (2014). Visual Literacy for Teaching and Learning: Essential Knowledge and Skills to Create, Use and Assess Concept Maps and Graphic Organizers.

Giorgis,C.,  Johnson, N.J., Bonomo, A., Colbert, C., & al, e. (1999) Visual literacy. Reading Teacher, 53 (2) 146-153

Yenawine, P. (1997) In Thoughts on Visual Literacy, , in J Flood, SB Heath, and D Lapp (Eds) Handbook of research on teaching literacy through the communicative and visual arts.


Picture News win ‘New Business of the Year’ at the Press Business Awards!

At the Press Business Awards last week, Picture News were announced the winner of the ‘New Business of the Year’ category.

Around 30 different companies were shortlisted and whittled down to just 3 finalised.

Founders Katie and Rob said: “For me it became more and more important that our children became aware of what is going on in the world. A lot of what we are about is learning from  current affairs and what’s going on. We are very passionate about that.”

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words? by John Dabell

We have been producing images for thousands of years and long before the written word was introduced. Prehistoric or primitive art was a form of communication through images and it was these pictures that did all the talking. Fast-forward to today and our image-saturated lives means that pictures still speak louder than ever.

In a world of social media and the instant sharing of images, the idiom ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ seems to have more and more truth and power to it than ever before. Pictures pack a punch and are stronger than ever.

This well-used phrase has been around for some time and one of the earliest known references to the expression is from a 1911 newspaper article in which newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane, speaking about journalism and publicity, says “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

A similar phrase, “One Look Is Worth A Thousand Words,” appeared in a 1913 newspaper advertisement for the Piqua Auto Supply House of Piqua, Ohio.

It is thought the contemporary use of the saying comes from an article in the December 8, 1921 issue advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink, in which Fred R. Barnard referred to “One Look is Worth A Thousand Words” to endorse the use of images in adverts on the sides of streetcars.

Barnard used another advert 6 years later using the phrase “One Picture Worth Ten Thousand Words,” which he wrongly credited as being a Chinese proverb so people would take it more seriously. As a result, the expression is erroneously attributed to Confucius.



Then we have another saying, very similar in meaning: “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours,” or “A good sketch is better than a long speech” and this is often attributed to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

But is a picture worth a thousand words? Is it priceless or worthless? What makes a picture?

Picture Power

Pictures can be emotional and beautiful, painful and traumatic and a million things in between. They tell a story without words and they instantly have impact. Some photos grab our attention like a Venus fly-trap and can provoke a range of emotions and feelings. They can affect our opinions and even motivate us to behave differently and take on a whole new perspective. Photos have the power to shape identities, life experiences and points of view.

Pictures are commonly used in the news media because they add colour, weight and gravitas to a scene, situation or event. Above all, they tell stories that can give us insights about the world around us. Children need to be aware that all photos exist for a reason and knowing the purpose of a photograph and its intended audience can help with interpreting a photograph.

Mobile phones with in-built cameras mean that taking pictures is now incredibly easy and in a sense everyone is a photojournalist. But visual reporting comes with real responsibilities as images are only part of a story and cannot describe the full picture. Direct, truthful and bold images are rare because a picture is open to interpretation and can easily be misconstrued.

When we show children news pictures then we have to equip them with the critical skills to take a mental step back and think around the edges. In our media rich environment, becoming adept at decoding images is becoming ever more important.

Most people immediately understand an image but this understanding can be incomplete because the image could be biased or doctored. A photo is a snapshot, a still moment in time and part of something much bigger, deeper and wider. A picture is worth a double-take and then some more because it can be sketchy.

Picture Ponder

Developing visual literacy is key to helping children become news media-savvy.

Visual literacy is the ability to interpret and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image (photograph, web page, movie, object.)

Sharing pictures with children gives us the opportunity to help them ‘read between the lines’ and see that a photographer or photojournalist will have their own point of view and their own agenda.

Taking a picture can be quite a natural and casual event but it can also be planned and executed according to a plan. The choices made by a photographer influence how we see the world and these can have huge implications. Help children to understand that photographers show us what they want us to see because they choose the setting and how they ‘shoot’ the picture.

Children also need to know this: every photograph we look at was created at one point in time, in a particular place, of a chosen subject, by a particular photographer and for a specific purpose. The technology used also has a massive bearing on what we see – the manipulation and editing of pictures can profoundly alter our sense of reality.

