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Lesson Plan: Visual Analysis

I wake up screaming by Steve Fisher

I Wake up Screaming by Steve Fisher

Activity: Introduction to Visual Analysis

Since mass-market paperbacks are so focused on visuals, blurbs, and other cover design elements to draw readers in, these works lend themself to any introductory lesson on visual analysis. 

Learning Objectives: 

Students will practice determining information about audience based on visual and textual information on book covers.


Learners will be able to use their acquired visual analysis skills to determine intended audience of a variety of books and visual materials. 

Worksheet: Visual Analysis

Complete the following questions using one of the mass-market paperbacks. (Select one from the list linked here)

1. Why did you choose this particular book? What about it interests you? What else is odd or notable about this cover?

2. People: Are there people on the cover? If so, how are they posed? How are they dressed? If there are multiple people on the cover, what do you think the power dynamic is between the multiple figures? Why do you think this? Defend your opinions with specific visual details.

3. Symbols and Scenery: What kinds of objects, scenery, and additional (nonhuman) elements are included? Do these objects have any symbolic connotation(s)? What type of narrative do you assume about the book based on the inclusion of these elements, along with the human figures?

4. Lighting and Color: What is the lighting like in this image? What types of colors are used? What kind of mood do the color and lighting create? (Remember — different shades of the same color may have drastically different connotations in a viewer’s mind. For instance, a fire-truck red might convey something very different from a blood red)

5. Background: Is there anything in the background of the image? What does this background imagery (or lack of background imagery) add to the composition of the front cover?

6. Tone and Emotional Response: What is the tone of the cover? What kind of response does it try to elicit from readers and potential readers? What kinds of feelings, reactions, or thoughts do you have when you look at this cover? Why?

7. Font and Typeface: Look at the text on the cover. What does the typeface communicate about the book and how the reader is supposed to feel about it? How does the typeface interact with other visual elements of the book’s cover? 

8. Audience: Examine the images and paratext (any text other than the main text) for clues about the intended audience for your book. What kind(s) of audience do you think the publisher is attempting to appeal to? Why do you think that? Typefaces and fonts have long history going back to manuscript culture and the invention of the printing press. Classic fonts like Gothic and Roman carry historical and national associations, while newer fonts can evoke all kinds of reactions from readers.

Additional Resources

For full lesson plans, unit sequences, and additional inspiration for incorporating mass-market paperbacks into your visual analysis lessons, consult the "Judging a Book by its Cover" instruction module and lesson plans (Courtesy of University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).