Visual Literacy in the Classroom

This week as part of the Coetail course we were asked to read several articles about visual literacy in the classroom. Renee Hobbes in her article gives examples from kindergarten through middle school and high school of media literacy. No students are too young and we do a disservice with older students if we don’t teach them the critical thinking and evaluating skills they need for all types of media. “Media literacy is not a new subject area and it is not just about television: it is literacy for the information age.”

The second part of our assignment was to find a photo to use to support our curriculum using Creative Commons. I was glad to learn there are advance searches that can be used. This search allows you to find photos and other media that do not have “all rights reserved.” My problem was to choose a curriculum area that could be enhanced by using a photo. We are presently in the midst of practicing and preparing for several readers theater plays by Jan Brett. Most of the students are also in the middle of the writing process to create their own “Goldilocks” story. We have just begun practicing for World Maths Day and World Spelling Day. In Bible class we are beginning a unit on the parables of Jesus. I began looking at some of the objects in the parables but couldn’t find anything that I thought second graders would relate to.

My problem: How do I find an appropriate photograph when I don’t know what I want to use it for? Finally I had an inspiration. This month we have decided to emphasize “empathy” in our elementary classes. I began looking for photos that were tagged “empathy.” I looked through several pages and then I saw one that touched my heart and I thought second graders could respond to.
A childs BFF

By Ulrica

I want my second graders to discuss the photo and create a word bank/idea bank on chart paper. Some of the questions I will ask them to discuss are: How do you think the teddy bear got there? What words might describe the teddy bear? What words might describe the child who lost the teddy bear? After a class discussion I would ask the students to individually journal about: What connections can you make with the child who lost a favorite toy? What could you do if your friend lost his/her favorite toy? I also hope that by creating a word bank the students may find some new words and ideas to use in their writing.

On another day I would like to continue the discussion about the elements of the photo. Why do they think only the teddy bear is in color? What if it was all black and white? All color? Would it create the same feelings?

We are taking a lot of photos this year for our classroom blog. Each of the students is getting a chance to be the class photographer. Every photo tells a story.  Are you telling a story with the photos you take? Maybe at this point show some of the photos the students have taken and have them evaluate their own work.

I know as a teacher, I’m seeing personalities in the photos that some of the students have taken. Last week I gave cameras to two of the students as they went to Art and Music. The one student took 6 photos in music class, mostly of the same person/people and all from the same angle although 2 were close ups. The other student took 23 photos from various angles that showed the teacher, the students and even the final product.

Earlier in the year when we were mixing gingerbread cookies one of my photographers did a great album of the process. Each ingredient that was added had a photo. Only one photo showed a few of the students who were working.

As I learn more about visual literacy I know there will be many more lessons to share with my students. These lessons will hopefully be reflected in my own photos as well.











4 thoughts on “Visual Literacy in the Classroom

  1. I really liked your posting Visual Literacy in the Classroom. The part that resonated most for me was the use of a word to find images that kids can relate to and then creating questions and a word bank from those images.

    When I start a new art project with a class, I often will use words to get them going. To avoid the comment of “i don’t know what to do” or “I can’t think of anything”. I have students get into small groups to brainstorm a list of words that reflects the idea or theme that we are working on. This seems to work best for me as the old adage of two heads is better than one comes into play here. I put out a pack of different color markers and have them mind map out their ideas. They can also doodle ideas or play simple brainstorming games like giving them a word and coming up with opposite words. I have also done a practise brainstorm where I give a silly or imaginary topic and have them have some fun coming up with some ideas. Once they are warmed up, they get the real topic.

    Once they have a list of words, they then move on to an image search. As we have found out, they can use multiple searches (Google Images, Flickr,, Photobucket) to find the appropriate images. Images that I/they use are mostly for reference and not for use in some other form. Once the students have got the images they need to start their artwork. They get out their sketchbook and start their initial ideas. Things quickly progress from there.

    What the students find out by doing the brainstorming and the image search is that their initial ideas often change because of the new words they find and the resource images they use. Their ideas become stronger because of this and the finished projects are often more refined. One other side benefit is that students end up having a “word bank and image bank” folders that they can keep and add to.

    In the end, I am willing to try anything to get the creative ideas to come out. You just have to remember some techniques work better than others and be prepared to try something else if things don’t go the way you want. Words can contribute to making images and images can contribute to making words.

    I have included a couple YouTube links and a couple of links about brainstorming.

    • Carl,
      Thank you for the links and how you use brainstorming and word banks in art class. I want to share this with our art teacher. One of my concerns about my students this year is the lack of vocabulary and this would be another way of building their vocabulary.

  2. Jean,
    First, reading your post reminded me when I taught kindergarten and brought back some good memories.
    Carl has offered some solid tips. You also stated, “How do I find an appropriate photograph when I don’t know what I want to use it for?” This could be a hurdle and having a clear idea of your intentions is integral. As Carl said, sometimes a simple doodle may be enough. You could also consider using storybook covers to get your point across. I’ve seen some teachers also take bad pictures to make a point on how to take good pictures, which leads to my final point. If you can’t find the picture you are looking for, can you take one yourself?

    • Frank,
      I think part of the problem with not having a clear idea at the present time is I have been in the middle of making the movie trailers with my students for their readers theater performances that are this Friday. The iMovie is what I had worked on the other weekend as my project and jumping in with little prep time has given me a lot of ideas of how to prepare for this next year. We have completed 2 of the 5 so hopefully before Friday all 5 will be done. Once I have one less big project maybe I’ll think more clearly about the next project I want to tackle. I do really appreciate your recommendations. I have thought about taking my own photos, but I thought part of the assignment was also to show understanding of how to find and embed a photo. That I did learn.

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