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My Neighborhood Photo Essay

goals & objectives

This assignment asks students to create a photo-essay about their neighborhood. A deceptively easy exercise to complete, the “My Neighborhood Photo Essay Challenge” often results in contemplation about a local place using global themes, in this case the role of history on the landscape. In addition to honing their descriptive writing skills, students explore how text and image create different ways of conveying meaning, alone and in combination. Finally, students are asked to judge their environments in ways that help contextualize their communities within a broader experience.


Photo essay
Public art


You will need:
Lesson plan length: 4 – 6 weeks.
A digital camera.
Printer or projector for classroom display of photographs.
Information on local history to supplement textbooks.
Presentation tools depending upon class capabilities. low tech: poster board for each group to present Photo-Essay and for display in classroom. high tech: computer assisted PowerPoint presentations to post on the class website.

IInstructor’s role: Initially, instructors play a directive role in going over the reading, glossary terms, and local history information. Instructors should evaluate the enclosed resources and determine the relevancy of the samples to their students. Instructors should consider integrating local history and sources if they are available.

Lesson Hypothesis:

Most neighborhoods in the United States are multicultural and may have been so for multiple generations. The influences of different groups are discernible in the landscape, the names of streets, or in public art. How does knowing something about a place change its significance? How do we read the world around us? In unpacking the different ways of disseminating information, this lesson asks students to explore their own neighborhoods and to define what makes it “home” to them.

goals & objectives

In completing this lesson, successful students will:

• Define and understand the glossary terms included.
• Compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.
• Analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; understand that some aspects can change while others remain the same; and understand that change is complicated and affects not only technology and politics but also values and beliefs.
• Relate current events to the physical and human characteristics of places and regions.
• Identify bias and prejudice in historical interpretations.
• Construct and test hypotheses; collect, evaluate, and employ information from multiple primary and secondary sources; and apply it in oral and written presentations.
• Show the connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments.
• Recognize the complexity of historical causes and effects, including the limitations on determining cause and effect.
• Interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event
unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.
• Understand the meaning, implication, and impact of historical events and recognize that events could have taken other directions.
• Analyze human modifications of landscapes and examine the resulting environmental policy issues.
• Explore the role of image in conveying information by adding captions.
• Explore the role of text in conveying information through all exercises.
• Examine how combining text and image conveys information.
• Take 1 – 5 photographs of their neighborhood using a digital camera.
• Write captions for each photograph.
• Compose a 500 – 1,000 word photo-essay that explains how the photograph(s) chosen illustrate their ‘home.’
• Share their photo essays.

the lesson

Exercise 1: The Power of the Written Word
As a society we are flooded with information in different ways. This exercise asks students to think about how text, photographs and images, and the combination of text with image may alter its meanings. Students explore how information is differently conveyed using images, text, and the combination of the two. In so doing, students begin to gather the tools to critically examine multimedia texts that surround them.

If necessary, students may work in groups of two or three. Instructor should go through each line of the first two paragraphs of The Declaration of Independence to ensure clarity. Have students describe the language of the paragraphs. Is it wordy? Flowery? Easy to understand?

Next, after students have attempted a summary, instructor should have each student or group present their summaries. Which summary is the most concise? Compare the summaries with the original text. What language, however, is more appropriate to the goals of the text?

Text & Print Evaluation
Using 2-3 sentences, summarize the following paragraphs from The Declaration of Independence (1776).


When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

--Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.


Students should write their summary on a separate sheet of paper. After completing the summary, students should answer the following questions: How would you describe the language of The Declaration of Independence? Was this an easy assignment? Was it difficult? Why? Do you think The Declaration of Independence should be re-written? Why? Why not?

Exercise 2: “A Photograph is Worth A Thousand Words.”
Discuss the title of this exercise. Is a photograph worth a thousand words? Using the two images provided, have students list what is conveyed in each one. List all of the information that is conveyed in the images.

