Using Photography for Teaching and Learning

There are many, many ways teachers can use cameras and photography as part of their instruction. Pictures add visual interest to any lesson or project, especially if they are taken by students themselves.

On this page you’ll find a collection of ideas and activities I’ve used as well as many from friends and colleagues. I hope this will inspire you to experiment with photography and to develop more.

Photographer of the Week – assign one student to document the class for a week, taking pictures of the activities and students at work. Their photos can be uploaded to a shared Google Photos album where everyone in the class can view them. The best pictures of the week are added to the album for the year which can be used for review and retrospective.

Photo a Day – a variation on photographer of the week in which one or more students submit one picture every day of the school year. They can take more but the goal is to find one good image every class day. Or this could be extended to weekends and holidays for those students with their own camera.

Online Classroom Journal – use images in regular blog posts to show parents their children at work and explain what is happening in the classroom. One good example of this is the site ExploreOrrs, a blog by a 3rd grade teacher:

Photowalks – have students walk around an area and take pictures based on a particular theme. Themes could include: colors, numbers, letters, patterns, geometric shapes, plants, neighborhood landmarks, and many more. Photowalks are especially useful for field trips.

Photo Scavenger Hunt – a variation on the photowalk, students take pictures of places, objects, and people based on clues they been given. This could be done in as short as one hour or extended over days or weeks.

Mood Book – for younger students, have them pair up and take pictures of each other expressing a particular mood: happy, sad, excited, sleepy, etc.

Time Lapse – this could be as simple as taking a picture of what’s outside the classroom window every day and then combining them into a video showing the passing of the seasons. For schools undergoing renovation, take one picture every day to show the progress. One simple example is this time lapse of building a geodesic dome at a conference.

Science – use photography to detail the growth of plants or animals or the decay of organic material like bread. Photographs also make wonderful illustrations for science notebooks and to show the process used in an experiment or demonstration.

Macro Art – have students take photographs in extreme close-up, showing just a small part of a common object. Other students can then analyze the image and use reasoning skills to determine the object.

Stop Motion Stories – use objects and characters to tell stories by placing them in front of a background, taking a picture, and then moving them. By putting all the pictures together in a video, you get a rough version of the stop motion effect seen in movies. This can also be done with paper cutouts moved on a flat surface and photographed from above.

Introduction Wall – take pictures of each student holding a sign with some unique feature about themselves. Or holding an object that means something to them. Or something indicating their personal interests. These images can be displayed on a wall in the classroom to help everyone get to know each other.

Physical Education – students can take pictures to illustrate concepts such as the correct stance for a batter in baseball or take a series of pictures showing how to throw a free throw in basketball.

Illustrate a famous quotation – students first find the quotation and then take a picture that illustrates it. They can then added the words to the picture to create a poster.

Photo Cartoon Book – students write a story, take pictures that tell the story, then add cartoon balloons to each frame with the dialog.

Motivational Posters – you’ve seen the Read posters featuring celebrities holding their favorite books and Got Milk? showing stars and their milk mustaches. Students can create similar posters encouraging other positive behaviors.

Green screen project – green screens are not just for video. You can also take still photos in front of another image to create all kinds of fictional illustration.