Talk about the key role news editors have in deciding what news we get to see. What do they think about the old newsroom adage ‘If it bleeds, it leads’? Sensationalism sells but are dramatic pictures exploitative and gross invasions of privacy?

Every picture tells a story

At the end of every year there are often photo news summaries devoted to taking a contemplative look at some of the key events and people that have ‘made the news’. These are often called ‘ The Year in Photos’ and are a great opportunity to think more carefully about the role of photos and the concept of ‘picture news’.

Take a look at and carefully select and share some of the photographs for children to look at with more of a critical eye. Alternatively, take a look at ‘picture of the day’ or ‘pictures of the week’. The New York Times run a weekly What’s Going On In This Picture? (WGOITP) which you can find at

Without showing children any of the news text, captions or summaries, ask them to consider what the stories might be about.

  • First, encourage children to write down what they see without making any interpretation. How can you put into words what you see with your eyes? Look carefully at the position of people and objects, colours, objects etc.
  • Next, can they describe what is happening? What’s going on? What more can they find?
  • Why was this photo taken? How does it make you feel? What are you thinking?
  • What questions do children have about the photo that they would want to know more about?
  • Are the photographers’ an integral part of the event or are they fly on the wall observers? What did the photographer want to convey?
  • Are they being paid to tell a visual story to capture news or were they just ‘in the right place at the right time’?
  • Discuss the different interpretations of the photo and refer to specific features of the image that ‘speak to you’.
  • What can we learn from this photo?

A photograph can be interpreted entirely differently by groups of children and individuals so this exercise is an interesting one to compare and contrast perspectives and the biases of viewers. It also illustrates why we need words in the form of a report or story to shed more light and explain a picture.

Looking at photos together and sharing experiences teaches children that photos only capture moments and they are seldom comprehensive or entirely representative. Incorporating photographic study into our visual literacy work offers not only an excellent opportunity for learning the challenge of accurate description but also how to see beyond the picture itself.

While words can provide wider and deeper perspective many people only see the pictures and sometimes choose to ignore any accompanying text that explains the image, so impress upon children why it is important to read the corresponding article and caption that goes with it.

Explain why analysing pictures and texts help us to respond more thoughtfully and critically so we aren’t just passive consumers of the news but active interpreters of the world around us.

With so many photographs available on so many websites we are spoiled for choice. For example,

BBC News

NBS News

The New York Times

The Daily Telegraph

Another source well worth looking at is, a fabulous website where you can view the entire collection of winning images from the 60th World Press Photo Contest. This is the site where you can explore thousands of award-winning photos by year or theme and help children unravel and discover the hidden stories behind the photos.

Ask children to look at some of the pictures from the past that have become ‘iconic images’. What is it about these images that have a lasting impact and what roles have they played in the legacy of the events?  For example, the 9/11 Twin Towers photo – how does this affect how children think and feel about this event?


And finally…

Pictures may well be worth a thousand words but sometimes they are so powerful there are no words. These photos may be shocking, beautiful or both but they speak a different language because they transcend verbal communication. Sometimes news pictures just stun us and take us back to our primitive roots where images speak their own language.

The News Is Fake, Totally Fake by John Dabell

False, bogus, phony,  sham, hoax, artificial, mock, pseudo, spurious….take your pick but the one word that has upended all of these synonyms is ‘fake’ and it’s a word we hear a lot about in relation to the news.

‘Fake news’ has become big news itself these days as more and more people remind us that there is  a lot of it about.

Spurious news stories have always been around but the weaponised buzzword ‘fake news’ rocketed and went viral after Donald Trump used it to describe some news reporting in the run-up to the US Presidential election and beyond. He has described himself as a victim of ‘fake news’ although it has been alleged that fake news might have been pivotal in his election success.

Donald Trump is probably the most prolific user of the sticky phrase ‘fake news’ and milks media moment to voice his disapproval of dishonest reporting.

In July this year during a joint press conference with the Polish President Andrzej Duda, Mr Trump took the opportunity to say,

“What we want to see in the United States is honest – beautiful, free – but honest press,” Mr Trump said. “We want to see fair press. I think it’s a very important thing. We don’t want fake news. By the way, not everybody is fake news, but we don’t want fake news. Bad thing. Very bad for our country.”

The media ecosystem is full of ‘fake news’ and we are all vulnerable to being tricked, deceived and misled with children especially susceptible.

According to the NASUWT in a survey of over 1500 teachers, more than 1/3 said their pupils have quoted fake news as fact in lessons and written work (see here).

