Ten Ideas for Using Instagram in the Classroom

I didn’t understand the pull of Instagram the first time I heard about it. To me, it sounded like a fancy app that would take regular pictures and make them look like they were crappy, old photographs. Eventually, though, I changed my mind. I saw the artistic side of the app and eventually began to see the social interaction. Instagram became another layer of sharing our world and telling our stories.

After spending a few months using it, I see a powerful element that I had failed to understand before. Instagram reminds me to pay attention. I know. I know. Technology pulls us away from our senses.

And yet, for me, Instagram has done the opposite. I’m paying attention more closely to the beauty in my world. When my mind wanders, it doesn’t always move into the abstract. I’m looking for beauty around me.

So, with that in mind, I’m thinking of ten ways I might use Instagram with my students next year:

1. Digital Storytelling: I started doing Show and Tell awhile ago, after Tom suggested that it could be a powerful way for students to share their stories. I’m going to do that this year. However, I’m also going to give students the option of taking pictures from their neighborhood. They can tell their story visually, annotating it through their comments on each picture. (It could be something like this: a road trip)

2. Grammar Practice: Photography can be a great place to practice grammatical structures. It can be something as simple as writing a functional text (I had been walking down the street when I saw . . .) Or it could be a way to practice, sequentially, the grammatical structure using their world as the context.

3. Photojournalism: Similar to digital storytelling, this would allow students to explore issues in their world through a visual medium. I want them to engage in citizen journalism. Whether it’s a school sporting event or an immigration sweep, a classroom community service activity or a local election, students can use the mobile devices to express their social voice.

4. Photo Prompts: Last year, I found photographs and created writing prompts. Sometimes, they were geared toward poetry or narrative while other times they were persuasive or informational. I will encourage students to develop their own photo prompts using Instagram. (Below would be an example: Is this vandalism or art?)

5. Metaphors: I will give students concepts from any of the subject areas and ask students to find a metaphor that fits the concept. They will use Instagram to find the metaphor and then describe it in the comments section. (Below: a metaphor about why we are afraid of the wrong things)

6. Photos for Blogs: This is pretty simple, but I want students to start adding their own photographs to some of their blog posts. There’s something powerful about looking at a post and realizing that the photograph and the writing both originated from the same author. (Below: at some point I want to write a post on the upside of being distracted)

7. Find the Context: I want my students to document math that they see in their world. I’m thinking Instagram can be a great place to document things like linear relationships, data, fractions, etc.

8. Ethnographic Study: I’ve done this before in social studies in writing. I’m thinking it might work as a blended activity of writing and pictures. I’d love to see them take photographs of the spaces they inhabit and then analyze the cultural, political, social and economic elements that define the space.

9. Sharing Art: I love to sketch. I love to doodle. And yet, I’ve rarely posted my drawings to Instagram. I’m wondering what it would look like to blend the art of photography with pencil and paper or with painting. (Below: a gift from my sister)

10.Just Let Them Take Pictures: I’m thinking of letting kids take pictures for the sake of taking pictures. Let a few of them fall in love with photography. Let them find the beauty in their world and share it with others and then see what kind of conversations occur afterward.

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

19 responses

  1. What makes Instagram special here? What makes it better than just letting kids take pictures? (I don't have a smartphone so I've not used Instagram.)

    1. The filters allow users to mess with the pictures a little more. However, the biggest difference is the social element.

    2. I love this idea. Would love to present this as a lesson to teachers at a tech conference. Anyway your son would like one of his projects used as an actual student example? I would certainly give him full credit!
      Teressa Fielden
      Art Teacher/Willard High, Mo.

  2. My son is using an ipod to take lots of pictures, and view them in sequence, making a stop motion animation. He loves doing that, and it's likely going to be what eventually gets him motivated to do more 'schooly' sorts of things. (He's in a freeschool sort of environment, and has resisted academics.)

    1. i agree. I think the academic sort of things will come as a natural consequence eventually.

  3. Your son is selecting his curriculum by what is interesting and motivating to his way of learning. Taking pictures, organizing them in a sequential pattern to make a stop motion video takes a lot of patience, forethought, planning, and a careful eye for details, etc. These schooly sorts of things are very academic. In fact, it's higher order thinking on the creative scale. He should ask his teacher if he may turn in school projects in a mufti-media format. His peers would love it and probably relate well to the material.

  4. My students actually showed me the power of Instagram in their final project last year. They had to take the idea of remix and play with presenting something from their book club book with a popculture element – I approved pretty much any reasonable "remix." I had several students do "A Day in the Life Of" character Instagram photos. The captions had quotations from the novel. I loved the projects!

    1. Sounds awesome! I love how it directly tied in to the content as well.

  5. The social element is it! Thanks for the inspiration. I've been contemplating using EyeEm, as I like the idea of students linking location to self created folders. What a resource for the future. Super literacy/ digital arts ideas.

  6. Love this post! I use Instagram for personal use and I find it has made me notice more around as well – especially the details of the most mundane things. Great uses for the classroom so many thanks for the inspiration. I'll add it to our Pinterest and Twitter (@un_teachable) tomorrow.

  7. the social element is key. I asked my seniors to document their final year in high school using instagram whenever they could and using a class hashtag. It's a great way to put together a yearbook for them on the last day of school. I'm looking forward to it!

    1. great idea!!!!

  8. Love all your classroom ideas, John. I would like to have our student interns in assorted community agencies document their internship experiences using Instagram pics, and then use those pics to create a visual feature story. I would appreciate advice on the mechanics of that — is it best to just simply have all the students apply the same hashtag to their images and then I gather them from my own personal account, or do we need to create a separate Instagram account for the project that we would all "follow:? I think we will want to print the gathered images in some form of collage at some point, so want to plan ahead for that. Thanks for any advice you have.

  9. I love using instagram to engage both student and parents! It is a fabulous learning space. We have over 20 educators who have joined our #sujectatschool or #classatschool community. See this link for more info. http://currentsofmyriver.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/invitation-instagram-for-educators.html We would love to share your educational journey too!

  10. I was reading this post as part of an assignment for a Blackboard class I am taking through my district on using digital photography with students….so that's what led me to this blog and have to say this is one of the few that really grabs me….I am wondering who you are referring to in the first example on digital storytelling when you say "after Tom suggested…"
    Is this by any chance Tom Drummond?
    I had taken an online class with him a few years ago on learning stories and digital documentation….Just wondering

  11. I gave a history biography assignment with an open door for creative illustration for their presentation. My student came with a poster that was designed to look like an instagram page for William Shakespeare. I was blown away by the details she was able to present from his pictures. Included were his wife, family, theaters, plays, peers, etc. She included hashtags that were both witty and creative. My favorite though was a picture she created that read "Repost if you survived Black Death". Beneath the picture was the hashtags, #blackdeath and #survivor. She also included one picture of Shakespeare and hashtagged, #selfie. It included all the necessary detailed information of the biography, but was relevant and entertaining. I'd bet every other student remembers the details of her presentation more than any other.

  12. Thanks for this post John. It has given me that ' aha' moment and I am now finally inspired to start experimenting with Instagram 🙂

  13. John I came across your post this morning while I was planning for teaching my grad class. Our lesson will be social media. I created a Google preso using ideas from your post and several others. My intent is to have the students in class add more ideas like Tom Barett's Interesting Ways series. I have credited you in the preso. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/Instagraminclass pass it on so we can crowd source some fantastic ways for teachers to use Instagram in their classroom.

  14. […] Ten Ideas for Using Instagram in the Classroom, John Spencer […]

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