Skip to content

Tools of the Trade: Photography

By Rita Sorrentino

With the abundance of digital cameras and smart phones, most of today’s students have access and opportunity to take, store and share digital photographs, instantaneously.  With the popularity of this practice, it is extremely important for students to become proficient in using these and other tools of technology in effective and responsible ways. Giving students opportunities to learn from and with the tools that they are already using in their personal life, brings authenticity and relevance into the learning environment. Photography in the classroom offers students and teachers the convenience of documenting learning experiences, enhancing visual literacy, and developing critical thinking and analytical skills. Here are some suggestions for engaging students with photography as they use the camera lens to read and interpret the world around them.

Dear Photograph

Dear Photograph is a digital storytelling format for taking a picture from the past and setting it in the present. The idea is to link memories from the past to the present, to physically overlap them and, then through writing, blend the memory with current reality. In a way, it’s like a mini story core with visuals.


  • Select a photo from past that means something to you
  • Visit original location and hold up photo in front of camera
  • Keep your hand in picture – establishes connection to past
  • Match background as best you can while taking the picture
  • Write caption – include setting, moment, and memory
  • You can submit to

Students can revisit previous grades to capture a memory and express its meaning, especially at the end of school year and moving-on moments. Family photos capture traditions, relationships, travel, and activities with siblings and friends. Visit the website to view and read amazing stories.

EduPic Graphical Resource

EduPic Graphical Resource is a service provided by William Vann offering free photographic images and education drawings for teachers and students to use for instructional and learning purposes. Images on EduPic can be used for any educational purpose including websites, public service announcements, and other published and distributed works. Educational use extends to environmental education centers, churches, and other non-profit organizations. On this site, Mr. Vann recounts the backstory of his love of photography and his continued effort to explore the world in search of new images. Images are grouped by content area and can be easily searched with the search window and handy alphabetical quick links. The science section hosts an extensive selection of photos: animals, biomes, fungi, geology, and plants. These photos support learning, inspire creativity and make interesting writing prompts. No registration required.

Photo A Day Challenge

From a recent post on Richard Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers, I came across some ideas for collaborative projects using photography. In any content area, students can be instructed to observe their environment, take interesting photos, and post on a designated Internet service (Twitter, Google Docs or Slides) or other classroom storage/sharing devices for each day of a specific month. Of course, you can alter this to per week or any time frame that fits your schedule. Last year, a third grade teacher from Canada (@3BBees) initiated #mathphotochallenge with this calendar of topics. Think of concepts that your students are learning this year, and create your own challenge. Afterwards, pictures can be used for vocabulary review, photo essays, ABC books, or interesting writing prompts.

Photos and Word Choice

Undoubtedly we are all familiar with the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  To capitalize on this belief and inject a point of challenge, try this writing activity with your students. I came across this idea several years ago, but, unfortunately, do not know the source. It may have been on a blog, website, or conference. If anyone knows, please add to comments below to give credit where credit is due.


  • The children bring in (or select) a photograph.
  • Children write a paragraph about the photo. (Decide on length of  writing depending on grade level.)
  • The challenge comes in with the ‘no repeat‘.
  • No repeat means that they may not use a word more than one time… yes, that includes: ‘is’, ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘I’, etc.  They may only use a word once.

The challenge pushes students to use precise action verbs, descriptive adjectives and adverbs, and go beyond their comfort zone to express thoughts and feelings. Students gain practice with varying sentence structure and paying attention to word choice. Now to do so with a thousand words, I challenge you!

Using photography in your classes provides an opportunity to instruct children on copyright and fairuse issues, responsible digital citizenship, and to engage them in using 21st tools for teaching and learning. Keep the lens on sharing with your thoughts and ideas below. 

Rita Sorrentino profileRita Sorrentino is a recently retired teacher from Overbrook Elementary School in Philadelphia. Rita is finding new pathways for working with teachers and students to use digital tools for reading writing, speaking and listening. She presented ‘Beyond Superheroes: Using Comics Across the Curriculum” at the PETE&C Conference in Hershey in February. Rita joined the Pennsylvania Writing Project in 2004 and the Philadelphia Writing Project in 1994.

No comments yet

We'd love to hear what you think! Please comment below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: