Capital City Academy / Visual Literacy activities / Yemisi Blake

Reading and Making Portraits

An introductory activity to help students explore what portraits can tell us about people.

Materials needed:

  • A sheet of randomly selected portraits, with no information about the subject or photographer (choose a variety of ages and backgrounds).
  • Pens
  • Paper
  • Cameras
  • Strips of paper with different ‘person types’ (details below)
  • A hat



Print out multiple copies of the portrait sheet or project it for all to see.



  1. a) Students work in pairs or small groups.

They are asked to:

  • Look at each portrait and write down a list of things the portrait might tell them about the subject.
    • A few examples might be useful to get them started: How old are they, what is their job, where do they live?
  • Students spend a few minutes on each portrait, writing down us much information as possible.
  • Students then share back to the whole group and discuss the difference on how groups read each image.


  1. b) Pairs or groups are given a camera.
  • Each groups selects a ‘person type’ from the hat
  • They must create a portrait inspired by this, considering things such as body language, facial expressions, framing and composition.
    • Person types can be as playful as you like. Examples: president, clown, criminal, computer nerd, ballet dancer, chef, nurse, watch maker.
  • Once a group have created a portrait, they can swap their ‘person type with another’.
  • The session ends by each group sharing their portraits with another group or to the whole class.

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