Digital Safeguarding and ‘fake news’

Fake news is of growing importance and Mr Trump is right – fake news is ‘very bad’ and not just for the US but the whole world and as teachers we share the responsibility of helping children sort the wheat from the chaff.

Talking about the science of fake news is now a key part of our news literacy and digital safeguarding efforts. Develop critical thinking and helping children to analyse and judge the truth and accuracy of stories or information online is a core skill.

According to the National Literacy Trust’s 2017 August report, ‘Fake news and critical literacy’;   “children and young people in England do not have the critical literacy skills they need to identify fake news.” (see here). This must-read report is packed with insights and includes practical guidance for teachers.

Following on from this report, on 13 September 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy launched the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools. To inform the commission, the National Literacy Trust has launched three surveys for primary and secondary school pupils, to discover what children know about fake news and to measure their ability to identify phoney news.

The surveys are open from 13 September to 22 October 2017 and after completing them you can get access to free teaching resources to use with your pupils. Access the surveys here.

But what exactly is ‘fake news’? 

To kick-start any discussion about fake news and develop children’s news literacy we need to talk about the concept itself, join forces and come to an understanding of what it is.

A quick trawl of the internet shows that there are lots of definitions ‘out there’ with plenty of cross-overs but no real consensus. For example, compare the following:

We define “fake news”’ to be news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers.

(Source: Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow,  ‘Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 31, Number 2, Spring 2017, Pages 211–236)

A type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation published under the guise of being authentic news to mislead in order to gain financially or politically.


Fake news means fictions deliberately fabricated and presented as non-fiction with the intent to mislead recipients into treating fiction as fact or into doubting verifiable fact.

(Source: Paul Chadwick)

Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word. 

Which definition do children think offers the best description? Can they write their own?

In January 2017 the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee (now called Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) launched an inquiry into fake news. Damian Collins argues we need to fight for a clear definition of the term fake news. He says,

Fake news is when people knowingly spread lies, but dress it up to look like real news. The intention of people spreading fake news is to confuse and mislead people, and to undermine confidence in the media and public institutions in general…

(for more information about the inquiry click here).

Fake news has lots of cousins and it is important to differentiate between them.  For example, fake news could be confused with flawed journalism and intentional reporting mistakes, rumours, conspiracy theories, propaganda, satire, innocuous entertainment, partially true reports and biased reports. There are mischief makers who mean no harm and then there are extremists and tyrants who mean plenty of harm.

Barriers to entry in the media industry have dropped precipitously and this democratisation of media allows anyone now the opportunity to be a “journalist”. Coupled with that, it is now easy to set up websites and sharing via social media means news can travel fast and often generates significant advertising revenue.

A 2017 report from Harvard University about combatting fake news talks about the power of social media (see here)

“Social media platforms provide a megaphone to anyone who can attract followers. This new power structure enables small numbers of individuals, armed with technical, social or political know-how, to distribute large volumes of disinformation, or “fake news.” Misinformation on social media is particularly potent and dangerous for two reasons: an abundance of sources and the creation of echo chambers.”

Under new plans agreed by the German government, social networks that fail to remove defamatory “fake news”, hate speech and other illegal content will be fined up to €50m (£43m).

A slice of fake       

The proliferation of phoney news online has been enormous and dubious news features appear on several types of websites. Some of these are set up wholly to print deliberately untrue and misleading stories. The names of these websites are often carefully selected to resemble those of legitimate news organizations.

Other sites that parody the news contain features that might be interpreted as factual when seen out of context. There are then sites that mix factual articles with some false articles.

The entertainment website has been set up to show how easy it is to create a fake news story.

How to spot a fake

Andreas Schleicher, the education lead of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that children should be taught how to spot fake news in schools. He says that being able to distinguish fact from fiction is an essential skill in the modern age and teachers are well placed to provide guidance, leadership and support.

“Exposing fake news, even being aware that there is something like fake news, that there is something that is written that is not necessarily true, that you have to question, think critically. That is very important. This is something that we believe schools can do something about.”

Teaching children to be news-savvy and read between the lines is crucial but where do we look for resources?

One useful site worth visiting comes from Common Sense Media who have produced a practical and thought-provoking video which looks at ‘5 ways to spot fake news’ (see here)

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has produced an excellent infographic to help support us when spotting whether a news item is for real or not.

Another resource you can use comes from the News Literacy Project. They have produced the checklist ‘Ten Questions For Fake News Detection’ and supports children with identifying whether they have spotted an illegitimate news source – for more details see here.

