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Using photographs

Images can play an important role in shaping our ideas about ourselves and other people. They can provide a neutral starting point, a forum in which children can begin to share, discuss, and question their ideas.

"The design and selection of resources impacts on levels of student interest"

– Best Evidence Synthesis in Social Sciences

Two children standing looking out a wooden window

Key competencies

Using language, symbols, and texts: students can see beyond the immediate image of a photograph to the possible message behind it. They can articulate clearly what they see and hypothesise about what might be happening.

Building conceptual understandings

Examine how traditions are expressed and passed down. See how large communities share in festivities and rituals. Make comparisons to the students own lives and the knowledge they have gathered so far.

Image (right): 'Paveita', sourced on Flickr

Formative assessment opportunity

Can students interpret a photograph? Can they discuss the message of those photographs with others? Can they rename, regroup or recategorise new information?

Ideas for working with images

The following two sites provide images for use within the classroom which have creative commons licensing.

Select a photograph or a photo essay that helps your class discover ways that different cultures celebrate - the things they wear, the activities they participate in and the kind of food they eat. There are many photographs on this site sourced from Flickr which you could use as a start.

Photo disclosure

Use blank paper to cover part of each photo. The part of the photograph that can be seen will give a clue, but not the whole story. Lay the photographs around the classroom, with a large piece of paper and a pen next to each one. The children, in pairs or small groups, rotate around the photos, writing on the accompanying piece of paper what they think the photo as a whole might show. Guided questions from the teacher throughout this process could be:

  • What do you think the people in this photo are doing?
  • Where do you think this is?
  • When do you think this photo was taken?
  • What things in the photo give you clues about what the whole picture may show?


As a class look at the uncovered photographs. Discuss the children’s ideas and add the following questions:

  • What are some of the things that are the same or nearly the same in all the photos?
  • Are any of the things you see happening familiar?
  • What would be a good name for this celebration?
  • Do you think this celebration started in New Zealand or has it come from somewhere else?

The photos could be grouped and categorised by the students own criteria, and then displayed for future reference.

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