A Visual Connection to the Past

Celebrate National Photo Month by engaging pupils in a community history project.

By Dawn Dodson


Person holding a camera

May is National Photo Month. Its recognition includes a variety of sponsors that make up the multi-million dollar industry that celebrates, acknowledges, and encourages photographers through photo contests and other events. The combination of art and technology in modern day photography is attracting many people to include it as a hobby. Of course, for many years, photography has been the familiar and traditional method for recording the special occasions and people in our lives. National Photo Month can be brought into the classroom in a number of ways. You can welcome spring with a springtime photo assignment, have kids make a family photo book, or use photographs to record school and/or community history. In my classroom, National Photo Month happens to correspond with our local community’s bicentennial commemoration. Consequently, I developed the following lesson plan for my students. However, the structure can easily be modified to fit any historical study for a family, school, or community photography project.

A Historic Photography Project

Conveniently enough, our local community historical society asked each school to participate in their bicentennial celebration by completing projects that would display an aspect of the town’s history. Suggestions for pupil projects were made. Some of these suggestions were to research the town’s seal, its historic events, and/or its development throughout the last two hundred years. After speaking with my language arts classes, we decided to depict the history of our school through both essays and photographs. The project would be divided among the classes, with specific jobs assigned to groups of pupils working together. Together, we made a large list of topics and jobs that needed to be completed. Each group chose which job, or jobs in some cases, they wanted to complete. The three major categories included:

  • Researching historical information, including conducting some interviews and searching our local library for information.
  • Photographing our school including our pupils and alumni.
  • Compiling the research and organizing it into an essay.

Each group chose their part of the project according to interest and their personal availability to resources. For instance, some pupils had parents and grandparents that attended our school. These relatives made great primary resources. Other pupils chose to use their writing talents to record the information that was gathered. Others used their organizational talents to help bring all of the project parts together in a cohesive fashion. 

Incorporating National Photo Month

With May being National Photo Month, I began this project by introducing pupils to accomplished photographers and some of their works. A class discussion ensued over the details, coloring, and placement of the subjects in each photograph shown. As an activity to help further understanding, pupils were placed into groups where each group was given a photo. The photos ranged from portraits to landscapes, and after each group viewed their photos, they wrote a short fictional story about what they imagined happening inside the photos. From this, pupils were asked to arrange our school history project photos in such a way that they told the story of our community and school. Once the photo arrangement was decided, those groups in charge of the essay divided their writing among the photographs, placing portions of the essay under each picture. This required cooperation between groups in order for all of the parts to correlate. The final work was displayed on poster board and given to our historical society for display. My pupils felt a sense of accomplishment, while simultaneously enjoying the opportunity to engage in work very different from previous school projects. Using National Photo Month as a catalyst for a creative endeavor is a great opportunity for providing your class with an inspiring, different, and satisfying end-of-the-year project. It may not only result in a fantastic project, but just might also foster a new hobby!         

ELA Common Core Standards

CCSS. ELA-Literacy.W6.2



More Ideas for Incorporating National Photo Month into your Classroom

Explore Point of View with Aerial Photography

Pupils learn about perspective by comparing photography and literature. Although this is an elementary lesson plan, accommodations, such as literature and writing requirements, can easily be made to serve older pupils.

Photographic Memories

A creative lesson that teaches pupils how to write descriptive narratives from viewing photos. As the lesson progresses, pupils are able to compose their own narrative autobiographies.

Haiku and Photography: A Natural Connection

Learners combine the art of writing haiku and photographing nature. Photos provide the basis of the haiku, and pupils have the opportunity to record the world around them throughout the seasons. They finish by turning their collection into a book.