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 is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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