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Using images

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 - Interest

Key competencies

Boy participating in Chinese dragon dance.

Using language, symbols, and texts: students see beyond the immediate image of a photograph to the possible message behind it. They can articulate clearly what they see and hypothesize 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): Photo by Nikita Belokhonov from Pexels

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.



Let students examine photos, in pairs or small groups, without any prior discussion. Groups can rotate around a number of photos and discuss all photos, or each photo could have its own questions attached. Record the answers as a bus stop activity, share as a class and discuss further. Alternatively, download photos into a web album and let students comment on them so that responses can be recorded.

Examples of discussion questions may be:

  • What aspects have been emphasised or omitted? Were the people posed? If not, did they know they were being photographed?
  • When was the picture taken? (This could be used to emphasise the traditional costume dance etc aspects of some festivals)
  • Where was it taken? Is this where you would usually see this kind of activity?
  • How were subjects chosen?
  • Would an indigenous member of the culture take the same picture from the same perspective?
  • Do you think the photographer likes, dislikes, or feels superior/inferior to the subjects?
  • How well did the photographer understand the meaning of a scene or activity to the people who were participating in it?
  • Was any message intended for the viewer?
  • Has anyone been left out of the picture? Are the subjects a certain age or ethnicity?

Use the photographs as a starter for discussions of cultural stereotyping and how easy it is to look at some very visible things about a culture and make judgments about people in that culture. Celebrations, for instance, can be seen as the expression of traditional cultural, social or religious festivals. Does the Chinese lantern festival explain who a Chinese New Zealander is and what he/she stands for? The discussion could acknowledge that who we are and what we do is a very complex mixture of our culture, our traditions, our family's values, current technology, and our environment.

Using two or three of the photos as an example, show students how the meaning of an image can be changed by cutting something out or adding something in. For example, if a photo was taken of a playground full of happy children, and one child was crying, you would interpret the photo differently if either the crying child or the happy children were removed. Take a person or object out of the photo by covering it, and see if the meaning or message of the photo changes.

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