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Bring the World into Your Classroom Through Photography

Reading Time: 5 minutes

For over a century, students have had opportunities to learn about far off places through pictures brought back by intrepid explorers venturing across the globe. The world learned about the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu through the images of explorer Hiram Bingham and saw the view from Mount Everest after Sir Edmund Hillary made his famous ascent. In the early days, however, explorers returned with only a handful of black and white pictures to commemorate an expedition. These special images helped inspire a new generation of young explorers.

Today, incredible images are far more available than ever before, giving us the opportunity to connect students with explorers, scientists, and adventurers across the globe. As I write this post, I’m actually preparing for a month-long scientific expedition to Guatemala to study volcanoes. I’ll be teaming up with two other National Geographic Explorers – a volcanologist who studies lava domes and a cartographer who creates interactive, digital maps. As the expedition photographer, my job will be to document our journey so that we can share our adventure with people in Guatemala and back home. In fact, one of our most important goals is to produce educational materials about volcanoes that can be used in school classrooms. During the expedition, we’ll even be using a satellite device to connect with classrooms from the field, giving students the opportunity to ask us questions and to see the view from our campsite (check out Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants).

If we want students to become true global citizens, we must find new and creative ways of bringing the world into the classroom. This can be done through technology, through photography, through books, or even through in person interactions. One of my elementary school teachers used to bring guests from other countries to visit our classroom. I still remember meeting a teacher from China and a park ranger from Russia. During the meetings, we would exchange photographs of our families and our homes, using the images to spark dialogue. Looking back, I think those conversations helped inspire my lifelong interest in travel and my curiosity about other cultures. They also demonstrated the power of photography to provide a window into other worlds.

Do you want to inspire your students to be curious, global citizens? Here are some places and ways you can find wonderful photography from around the world.

  1.  Sign up for a classroom Google Hangout through Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants. These free, Google Hangouts connect classrooms with scientists, adventurers, and National Geographic Explorers around the world! My team led a Google Hangout from the top of a dormant volcano in Guatemala in November 2017.

2. Use National Geographic’s Photo of the Day in your classroom to spark discussion and curiosity. There is a new photo and caption posted online each day.

3. Create lessons using the incredible photographs in your National Geographic Learning textbooks. Ask students to pick an image that inspires them and to write a short story about the photograph.

To get the most out of photography in your classroom, ELT teacher trainer Michael McLoghlin offers some suggestions. 

In English, we say a picture is worth a thousand words. In other languages such as Chinese, it’s ten thousand words. Clearly, we all agree that a good picture or a photograph can say a lot. In the ELT classroom, photographs can also help teens to discover who they are and the world around them. As educators then, how can we get the most out of photography for our students?

First, select photographs carefully. Choose something that is striking. Go for shots of the real world over imagined ones and shots of people in the context of what they doing.

A good example of this is from Unit 1 Level 2 of the National Geographic Learning Series Impact. In the unit opener for the unit ‘Color Matters’, there is a big color photograph of people celebrating Carnival in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. The photograph is bursting with colors. As educators, we need to spend more time helping our English language learners to interact with photographs like this.

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 Here are a few tips for using photography in your classroom:

  1. Start with the familiar

Get students to start with themselves and familiar objects because moving onto the less familiar of the photograph itself. Once you have made sure that books are closed, ask students to identify the colors they see around the classroom. Further personalize the activity by getting them to describe the colors of an object in the school bag they’ve brought to school.

2. Use a few well-designed questions

Now, ask students to open their books and turn to the photograph. Start with more basic comprehension questions about where and when it is taking place before you ask them to speculate about what people in the picture may feel and why they are dressed the way they are. It’s important to remember a longer list of questions isn’t necessarily better. In fact, a few well-designed questions are often more effective.

  1. Organize and personalize what you see in the picture

Now that students have heard the colors, it’s time for a bit of organization and personalization. Draw a T-chart on the board, and with the help of the students list the colors in the left column of the chart. For each color, ask students to raise their hand if this is their favorite color, and then write the number next to each color.

4. Make use of other information provided about the photo

Most photographs come with a feature called ‘About the photo’. If possible, use a map or globe to show the location of the place the picture.

5.Get students to imagine other possibilities

To finish, ask students to imagine if the photograph were black and white. How would it differ from the color photo? With all the focus on color, this may come as a surprising question for students but it’s bound to stimulate their curiosity and wonder about the world.

Have fun teaching with photographs and let us know how it goes!

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A researcher stands on the summit of Round Island, a small, remote island in the Indian Ocean where only scientists are allowed to visit.

Author: Gabby Salazar

Photographer and conservationist Gabby Salazar travels around the globe to document rare and endangered species and to raise awareness about their plight. She is a National Geographic Young Explorer, a former President of the North American Nature Photography Association, a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Photography, and a member of the Emerging League of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). At 19, she founded a student magazine with Nature’s Best Photography to promote photography as a way to connect kids with nature. She continues to teach photography to children and teenagers around the world.

For more National Geographic Learning content from Gabby, you can watch her webinar recording: Inspiring Environmental Responsibility in the Young Learner Classroom here: NGL.Cengage.com/YLwebinars .

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