Sometimes websites are so convincing they can hoodwink us into thinking they are credible especially when they use images and videos. Worryingly, it is clear that many young people are not making critical judgments about the information they find online.

For example, take a look at the BBC ‘Fake News’ report found here. They visited one school and gave children six stories to read on their iPads and they were asked to try and work out which ones were fake– in fact they all were and the children’s reactions are interesting and insightful. Take a look at their fake news quiz too found here.

The UK Safer Internet Centre ‘Power of Image Report’ (see here) found that images and videos “found that despite 70% of 8-17 year olds recognising that images and videos can be misleading and don’t always tell the full story, just a third (33%) of young people said they find it easy to check if the images and videos they find online are truthful. Almost half (48%) said they are more likely to trust something has happened if they see an image or video of it.”

Ofcom’s 2016 report ‘Children and parents: media use and attitudes report’ found that 28% of 8-11s (28%) and 27% of 12-15s believe that if a website has been listed by Google then it can be trusted, while around one in ten in each age group don’t think about whether the results can be trusted.

Reality check

The UK’s independent fact-checking charity is and they provide free tools, information and advice so that anyone can check the claims we hear from politicians and the media. Their toolkit is well worth looking through at

Since the mid-1990s has been writing about viral claims and online rumours and it maintains a list of known fake news websites.

Other fact-checking sites include ,, and See as well, the home of the International Fact-Checking Network.

You can also use Google Reverse Image Search to check an image (see In March 2017 Google introduced Project Owl, their initiative to combat the fake news that’s corrupting the web (see

Social media platforms are often demonised and get considerable bad press but children need to see the efforts some companies are making to combat fake news too. For example, Facebook has developed 10 Tips to Spot False News (in partnership with Full Fact) which can be found at

And finally….

Whilst children might have high levels of digital literacy, we mustn’t let this fool us into thinking that they can understand the torrent of information they see every day. Media literacy is a key life skill and part of our duty of care is to help children develop an active and critical relationship with the news.

We can do this by making sure that they have strategies for spotting what’s fake and what’s for real, stopping the spread of false information and promoting a culture of truth. Schools have a key role to play in encouraging the generation of factual information and making the truth louder.

In the US, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication hold an annual News Engagement Day and this year it is on 3rd October. This has now grown into a global event, where people of all ages across the world are encouraged to read, watch, listen to and discuss news. Perhaps we can start our own version in the UK so that children can engage with the news positively and not accept ‘the news’ at face value (see here).

Picture News Autumn Workshops

Following the success of our spring and summer workshops, we’ve decided to run a few more for the autumn term! We’re running our ‘Using the News to Inspire Young Minds’ workshops after school, on selected dates in Leeds, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, North Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. To find out if we’re running any near you, please see our events page here.

All of the events are taking place in a Picture News school with a limited numbers of spaces available for each session.

The workshops will provide you with a range of strategies to help:

  • Introduce simple but powerful questioning strategies to encourage deep thinking;
  • Link British values into your assemblies and SMSC work each week;
  • Bring your assemblies to life and help make them much easier;
  • Learn how the power of images can engage and inspire children;
  • Really make a difference to children’s attitudes of their world!


Picture News – a resource for dialogic classrooms by John Dabell

Great News

It’s back to school and that means you will be getting your classroom ‘ready’ but what do you display?

How you design your classroom matters because this is the space that children will spend the majority of their time. Displays make a significant difference to the feel of a classroom and how children feel about themselves. There are a range of design factors that need careful consideration but displays play their part and what we display can affect how children think, behave and perform.

According to the report ‘Clever Classrooms’, undertaken by the University of Salford,

“Well-designed classrooms can boost learning progress in primary school pupils by 16%”.

Led by Professor Peter Barrett, the Salford research team offer some useful advice. They found that well-defined and age appropriate learning zones are important to facilitate learning and they recommend that displays should be planned to give “a lively sense to the classroom, but without becoming chaotic in feel.  As a rule of thumb 20-50% of the available wall space should be kept clear.”

There will be plenty of subjects and projects vying for wall space and over the terms, displays will evolve and change in order to keep children engaged and interest levels high. Purposeful and well-planned work-oriented displays set the tone and create a positive climate.

Bulletin Boards

Some displays are long-term residents and these mostly relate to classroom management routines, rule and expectations. But there is another display that deserves a permanent spot in a clever classroom and that is a News Board.

