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Photo Essay Semester Project

Leslie Tong

Type of Entry:

  • Project

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on
  • Authentic Assessment
  • Community Outreach/Offsite

Target Audience:

  • Biology

Notes to Teacher:

Required for students: Camera

Preparation Time Needed: For teacher, none. For student, approximately 3 months. Teacher will need adequate time after project has been turned in to grade the project.

Class Time: One half to one period to explain project and answer questions. Additional periods for research, if desired.


What question does this activity help students answer? Besides answering the student's focus question, this activity also teaches research and organizational skills. Notes to Teachers: Not all students may have cameras or access to one. I allow my students to draw pictures or use magazines but actual photos are preferred in most cases. I approve the magazines before they are used so I know that the students are using their own magazines. Good pictures can also be found on the Internet. One goal of this project is for the students to learn more about the community and appreciate the resources which surround them. Before assigning this project, the teacher may want to do some outside research as to what resources are in the community. I generally assign this project during the first semester of school and it is due after the winter break. This project might be easier to complete for some students during the spring semester when the weather allows them more opportunity to be outside and take pictures.



This assignment is a photo essay and an interview with a person associated with a student's chosen topic. The choice of topics is intentionally kept broad so everyone can research something they are interested in. If they can meet the requirements of the project, they can choose almost any subject (topics on drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden).The project is broad enough so I can help each student, find a topic of interest , broadness also helps students to see how far reaching Biology can be.

Over the years the variety of topics have included: The Lindsay Museum of Walnut Creek which cares for injured and endangered animals, The Marine Mammal Center of Marin County, Animal and/or Plant life on the Walnut Creek Open Space, The Fossil Record at Lime Ridge Open Space, The Effects of Cows on Erosion on Mt. Diablo, Zoo Habitats vs. Natural Habitats and the San Francisco and Oakland Zoos, Effects of Animals in Captivity, The Berkeley Marina Wetlands, Genetics of Cats, Breeds of Dogs, and many, many more. Personally, I enjoy these projects because I find myself learning along with the students.


  • 10 -12 photos related to the topic chosen. They are encouraged to take actual photographs; however, the essays may be supplemented with hand drawn pictures or magazine photos.

  • A paragraph explaining each photo and elaborating on the subject. An interview with a professional associated with their topic. For instance, with a park ranger, lab technician, biochemist, marine biologist, museum docent, etc... (Often these interviews are of parents or relatives!)

  • An introduction explainin the topic, why it was chosen and what they hope to learn.

  • A conclusion explaining their experiences in making the project, what they actually learned and the future of the subject they studied.

  • A bibliography of at least five sources.

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

Along with the requirements for this project, I attach a copy of the grading rubric so the students understand what I am looking for while grading their photo essay.
Do your pictures follow the theme?

Do you make full use of the pictures?

Adequate number of pictures?

Do you have good transitions? Is there continuity in the essay?

Do you fully explain each picture? Does it leave questions?

Can your essay be understood without words?

Does your information follow the theme?

Is your information important to the essay?

Do you provide enough information for the essay?

Do you explain the vocabulary?

Are there unanswered questions in the essay?

Doe the essay convey a message?

Is the information written in your own words?


Clear explanation of job.

Shows relation to field of science and topic.

Describes main responsibilities, typical day, etc...

Educational background, work experience.

Benefits and Weakness of job.

Other interesting information.


Explanation of the topic.

Why you chose the topic.

What you hope to learn.


Summary of the essay.

What you learned.

Concluding thoughts. Future of the issue


Proper Format

Number of Sources

Neatness, Spelling, and Grammar

Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas

My students are given approximately three months to complete this assignment. Throughout this time, they have follow-up assignments due, such as an annotated bibliography, interview questions, pictures, and outlines. This makes it difficult for them to fall behind without notice. An additional option might be to have students present their topics to the class.

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