Using Photos to Teach Vocabulary

Pamela Musick
Pamela Musick
29 Aug 16
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If a picture is worth a thousand words, why not consider using more photos as we teach vocabulary?


The expression on this young man’s face is priceless. To me, it says, “This is a lot to take in on the very first day of school.” But how do students describe the look on this student’s face? Or the expressions on other students’ faces? Five Steps for Using Student Photos:

  1. Utilizing a classroom iPad, digital camera, or traditional camera, take a candid photo of each student in the classroom. Save the photos in a folder that students can access.  These photos could be printed and posted in the classroom or shared in a PowerPoint-style presentation.
  2. Ask the students to view the pictures and select a vocabulary word that describes each student’s expression.  
  3. Identify all unique vocabulary words and record them on a list in the classroom. Posting the words is just the beginning.
  4. Using the posted words, ask the students to take another photo that matches one of the vocabulary words on the list. (ex. – confused, excited, perplexed, frustrated)
  5. Each week, expand this effort by either adding more descriptors or by adding additional photos.

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It is important to keep using the words or this activity will be no more effective than a word wall that is never referenced. As students expand their vocabulary words describing classmates, ask that they begin identifying some or a few of these words while reading or using them in their own discussions. Own them.

This activity is not about making long lists of vocabulary words. This is about matching words to expressions in photos, describing what students see and making new vocabulary words part of the everyday language in the classroom.  

As students develop characters in their writing or compare and contrast characters in their literature, they will have access to a robust repertoire of vocabulary words.

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