Lesson Plans

Throughout the Great Depression, the federal government employed photographers to document the need for New Deal programs and the extent of these programs' successes. Today, through the Internet, students can view this record of an era and see for themselves how Americans faced the challenge of those testing times.

George Eastman House – Distance Learning
George Eastman House, the highly regarded photo museum, has found an innovative way to open its important collections to students. Through the magic of video-conferencing, the museum has designed “virtual field trips,” which allow educators and students to see selections of the Eastman House collection from the comfort of their own classrooms. Interactive and conducted in real time, the lessons invite middle and high school students to examine photographs and analyze their content and meaning. Each virtual field trip includes pre-visit and post-visit materials for educators.

Kodak Lesson Plans
Hidden like a treasure in Kodak’s general website are a series of clearly described and inventive lesson plans for students of all levels. Culled from around the United States, these lesson plans were created by art teachers as a means to introduce students to the possibilities of photography for documenting the world around them, and as a mode of self-expression. In concise terms, the plans lay out the purpose and description of the projects, the activities created for the class and the outcome – what the students learned and how they learned it.

Library of Congress – American Memory Lesson Plans
With a lesson plan list that reflects the impressive scope of its collections, the Library of Congress offers a huge selection of lessons based on its American Memory web collections. The LoC’s Learning Page directs educators in how to use the collections to teach history and culture. It also offers tips, definitions, ways of incorporating primary sources in activities, discussions and, of course, lesson plans. These pages are a great way for curious minds of all ages to discover different facets of the Library’s treasures.

Literacy Through Photography, FotoFest
The first and largest of American photography festivals, FotoFest’s organizers have created an event that celebrates photography’s role as a means of international exchange of art and ideas, but also its influence on local lives. The biennial convergence in Houston, Texas, has grown into a forum that investigates world-wide trends in photography. It has been attracting an increasingly international crowd to its month long event, which includes the now legendary portfolio review held in a networking hub called “the Meeting Place.” The festival’s outward character is balanced by its local actions: bringing photography to Houston area school children. The ”Literacy Through Photography” project offers teachers complete lesson plans designed to help classroom students achieve better communication skills through the use of digital or film-based photography. FotoFest funds this and other community programs with its annual Fine Print auction, an elegant way for the photo community to tend to its roots.  

National Archives – Educators and Students
Based on the idea that historic documents make compelling and effective teaching tools, the National Archives has created lesson plans for teachers using reproducible primary documents from its collections. A wide variety of items representing different eras of American history, from the Proclamation of Emancipation to photos of the Vietnam War, can be downloaded and reproduced for students. The Archives hold some of the United States’ most important historical artifacts, allowing students to get as close to the “real thing” as possible, while providing educators with well-crafted summaries of the historical context.

Oakland Museum of California – Curriculum Resources 
Through its thoughtfully designed web-based lessons, the Oakland Museum offers in-depth and nuanced perspectives on California’s history. Curriculum materials are based on the museum’s exhibitions and collections, which make excellent primary source illustrations for subjects such as the Gold Rush and California’s native population. Well-structured lesson plans for grades 4 through 11 can be found on the Education page.

School Journalism.org
An initiative of the American Society of News Editors, School Journalism wants to help make high school students care about news, and in doing so, become media-literate citizens, well adapted to their ever-evolving digital world. The engaging and concise site lays out a wealth of resources for students and their teachers. Teachers can access lesson plans, reading lists, and current research in media literacy, civic literacy and journalism, while students will find reference resources, student journalism and photojournalism contests, as well as perspectives on college programs, scholarships and careers in journalism – and let us not forget games! News games, of course.

Smithsonian Photography 
Born in the same era as photography, the Smithsonian Institution boasts an astounding 13 million photographs, spread across its many museums and collections. The challenge of making all of these images accessible to the public has been met by the Smithsonian Photographic Initiative, a beautiful and highly functional site (a Webby Award winner), that allows users to locate and view photos from the Smithsonian’s science, technology and history museums, art galleries, and research centers, even from the National Zoo! The Initiative site is itself an excellent teaching tool, as each photograph has accompanying text so that students (and all viewers) can learn about the image’s context and history. Building on this, the Initiative offers a lesson plan for K to 12 students, which selects four of the 13 million photos as examples of different aspects of the process and history of photography. Through this lesson the Smithsonian Photographic Initiative means to show students that “while not every picture tells its own story, every picture has a story behind it.”

The Getty Museum – Lesson Plans
The Getty has devoted a great deal of time and effort into its education program, so much so that the lesson plans come with their own search engine. Covering topics from math to visual art, the Museum has created lessons that introduce students to its collections in an imaginative variety of ways. Educators can search for lessons by grade level and subject, and choose between short activities and multi-part lessons, including many photo and image-based offerings.

Vision Project – Education Services
The source of a lot of outstanding documentary work, Vision Project describes itself as an organization dedicated to the development of documentary photography, investigative journalism, multimedia and education. VP has crafted a series of seminars, lectures, workshops, full semester courses, and study abroad programs that aim to give people the skills to create the sort of images that effectively document reality and create positive change. These programs are used by a variety of different organizations and institutions, and Vision Project also has a number of ongoing initiatives, such as an annual six-week program that teaches visual literacy through digital photography and journalism to high school students in White Plains, New York.