Also known as Bulletin Boards, Current Affairs Boards or News Flash Boards, these learning zones are a must for helping children develop their media literacy, their analytical and critical skills and abilities to interact with others.

Being news savvy is a “global competency” that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is keen to promote, especially in relation to the impact of fake news.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills, recently argued that schools have a role to play in making sure that young people have a chance to debate different views and opinions in a more interconnected world.

This is where News Boards can play a living and interactive part of classroom life supporting children to be mindful and inclusive citizens of the 21st Century. They can help children see the world through different perspectives, appreciate different ideas and be open to different cultures.


In the spirit of the recent OECD report ‘Global Competency’, News Boards have a very powerful role to play in teaching children how to be responsible citizens and how to interact respectfully, appropriately and effectively in connection with a range of issues.

Picture News resources are ideally placed to help children interact with key news events and can help raise awareness of multiple perspectives, develop critical thinking skills, promote analysis, reflection and problem solving.

A News Board is a static feature in the sense that a display board is devoted to the news but the actual content changes weekly making it a vibrant and dynamic classroom feature that children will constantly learn from. News is ever-changing and children are on the same journey.

News Talk

Taking the conscious step to display weekly news items using powerful pictures and news features is a strong characteristic of a dialogic classroom. The news items displayed are there to be discussed, mulled over, explored and crucially, debated.

Recent research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) shows that teaching children to argue helps their academic development.

Around 2,500 nine and 10-year-olds took part in a trial of “dialogic teaching”, in which teachers asked open questions and encouraged children to explain themselves rather than just state answers. The research found that ‘learning how to dialogue’ helped considerably and children who took part made on average two months more progress in English and science than a similar group of pupils who did not take part.

From a News Board perspective, this is great news because the news items that are posted aren’t just there to be looked at or to fill a space – they are there to be talked about, interacted with and used as a shared experience to exchange views, opinions and ideas. Talking about news content aids conceptual understanding, broadens world views and helps children take creative leaps.  They are ripe for asking open questions and for opening up minds.

Debating news items, peeling back stories and getting under their skin can help children improve their higher order thinking skills, engagement in current affairs and their confidence to articulate their views. The quality of talk can dramatically improve when teachers give time to focus on the news.

In the LKMco report ‘Oracy: The State of Speaking in Our Schools, the authors make the point that,

“School leaders and class teachers should provide a mix of activities that enable pupils to practice and develop different types of talk in lessons and across the school, ensuring pupils are exposed to a range of opportunities and contexts for meaningful talk.”

News Boards help children learn how to talk and discussing news items provides an opportunity for them to reflect on the nature of society itself and understand social issues. In this sense, making news a feature of class and school life feeds and fuels oracy and helps children engage democratically with each other.


Interacting with the news via News Boards and resources like Picture News can help you cover a wide range of subjects and connect to all areas of the curriculum too. Talking about the news dips its toes into the whole curriculum. This helps build language, vocabulary, oral expression and listening skills.

But learning how to dialogue isn’t all talk. Reading about the news boosts reading comprehension and helps children become more effective readers too. Interacting with the news also helps children develop their writing skills as they can learn about the different styles of journalism and writing used to portray news information.

In The News

News Boards are an essential tool for classroom communication between teachers and children, children and their peers as well as between children and parents, visitors and volunteers. They are natural talking points and when used habitually as part of class life they can make great waves.

Setting up a News Board is simple and easy to do and changing the news from week to week is not onerous. The backing paper can be a newspaper and what you display on it can be a poster, photo, headline or newsletter such as the Picture News newspaper. These can be combined with class news items and any other local features that are newsworthy.

Weekly news communicates the message that domestic and global current events aren’t just something that happen ‘out there in the big wide world’. They connect children to their immediate surroundings, their home environments, their country and the wider world by making them an integral part of different contexts.

Children are part of the news not just as consumers but as active participants talking and debating what has happened and what might happen. Views and opinions can be posted around news boards quickly and easily using Post-it Notes and so children can take ownership of the News Boards.

Despite all the busyness and back to school business that can cloud your vision, one thing it is important not to lose sight of is the power of involving children in the news. So, make that display and make news a regular talking point so that children become commentators, reflectors and debaters of information not passive recipients or news victims.

And finally….

Champion the news and you’ll have a class full of worldly-wise news champions who know what’s going on and won’t accept the news at face value.

