Digital Reflections: Expressing Understanding of Content Through Photography

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Seven 45-minute sessions
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Students explore both facts and feelings about a topic and make self–text–world connections as they prepare a presentation using word-processing and presentation software. Possible topics span many content areas, including science (animals, climate, space), geography (landforms), and historical events. Students select photos from websites that demonstrate their content understanding and communicate their feelings on the topic. They write and record a two-minute descriptive or persuasive script and pair the script with the photos using presentation software. Students and teacher assess the effectiveness of the presentation using the rubric and handouts provided.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Literacy includes the ability to understand multimedia including audio, video, hypermedia and hypertext.

  • New technologies are continually being developed to support student communication. Students can be encouraged to use media and new technologies flexibly to compose and communicate their ideas.
  • The electronic world is transforming the ways in which traditional forms of alphabetic literacy (reading and writing) are used to communicate.

  • Project-based activities in an electronic environment can ground concepts contextually in authentic learning tasks while establishing meaningful communication and social interactions.

  • Teachers need to demonstrate awareness of everyday literacy practices that are important to students by including technology in their literacy teaching.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • One classroom computer with projection capability
  • Computers with Internet access that are equipped with a printer and word-processing and presentation software, such as AppleWorks, PowerPoint, or iMovie (and optional sound recording capability)
  • Network server or other file storage device with the capacity to hold large multimedia files




1. Check that the presentation software (PowerPoint, AppleWorks, or iMovie) is installed and operating correctly, and that students are familiar with the functions required to create a slide show with accompanying sound. If an application with a sound recording feature is not available, students can tape record the script and play it back or read the script aloud as the photos are displayed.

2. Schedule student access to the technology for Sessions 2–7. Arrange for a projection system for whole-class instruction and viewing. For the final session, arrange for the presentations to be electronically stored on the same device (e.g., external hard drive, server, or digital camera tape) for easy access and display.

3. Choose the focus for the presentation (such as an animal, a landform, or an historical event) and select a few appropriate websites from the Resources list.

4. Familiarize yourself with the navigation of the Kodak website (for general information about photography), a citation website (e.g., Citation Machine or WebTracks Tool), and the other sites you have chosen, and bookmark the sites on the computers students will be using (or create a webpage of links to those sites).

5. Establish and practice procedures for downloading photos, and for storing the image, text, and multimedia files. Saving them on a local drive rather than a server will probably make the saving process faster, but will not provide a backup, which most servers offer.

6. Select a process for forming the three-member collaborative groups: teacher selected, random choice (students draw a color or number from a hat), or student selected. Prepare the group lists (or prepare appropriate material for in-class selection of the groups).

7. Copy a set of the following handouts for each group: Topics for a Digital Reflection about Nature, Choices, Choices, Choices, Guidelines for Writing a Digital Reflection Script, and Checklist for the Digital Reflection Project. Also make a copy for each group of the Digital Reflection Rubric assessment document. Make a copy for each student of the Digital Reflection Review and the Reflection Statements assessment documents.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Practice descriptive or persuasive writing on a topic of their choice (connected with nature or history) integrating self-to-text, text-to-text, or world-to-text connections that demonstrate their understanding of and emotional connection to the topic

  • Examine techniques used in photography in the context of the presumed motivation or purpose of the photographer

  • Organize selected images to reveal and reinforce the feelings and message conveyed by a script, in order to influence the viewers' perspective on the topic

  • Practice technology skills necessary for assembling a multimedia file with presentation software (select, download, and save images; word process text file; record sound files; design slide formats; sequence the selected images and pair them with the recorded sound)

  • Learn the importance of acknowledging sources for images (and other materials) and practice a format for attributing Internet sources in a bibliography

  • Apply their understanding of effective writing and imagery to evaluate the content and design of the electronic presentations of their classmates

Session 1

1. Introduce the concept of a digital reflection to your students. Discuss the impact of photographs on our emotions and memories. Use the following questions as discussion starters to highlight the power of photographs for communicating thoughts and feelings to an audience.
  • Do you have photographs displayed or available at home?

  • What do these images represent?

    Examples: friends, family, significant life events

  • Why do you think people photograph these events?

