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.

Students were asked to think about the age-old question, "Is a picture worth a thousand words?" while working on this project. Learning was centred around class and small group discussions, close readings of visual images and the production of photographs to convey a particular idea or feeling. Final photographs, along with written reflections and responses, were compiled into a class anthology.


Since students will be creating photographs that depict a particular concept or feeling they should first have the opportunity to look closely at a variety of photographs, e.g. from family albums, magazines or photography books, online, etc., and think about what they see, and about how photographs can communicate an idea. (Note: Stay away from advertisements or fashion photographs.)

  • Have pairs of students look at a variety of photographs and try to “read” these images by examining the details in the photograph and describing what they see.

  • Ask students what they think the photographer is trying to communicate.

    • What is your interpretation of the photo?

    • What choices has the photographer made in creating this photo? E.g. colours, framing, point of view, camera angle, the use of symbols, etc.

    • How do these details contribute to our understanding of the photo?

    • Why might people interpret a photo in different ways?

  • Help students understand that not everyone will interpret a photo in the same way. Readers call on personal experiences, knowledge and their view of the world to make sense of both print and images.

See the Photography page Classroom Ideas for many other activities to help students understand that photographs, like all texts, are deliberately constructed to convey meaning.


During this part of the process the students begin to think about the way they will create their own photographs.

  • Discuss the use of pictures to evoke images, thoughts, and feelings.

  • Brainstorm possible concepts (e.g. freedom, poverty, bravery, strength) or feelings (e.g. fear, anger, joy, sadness) for the theme of their photos.

  • As a group, talk about some of the techniques a photographer may use to communicate these concepts or feelings, e.g. a lion could symbolize strength, the angle of a shot can also show strength.

  • Students select the theme they want to depict through their photo.

  • Students search through magazines, photo albums, posters, internet sites, and cards to find photographs they think reflect their theme and share their thinking with their group.

  • They chose the one photo that best represents their theme and write a response explaining the reasons for their choice.

  • Students come up with their own ideas for their photograph and make a sketch to show how it will be framed, where they will stand to shoot the photo, the props they will use, etc.


  • Students set up the scene they are going to shoot, using their sketch as a guide.

  • Using digital or disposable cameras, the students shoot a number of shots in order to have a choice of which one best conveys their message.


  • Photos are downloaded to the computer or processed at a photo shop.

  • Students and teacher share their photographs and discuss what worked or did not work and why.

  • Students select the photo they feel best conveys their intended message to include in the class anthology.

  • Ask students to revisit the essential question, "Is a picture worth a thousand words ?" and write their final thoughts as they reflect on what they have learned through their inquiry. Here are some student reflections:

"I've learned to look at a photo very closely to make meaning of it. I thought that photos were used to keep souvenirs, but now I know that pictures are also taken to send an important message to the reader." Tamara

"I learned that in photos you have to see beyond the obvious just like you have to read beyond the words in a book to really understand and enjoy it." Robbie

"In creating photographs I have learned that you can capture themes or emotions like freedom, vitality or loneliness." Brandy

"I have learned that the person who takes the photograph decides exactly what they want in the picture and the message they want to send." Zoe

"Your eyes are like a camera. When you see something there are no words all over it to describe what it is, it's the picture itself that sends you the message." Ashley

  • Celebrate the completion of the project by sharing the completed anthology with others.

Ms. Brisson’s Final Thoughts

There are two important factors that helped to make the students’ projects successful: teacher modelling and the gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the students.

The fact that I worked on my own project in order to model the decisions a writer and photographer make, gave the students insight into the constructed nature of texts and provided strategies for coping with some of the challenges we all face in producing our work.

Homework and classwork deadlines were assigned at different times throughout the project. This helped break up the steps so that students did not fall too far behind, and work did not pile up.

I did my project on the theme of serenity. I had difficulty trying to capture this in a photograph. I was quite pleased with the results.



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