Teaching Caption Writing
When you teach caption writing, you need to make sure that your students understand all of the information described in the "Caption Writing 101" section of this article. When I teach yearbook, I try to have my students keep a binder full of useful information on all the different topics associated with creating a yearbook (writing, photography, layout/design, etc.). So I would always start by giving them notes over this information and having them put those notes away to use as a reference later. I would remind them, too, that everyone will be called upon to do every task at some point; just because you're a designer doesn't mean I won't ever need you to write a caption if we're in deadline crunch mode. So everyone needs to learn every skill, even if they only practice certain skills regularly.
After you've covered the basics, the best way to teach caption writing is through practice, practice, practice. Here are a few suggestions for how to do that:
1. Use Your Resources. My yearbook classroom always became a storage unit for old yearbook junk. Some of it I threw away without remorse, but I kept a few other things in case we ever needed them or because I felt too guilty to throw away school history. Filed under that second category was a photo archive (I make it sound fancy - truly, it was a series of boxes full of photos that had been used in past yearbooks and returned by the publisher once the yearbook was completed). Now, most yearbooks are done completely digitally, so photos are scanned or taken digitally and uploaded online. In the not-too-distant past, however, yearbook students became handy with grease pencils as they hand-cropped photo prints and mailed them to the publisher along with their hand-drawn layout designs. These are the photos that became our "archives" once we got them back.
I used these photos to teach caption-writing. I would ask students to go to the box and pull out five photos or so. Then they would return to their seats and practice writing captions. It didn't matter if they could identify the people in the pictures any more; I told them to make up names, grades, and even the events of the photos if they didn't know. The point of this activity was that they got to practice with actual yearbook photos. I had every student write their five captions and then turn in their photos and captions to their editors for assessment. We could use one box of photos and practice this skill several times, with students choosing different photos each time.
2. Crazy Captions. In order to mix things up a little bit, sometimes I brought in fun photos for caption practice. I used photos I found online or cut out of magazines (such as The National Enquirer) and asked students to write captions about alien marriages and Big Foot Babies. Sure, it wouldn't be anything we could use in our yearbook, but variety is the spice of life. Plus, writing captions in proper formats for crazy photos stretches a student's creative limits, which is always a good thing in a yearbook class.
3. The Real Deal. Once your students have had a chance to practice on sample photos, it's time to put them to work. Once your photography staff has a collection of photos ready to go and your design staff has placed them on the pages, it's time for your writers to flex their caption-writing muscles. Under the supervision of a meticulous and skilled editorial staff, your writers can get to work writing captions for actual yearbook spreads. If they have to re-do them, so be it. At least you're making progress toward your publication date.