    Possible responses: 1) to provide a visual image of the event to share with others, 2) to commemorate a special person, 3) to remember the impact of an event or situation on the person’s life (sports team uniform, first attempt at baking cookies, riding a bicycle, vacation snapshots) 4) to remember the details of a significant life milestone (graduation, wedding, anniversary, 75th birthday), 5) to allow for introspection and reflection on a scene or an event.

  • What are the characteristics of a good photo?

    Good photos often: tell a story, capture a person expressing emotion through a close-up shot, focus on action or have a strong point of interest. For a more detailed discussion, including suggestions for photographing babies and children, special events and holidays, landscapes and more, consult the Kodak: Photo Tips & Techniques.
2. Briefly describe the core tasks of the Digital Reflection project by reviewing with students the Student Objectives at the beginning of this lesson.

3. Use the projection system to display the digital story Lost and Found from Kodak. This story models for students the type of thinking they should do as they develop their own presentations. Point out the photographer’s eye for detail as well as his speculative interest in the nature and history of the objects portrayed.

4. Identify the focus for students: nature (an animal, landform, climatic event) or historical event. If your focus is nature, and if time permits, show the class Perspective Earth. If you are focusing on history, show Sleeping Giants, a description of aircraft stored in the Arizona desert, or The Endurance, the story of Shackleton’s voyage.

5. Establish collaborative three-member groups using the process selected (see Preparation, Step 6). Provide each group with an identifying number (e.g., group 1, group 2, group 3) or letter (e.g., group A, group B, group C). If the class has more than 27 students, consider forming four-member groups to limit the number of groups to seven or eight.

6. Distribute copies of the Topics for a Digital Reflection about Nature handout and the Choices, Choices, Choices handout (choice of topic exit slip). Explain that each group will identify three possible topics for their group’s Digital Reflection and rank the topics in order of preference. Remind them that the presentation must include factual information as well as their personal experiences or feelings about the topic. Students should briefly discuss each of the three topics to determine the extent of their collective experience, knowledge, and interest in the topic. Help students understand that a persuasive script will be more effective if they have a strong, unified viewpoint regarding the significance of the topic. This informal assessment of their knowledge and viewpoints should guide them in selecting topics that they could best develop into a persuasive piece. Note that every effort will be made to honor their first choice of topic; but that you want to be sure that there is a broad range of topics in the class. Have each group complete and submit one topic exit slip.

7. After class, determine which topic each group will explore based on their choices listed on the topic exit slip.

Session 2

1. Introduce (or review) the characteristics of descriptive or persuasive writing. If the focus is on persuasive writing, explain that in this type of text the group will share with the audience their thoughtful reflection regarding the significance of the topic. They will describe their experiences, thoughts, and feelings, and explain how these have shaped their perspective on the topic. It is not simply a factual report, although facts may be included. Explain that the text for the Digital Reflection should:

a. Examine a topic about which the group members have strong feelings, and which is sufficiently important to merit a sustained, focused exploration. The group members’ experiences of the topic may be either direct, such as visiting an historical site or landform or interacting with the animal; or indirect, such as reading about the topic or listening to others’ thoughts and feelings about it. The group’s perspective will be based on the members’ experiences and shared beliefs about the topic. Ask students to consider: What are the group’s shared beliefs about the topic, and why do the members have this viewpoint?

b. Express the group’s thoughts and feelings to an audience, offering sufficient detail so that the audience will deeply consider these ideas. The group’s presentation will reflect the collective experiences of the group and reinforce the shared understanding and viewpoint of the group members. The script should be crafted to persuade people to think a certain way about the topic, or to take action on an issue. The text should be written with an audience in mind.

c. Express the group’s factual knowledge about this topic and explain how that knowledge was acquired (e.g., by experience? through research?).

2. Distribute to students the handout Guidelines for Writing a Digital Reflection Script. Explain that they will be working with a three-part format consisting of an introduction to the topic, the body of the message about the topic, and the concluding appeal for appreciation or action.

3. Provide an overview of the content and format of each of the three sections. Allow students to choose one group member to write the introduction, one to write the body, and one to write the conclusion. (If a group has four members, have two members collaboratively write the body, as it is the longest, most detailed section. In a two-person group, one will write the introduction and conclusion; the other will write the body.)

