Photography is one example of a visual text that can be used to teach media literacy and critical thinking. When students interpret or create photographs they better understand how visual language works and the constructed nature of all texts. Even the youngest students can easily make their own visual texts through photography.

Visually literate students understand that:

  • photographs are produced and used for different purposes, for example, the purpose of an advertising photo is very different from a photo in a nonfiction picture book or from a snapshot of your best friend

  • photographers make choices about the way the photo is constructed (camera angles, framing etc.), that impact the message conveyed to the intended audience

  • readers draw on their experience and their understanding of visual language to come up with an interpretation

  • not all people interpret photographs in the same way

Teachers who are considering using photography in their classrooms will find the projects and classroom ideas in this section of the website helpful in getting started.


Reading and producing photographs is one way that students can learn about visual literacy. The following activities may be used to help students develop a better understanding of how images create meaning. Many of these activities can be adapted for use with students from primary through to the end of secondary. As is true with most learning activities it is preferable to have students working in pairs or small groups.


During the following activities students are asked to think about the decisions made by the photographer in constructing the photo, and what the reasons for the decisions might be. They should also think about the purpose for the photograph (e.g. family photo, photojournalism, etc.) and the expected audience.

Organize a photo hunt

  • Collect photos from magazines, books or family photo albums

  • Ask students to select a photo they find interesting or evocative and write their reaction to it. Share with a partner.

  • Think of an emotion and find a photograph that best represents that emotion. Write an explanation of their thinking. Share with a partner.

Frame a photo

  • Have students move closer to and further away from an object. How does the framing change their perception of the scene ?

  • Gather some pictures from personal photos, newspaper, advertisements, etc.

  • Make paper frames with different size openings.

  • In groups, students place the different frames on top of the pictures.

  • Discuss how their ​interpretations change depending on what is visible to them?

Consider what’s outside of the frame

  • In pairs, students examine a variety of photographs collected from magazines and newspapers.

  • Ask pairs to consider the photographer’s purpose in taking these photographs.

  • Highlight the use of their prior knowledge to make meaning of the photos.

  • Have students extend one of the photos beyond the frame by taping it to the centre of a piece of paper and drawing or sketching background details that might be outside of the frame. How does this change the way they see the photo ?​

Teach critical literacy

  • Have students examine the way images are used by different sources to report the same event, (e.g. different photos of a particular news story or event).

  • What differences in emphasis and points of view can they find?

  • How can they challenge and/or justify these different perspectives?

Find the focal point

  • Project or display a photo. Leave it up for a few minutes and then take it down.

  • In pairs, have students share what they remember most about the image (e.g. a facial expression, an action, or a particular colour or mood).

  • Have students consider reasons why this was the most memorable part of the image for them. ​Why might others have a different answer?


The following activities give students the opportunity to learn more about the constructed nature of visual text by becoming the photographer.

Photograph your school neighbourhood

  • Organize your class into groups of 5 or 6 students.

  • Each group will photograph different aspects of their neighbourhood to illustrate a different perspective, e.g. neglected, busy, a good place to bring up a family, etc. Groups need to know their perspective before they begin the activity.

  • Take the class out for an initial walk around the neighbourhood so that groups can decide on the images they want to shoot.

  • Back in the classroom groups finalize their decisions and think about the way they will frame their photos. For instance, what will they include in the shot and what might have to be omitted in order to stay true to the perspective they want to represent ?

  • Groups shoot the photos they will use. The photos can be edited and/or cropped on the computer before they are printed, or they can be cropped by hand.

  • Students discuss or write-up the perspective portrayed through their work.

Use photographs as illustrations

  • Have students take photographs to illustrate pieces of writing such as poetry, personal narrative or information-based text.

Go from photograph to advertisement

  • Help students think about the different purposes for photographs by showing them some ads that use photos to attract the reader. You might ask them to consider the difference between a photo someone snaps of their pet, for instance, and a similar photo used in an ad ? ​What do they notice ? How is the way the photo is interpreted changed by the different purpose ?

  • In pairs, have students turn a photograph into an advertisement by deciding on a product, or idea that the photo could be used to advertise or promote and adding a slogan/ tag line.

Use as inspiration for writing

  • Literacy Through Photography encourages children to find their voice through photographs and written text. Students photograph scenes from their lives, and use these images to spark ideas for writing. Themes explored include self portrait, family, community, visual storytelling, and dreams.


These projects are based on actual integrated projects carried out by Québec teachers. We hope they will act as a springboard for your own ideas. Each of these projects can be adapted to the age and needs of your students.

When you read the following Classroom Projects you will notice in each case the teacher has provided opportunities for students :

  • to use the lens of the camera to explore their world

  • to decode, interpret and understand photographs

  • to use images as a springboard for verbal and written expression

  • to produce their own photographs in order to communicate a message and/or meaning to the viewer


In creating this class photobook, each student had to compose a photo in which they would appear and shoot a photo that included one of their classmates. This made an authentic project even more engaging and meaningful to the students and their families.

The Best Part of Me

Wendy Ewald’s beautiful book, The Best Part of Me, was used to inspire Cycle One students for this integrated project that ties together visual and print literacy. Students created a class book using their own photography and writing.

Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

The following inquiry project is based on one created by teacher Susan Brisson for her Cycle Three students. The students explored how images can be “read” and the ways that photos are created to convey meanings.


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