"A Different View" by Nereida Valdivia

Exercise 3: Creating Captions.
Instructors may assign this activity as homework or in groups. In defining terms like ‘photo-essay’ and ‘caption,’ instructors should show examples from the newspaper and textbooks. Often, an author can use text with an image to convey irony or humor. Create three (3) captions for the two images from Exercise 2. Special points should be awarded for creativity.

Women perform traditional Japanese dances in full costume at the annual Nisei parade in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.

It was a family tradition for Kyoko to perform in the Little Tokyo parade.

Kay could not wait to take her socks off.

Exercise 4: “My Neighborhood Photo-Essay.”
This assignment asks students to take what they have learned in Part A and apply it to their own neighborhoods. In addition to requiring access to a digital camera, instructors and students must know how to operate a digital camera. Because many cell phones provide digital cameras and the price of digital cameras has dramatically dropped, this assignment is included in the hopes that instructors will have an easy access to this digital technology. Instructors should go over the elements of the standard academic essay and discuss how a photo-essay is different. Writing teachers agree on the three basic components to the standard essay: introduction, body, and conclusion. However, students should be able to understand the different parts of each component to become effective writers.

Components of the Standard Essay
Many students believe there is one set format to the essay, such as “the 5 paragraph essay.” Nothing can be further from the truth—the length and format of an essay is dependent upon the assignment length, the complexity of the subject or the intended output of the essay.

The Introduction: The introduction section contains the introductory paragraph. This paragraph has at least two parts: the lead and the thesis statement. It has two functions: to attract readers’ attention and to tell them what major points you will discuss in the next section of the essay. A good introduction should contain:
1. The topic, the issue, and the controversy. Readers need to know what subject you are going to write about and why that subject is controversial.
2. Your position or thesis. Readers also should be told where you stand on this controversy. State your position clearly in the introduction or, for longer papers, within the first several paragraphs.
3. The significance of the topic. Readers need to know why a topic is important or significant. This answers the “so what” question a reader may pose to your paper.
4. Background of the topic. Use the introduction to present relevant background material and define important terms. However, more detailed background and definitions should be discussed in the body of the paper.
5. Attracting your reader. The introduction is a good place to interest your reader in what you have to say. Establishing the significance of your topic is a good way of doing this. Another technique is to challenge a prevailing view, present a new piece of information, or use an illustrative example or quotation.

The Body: In the body of the essay, the writer develops the major points stated in the introduction. The number of major points determines the number of paragraphs in the body. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence that is developed with some basic type of support--example, detail, incident, fact, reason or illustration.

The Conclusion: This section contains the concluding paragraph. Depending on the kind of essay, this paragraph serves several functions. It may summarize the information. It may restate the thesis of the essay. It may make a prediction. It may offer the reader an inductive generalization. It may be a genuine deductive conclusion. It may ask the reader to do something or to think in a certain way.

Components of the Standard Photo-Essay
A photo essay is a set or series of photographs that are intended to tell a story or evoke a series of emotions in the viewer.

Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small notes to full text essays with a few or many accompanying photographs.

Photo essays can be sequential in nature, intended to be viewed in a particular order, or may consist of non-ordered photographs, which may be viewed all at once or in an order chosen by the viewer.

After becoming familiar with the components of a standard essay and a standard photo-essay, students should take 1 – 5 photographs and write a 500 – 1,000 word essay to accompany the images that answer the following question: What makes my neighborhood home? After taking 1 – 5 photographs, students should arrange them in conjunction with the essay they have crafted. The photo-essay may be constructed using poster board or digitally in a PowerPoint or Word presentation, depending upon the technological capabilities of the classroom.

Wrap-Up: Ask the class what they enjoyed about this assignment. Were there any surprises the students encountered in sharing and documenting their neighborhoods? Do they have any suggestions for sharing the photo essays or ways to improve the assignment?

case studies

"My Neighborhood Photo Essays"