Digital Cameras in the Primary Classroom

by Michelle Bourgeois, Tech Coordinator and Fourth Grade Teacher (

Learning Through Images

Who was it that said a picture is worth a thousand words? If that person were around today, chances are he or she would have a digital camera in hand!

Children are naturally drawn to photography. For younger students, in particular, who may not have the vocabulary to express everything they see and feel in words, photographs are a great way to share their unique view of the world. By using digital cameras within the curriculum, teachers can not only provide students with a visual medium for self-expression, but also help them to hone their observation skills, develop an understanding of perspective, and practice their computer skills.

Here are some suggestions for finding and buying a classroom camera, practical tips for student camera use, and fun activities to complement your existing computer skills curriculum.

The Camera in the Classroom

The most important thing I've learned with younger students is to give them time to explore with the camera before beginning a project. For many students, using a viewfinder to frame a picture is a new experience, but with a little preparation and planning, even kindergarten students can use digital cameras successfully.

Basic Rules for Camera Use

Before you begin, hold an orientation session with your students. When teaching students how to use a digital camera, I review the following rules:

1. Always use the neck or wrist strap when carrying a camera.

You'd be surprised how many adults don't follow this simple rule! You can save yourself and your students a lot of misery by helping them protect the camera from drops.

2. Keep fingers off the lens and LCD.

I tell my students that a camera's lens is much like a pair of glasses. If you get fingerprints and dirt on the lens, your camera can't "see" very well and as a result, pictures won't look their best.

3. Never directly point a camera with a flash in someone's eyes.

Just one more lesson in courtesy that students can learn. No one likes to be temporarily blinded by a flash when they're not expecting it!

4. Turn your camera off and place it back in its bag when not in use.

By following this rule, students save battery life (important when sharing one camera among many students) and help keep the camera out of harm's way.

Simple Tips for Better Pictures

When using lower-end cameras, picture quality can be greatly improved by just reminding students of two simple rules:

  • Make sure your subject is no closer than arm's length
  • Hold the camera still and steady for a second or two after taking your shot.
Camera Activities and Lesson Ideas

From the first day of school to the last, you'll find lots of ways to put a digital camera to work. Here are some ideas:

Alphabet Photo Album (Grades K-1)
Assign each student a letter of the alphabet and send them on a scavenger hunt to search for an item that begins with that letter. Have students add a sentence to their photo (A is for Apple) and print their picture. Once all students are finished with their photos, put the pages together for a student-created alphabet book.

Photograph the Seasons (Grades K-2)
Use a digital camera to record the changes in nature through the seasons. Pick a tree or other plant on campus that students can photograph each week throughout the school year.

Student Portraits for Open House (Grades 2-3)
During the first days of school, have students work in pairs to take pictures of themselves. Open the pictures in Kid Pix and add drawings or stamps to illustrate their favorite things (favorite food, color, etc.). Save their illustrations and create a slide show to share with parents during Open House.

Classroom Dos and Don'ts (Grades 3-5)
Make a list of classroom dos and don'ts to supplement your set of class rules. Have students use a digital camera to take pictures of the do's and don'ts to post alongside each rule.

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