Using photography in the classroom

Teachers can use photography to make lessons both varied and interesting, while providing plenty of opportunities for language use. Students always enjoy using a camera in class and it can provide for a vast range of language opportunities.

With digital cameras widely available, and opportunities for printing getting easier and easier, using a camera in class is becoming far simpler than in the past. However, photos do not always need to be printed and could be shown equally well directly from the camera, or from a CD or on a computer monitor or large screen display.

Here are a few ways in which photography could be used in language classes from elementary up to advanced level.

Students take photos to characterise their life and then talk about them.

Preliminary work here would probably include looking at other people’s lives and would include looking at photos, reading text, listening to taped material and so on. The students would then use a camera to take 6 photos (or whatever agreed number it was) which would illustrate important areas of their own lives. They would then come back into class at a later stage and show their photos and talk about their lives. They could record this as well, and then go on to write about their lives.

Make up a story inside or outside class

The students would make up a simple story and then illustrate this by taking photos of themselves based on the plot of the story. The photos could be taken around the language school or in the local vicinity. The students would then bring in their photos and tell the story in detail.

Take arty / interesting photos outside class

The students could be asked to take interesting / arty photographs and then bring them in with a story related to the photo.

Students photograph each other (working in pairs or groups)

This activity would involve a student asking the other students to take up particular poses, rather like a band might be asked to do. The activity would involve a lot of speaking practice because the students would have to give each other very clear instructions. The student with the camera would need to explain what (s)he wants to do, or what theme (s)he has in mind, and then ask the other students to stand in a particular way. The student giving directions would have to tell the other students how to place their hands, which way to face, whether to sit or stand, and so on. There would have to be preliminary work by the students to decide what their plan / theme would be before taking any photos. The first time they do this it might be best if they worked in pairs.

If possible, you could encourage students to bring additional clothing or costumes for them to dress up in to portray images or roles that they can discuss in class.

Students take photos on a theme

The students could decide on a theme (perhaps working in pairs) and then take photos based on that theme. They would then have to explain the relationship between the photographs. An alternative would be to show the photos and ask the other students to think what the theme is. This would involve a lot of interesting discussion.

Students can use photos to document visits

When students go on visits to places of interest, sight-seeing or just shopping or lazing around, they can take photos which are later used as stimulus material for class discussions – in pairs, small groups or whole-class.

Students add photos as part of descriptive writing.

The students could be asked to make a description of somewhere (language school, local train station, a room, a school, a building) or perhaps someone, and then take photographs to illustrate the description. They could then go on to describe the place/person verbally, answering questions from other students, before writing a description.

Further sources of ideas

Education World has an excellent list of ideas for using cameras in the classroom and outside that can be adapted to language learning.

Here’s a list of very useful sites about using digital photography in the classroom.