4. Have students work in their collaborative groups to brainstorm experiences, feelings, and facts for each of the three sections of the script. This discussion will allow students to reflect upon the significance of their topic as they focus and articulate their shared viewpoint. The student responsible for a particular section should take notes on the other group members’ suggestions for that section, so that all members’ ideas will be included. Tell students that you will be collecting and reviewing these notes.

5. Provide students with print or electronic resources (such as encyclopedias) for research and fact checking on their topics. Remind them that bibliographic information must be noted for inclusion in the electronic presentation.

6. Have students work individually with word processing software to write their assigned sections of the script. Remind them to name the file they are working on and save to the designated storage device. Suggest that the file name consist of the name of the topic followed by the section of the presentation (e.g., sharks-intro.doc or declaration-body.cwk).

7. Have students print two copies of their completed drafts for use during the script editing session (Session 4). If students require an additional session to complete their section of the script, the drafts should be printed after that session.

Session 3

Note: Because of the brevity of the script, it is likely that some groups will complete a first draft in Session 2 and will be ready to select photographs immediately. Other groups may need more writing time. According to your assessment of the work habits, skill levels, and progress of each group, determine whether the group:

  • Is ready to select photographs and move immediately to Session 4

  • Should collect only a few photographs to act as writing stimuli and then return to the drafting process before moving to Session 4

  • Should continue working collaboratively to complete the script before collecting any photographs
1. Using the projection system, preview the selected websites with students. Point out the navigation system and the search features of each site (note that these search the site, not the entire Internet).

2. Demonstrate (or review) the procedures for saving images from the Internet to your designated storage device. Instruct students to download the largest image file available, not the thumbnail that appears in the search results. Because many photo file names consist of numbers rather than words, suggest that students give the file a short descriptive name.

3. Teach or review the collection of bibliographic information for websites. Provide a brief introduction to copyright and “fair use” guidelines, so students will understand the importance of compiling this information. You may use the handout “Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for School Projects” as an overview. Instruct students to create and save a separate “bibliography” document for their group. Each time they select a photo for their presentation they should copy and paste the relevant URL into this document, type the photo’s file name, the photographer’s name (if provided), and add a brief description of the image so they will know which sources to cite in their final presentation.

4. Ask students to select and download 10 to 12 photos related to their topic. Emphasize that the images should be dynamic and striking, so they will support the content of the descriptive reflection or the emotional message of the persuasive script. Particularly striking or content-specific photos may lead them to add material to their script if these photos have prompted new observations or reminded students of information they wish to add.

5. Have students begin to sequence the photos to best match the organization of the script. Remind students to revise their script to accommodate any new ideas supported by the photos.

Session 4

1. Distribute the Checklist for the Digital Reflection Project. Ask each group to use Page 1 of the handout to evaluate the success of their efforts so far. Groups can then consider revision as suggested in the Action column. This self-editing process will be paired with a collaborative peer-editing activity that follows.

Note: Because this is an oral presentation, spelling and punctuation are not the focus of the editing activity.

2. After making any desired revisions, each group should print two copies of their script.

3. Pair student groups to provide a practice audience for each other’s script reading. Remind students to speak loudly and clearly enough to be heard by the audience. Encourage them to read with enthusiasm and with appropriate pacing.

4. Assign each member of the “audience” group one of the following roles, and provide the Grammar Specialist and the Content Specialist with copies of the script to be read:
  • Clock Watcher records the amount of time used by each speaker in the group and determines the total amount of time needed for the script reading (which should be approximately two minutes, not counting time between the speakers)

  • Grammar Specialist listens for incomplete sentences and incorrect grammar and indicates these on a copy of the script

  • Content Specialist listens for the clarity and completeness of the message and suggests where more information or different wording would be helpful
5. Have students complete their revision of the script. Tell them that after saving their revisions, they should print two copies of the final script. One copy should be given to you; the other is divided among the group members so that each can practice the part he or she will read during the presentation.