Children who have a regular news intake as part of a current affairs programme at school tend to have a far more positive attitude toward the news. It helps them learn about and understand the importance of people, issues and events in the news and feeds their interest in finding out more about what they see and hear around them.

They increase their awareness of and interest in current events and develop into adults who interact intelligently with the world around them by being informed citizens and lifelong active participants in the news.


Reflecting on a year of posters…

As we move closer to the summer break and move through the final weeks of term, we’ve been thinking about our posters and news stories from the year and asking some of the Picture News team which has been their favourite…

Pupil premium and the real world

If you work in education it’s highly likely that you are aware of pupil premium funding, perhaps your school has become hugely reliant on this additional income stream in the budget cuts of recent times, or envious that you don’t receive much of this ‘extra’ money. According to the Department for Education:

“The pupil premium is additional funding for publicly funded schools in England to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils of all abilities and to close the gaps between them and their peers.”

For children from reception year to year 6 the funding is currently set at over £1,300 for each eligible child. Every school has to justify how they have chosen to allocate the funding and the impact. In 2003, Ofsted released an overview as to how schools were choosing to spend their funding, success stories and ineffective strategies. One of the key findings, which may not come as a surprise was that, “Employing new teaching assistants or extending the roles of those already in post were common ways for the schools visited, especially primary schools, to spend some of the funding. As previous Ofsted work has indicated, the indiscriminate use of teaching assistants can represent very poor value for money, with little or even negative impact on learning.”

The dilemma many schools face is that if they are not intending on spending the money on extra staff to help close the attainment gap, how can they balance spending funds on interventions that will not add more of a work burden on existing staff whilst still raising standards and having a positive impact on pupil premium children? The EEF (The Education Endowment Foundation) has created a pupil premium toolkit to help schools decide how to spend money. It contains a useful chart which maps the cost of interventions against their effectiveness. Two of the examples of interventions with the lowest cost and greatest impact provided are:

Collaborative learning  – effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to work together; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains.

Social and emotional learning – interventions which  seek to improve attainment by improving the social and emotional dimensions of learning, as opposed to focusing directly on the academic or cognitive elements of learning but ultimately having a positive impact on academic attainment.

Neither of these involve 1:1 tuition, intense catch up classes or extra homework. Daniel Sobel, founder of the Inclusion Expert outlines some very innovative and unusual ways schools have decided to spend some of their funding here including the purchase of a bike for a child who was under performing in maths. Maths was often his first lesson, which he regularly arrived late for. Providing him with a bike meant he was able to arrive at school earlier each day and not miss the first part of the same subject so often. The strategy worked well for this child as the school were able to highlight his individual needs and come up with a solution, but to buy 20 bikes for the other pupil premium children wouldn’t make any sense!

Although schools may find it hard to perfect this balance of how to spend their money wisely and prove accountable successes; one of the most fantastic and often overlooked elements is that schools do have complete freedom to spend it how ever they see would be of best benefit to the pupils in their school. To conclude with the words of Mr Sobel: “Any individual intervention is only as good as the extent to which it addresses the real need. The phenomenon of the gap itself involves multiple issues and to think they can all be solved simply by additional literacy or numeracy is missing the point.”

Night Zookeeper – Partnership

We are very excited to announce our new partnership with the fantastic online writing tool Night Zookeeper.

At Picture News, we are passionate about using both images and current affairs to inspire and engage children. Night Zookeper is a fun and interesting way to improve children’s writing both at home and at school. We believe that by combining the two; through using Night Zookeeper as a platform for our news resources, a motivating opportunity to instigate both original and create writing is provided.

We believe that the power and real life nature of the news can evoke passion and emotion – the perfect combination for brilliant writing!

Each month we will send one of our packs through to the team at Night Zookeeper which will then become an exciting stimulus for writing for children at home or at school.

We are also producing a very special pack for all our schools in collaboration with Night Zookeeper – so look out for some very creative news and resources in your tube over the summer term!

Please click here to find out more and to register for a 30-day free trial of Night Zookeeper.


Picture News on tour!

This week we ran our first “Picture News: Using the news to inspire young minds” workshops in Pontefract and Hull, we were delighted with the engagement and positivity from all of the teachers who attended!

In the sessions, we challenged our attendees with a quiz, asked them to create and complete news based activities, tackled perceptions on why and how we should engage with current affairs with children from a young age and provided everyone with free posters to use at their schools!

We are looking to run three more events in the Summer Term, if you would like your school to be considered as a host school, please email for further details.  As a host school the training will be free of charge for all your own staff.