Sessions 5 and 6

Note: The features of the presentation software selected dictate the procedure for assembling the presentation. For example, if students are using iMovie, they will import the photos and order them by placing them in the clip tray; if they are using PowerPoint or AppleWorks, they will copy and paste one photo onto each of 10 to 12 slides. Students will need to be familiar with the applicable procedures to complete the activities in Sessions 5 and 6.

In addition to the directions available in the Help menu of the programs, online tutorials for these programs can be found at:

1. Instruct students to import the 10 to 12 photos they have collected into the software program and sequence the photos to match the content of the script. Students should record the name of each photo next to the text in the script where the image should appear. Each section (introduction, message, and conclusion) should be illustrated by several photos that are not used elsewhere in the presentation.

2. Have each group design an opening slide that contains the title of the presentation and the names of the members of the group. This slide may also include a photo.

3. Advise students to select one type of transition for use throughout the presentation to provide uniformity and continuity.

4. Assist students in recording their scripts in a quiet location to avoid background noise.

Note: If you are using PowerPoint, sound clips can be linked to the individual slides of a presentation. With iMovie, a sound file can be imported if a camera is used for taping the sound. AppleWorks does not offer the option of associating a sound file, so if you are using this software, students can either read their script aloud or tape record it for playback during the presentation.

5. Have each group design an ending slide for their presentation that contains bibliographic information for the photography websites and any informational sources used in writing the scripts. Assistance in formatting bibliographic entries can be found online at Citation Machine or WebTracks Tool.

6. Have students use Page 2 of the Checklist for the Digital Reflection Project to evaluate their success in assembling the presentation. They should then make any desired revisions as suggested in the Action column under Features of the Multimedia Presentation.

Session 7

1. Arrange seating in the classroom or computer lab for easy and comfortable viewing of a “Film Festival” of the final presentations. Remind students of appropriate audience behavior when attending such an event.

2. Distribute the Digital Reflection Review handout to each student. You may choose to have all students complete the review for each project presented (in which case students will need multiple copies of the Digital Reflection Review), or you may assign each student to review a single presentation (keeping in mind that each presentation should receive at least one review). Ask students to imagine that they are going to serve as an advertising agent for a new film. In this role, they are to focus on the positive aspects of the presentation, although they may comment briefly on an area they would like to see expanded or refined.

3. View the presentations as a class. Allow time after each one for students to complete the Digital Reflection Review.

4. Distribute the Reflection Statements handout and ask students to complete it. Collect the completed handouts or have students keep them in their portfolios.


  • Examine and discuss a photo through the eyes of a historian using the Image Detective on the Picturing Modern America 1880–1920 website. Although the activity is described as “Historical Thinking Exercises for Middle School and High School Students,” photos in the categories “Leisure and Amusement” or “The West” are appropriate for older elementary students. This activity is designed to build students’ skills in analyzing historical photographs.

  • Visit the eduScapes website to learn about Visual Literacy. As suggested in the “Reading Visuals” section, select a photo and “read” it, guided by the Visual Literacy Challenge questions provided. You can use a photo from the American Memory website (linked from the Visual Literacy page), or you could select a photograph from a recent publication, or examine a famous work of art.

  • Study the work of a famous illustrator of children’s books, examining the artist’s technique and sensitivity to the author’s language and style. Yahoo lists many illustrators and author/illustrators in the Yahoo! Kids Directory.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • As students work in collaborative groups, circulate among the groups and make notes about students’ contributions or lack of participation. Also review the group members’ own notes to determine how effectively students shared their ideas and knowledge.

  • At the close of Session 2, read the first drafts of the scripts to determine where students need assistance or guidance from you or need to consult additional print or electronic resources.

  • Review each group’s Checklist for the Digital Reflection Project. Use the checklist and the final copy of their script in evaluating the success of their efforts. Note any revisions they may have made in response to the Action portion of the checklist.

  • Complete the Digital Reflection Rubric using your notes gathered after Sessions 2, 3, and 6. Compile an evaluation packet for each presentation that comprises the teacher-completed Digital Reflection Rubric and the students’ Digital Reflection Reviews for that specific presentation.

  • Review students’ individual Reflection Statements. These can be placed in students’ portfolios or returned to them at the end of the project.

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