Teaching students to tell stories through photography

For our final assignment in Teaching Multimedia, we created a lesson to pass the skills we’ve learned over the past 16 weeks on to our students. I chose to construct a lesson on photo essays.

I currently advise both yearbook and newspaper. The yearbooks students take thousands of photos and many never see the light of day. The newspaper staff is small and struggle to provide content for both our print and online site. Many of the students on staff consider photos to be an after thought or a lazy way to publish information.

My hope is that the lesson plan below will result in the following:

  • Allow more of the photos taken to be used in meaningful ways
  • Increase the number of times students are used in our publications
  • Drive more traffic to the news website
  • Help the writers see that photos are a benefit not a copout


Lindsey Ross

Gardner Edgerton High School

Gardner, KS

Title: Telling the Story through Photos

Overview and Rationale:

To effectively perform their duties as a staff member of GEHS’s student publications, student journalists need to be able to recognize, plan and capture photos that have impact and tell the story of larger events.

Goals for Understanding:

Students will be able to capture and select photos that work together to visually tell the story of an event.

Students will be able to process these photos for web use and publish them on the school’s online news site, gehsnews.com

Overviews and Timeline:

Activity 1 (One 85-minute class)

  1. 5-10 minutes) What is the purpose of a photo? What kinds of photos should we select for publication?
  2. (30 -40 minutes) Review the JEA “Capture the Moment” PowerPoint. Have students discuss the qualities of these photos.
  3. (30 -40 minutes) Pair students together. Students should look through current pages for this year’s publications as well as the two years’ publications (yearbook/newspaper/website).
  4. Students should identify 3-5 photos that truly capture the moment and 3-5 that are not as successful. Student should be prepared to explain what elements (composition, technique, etc.) help the photo capture the moment or what areas are weak in those that they chose as unsuccessful.

Activity 2 (One 85-minute class)

  1. (5-10 minutes) Review concepts from prior class period.
  2. (30-40 minutes) Students should present their photo selections from last class period. Discuss their choices as a class. Address any misconceptions and answer questions.
  3. (10-15 minutes) Review Telling the Story PowerPoint & assignment.
    1. After instruction and practice identifying photos that capture the moment and tell stories, students will be required to take and submit for assessment 5-10 photos that capture the moment and work together to tell the story of the event.
    2. Students will then write captions, process the photos and upload them as a photo essay on gehsnews.com
  4. (20-40) Students should view the photo galleries on scholastic publications websites as inspiration. Some sites that could be used include the following:
    1. http://fhntoday.com/category/multimedia/photos-2/photo-stories/
    2. http://phsview.com/2017/01/kansas-city-market-photo-essay/
    3. http://www.bvnwnews.com/category/photos/
    4. https://www.bvswnews.com/category/photo-gallery/
    5. http://smeharbinger.net/category/photos/

Assessment (One – Two weeks to shoot and event; One 85-minute class for processing)

  1. Following instruction and practice identifying photos that capture the moment and tell stories, students will be required to take and submit for assessment 5-10 photos that capture the moment and work together to tell the story of the event.
  2. After taking photos, students will make any necessary edits (crop, image size, etc.) the photos and publish them by creating a slideshow on the school’s news website, gehsnews.com.
  3. Students will access the Camtasia tutorial on this through Google drive. This will allow them to view the information and complete the steps at their own pace.


Capture the Moment PowerPoint

Telling the Story PowerPoint

Telling the Story Assignment & Rubric

Camtasia Tutorial


JEA Curriculum Initiative. Photojournalism: Unit 3 – Basics of Photojournalism. (http://curriculum.jea.org/lesson-capture-the-moment/)


Venturing into Video

Video. This relatively small word caused me a large amount of anxiety. Ironically, the courses I teach fall under the Audio/Video Communications Pathway – yet, to be honest, we do little of either in my program.

Until this course, I have received ZERO training in audio or video production. The mass media (broadcast) teacher and I have tried to collaborate as she has little reporting experience, unfortunately, we don’t have plan or production courses at the same time.

However, these are simply excuses. In order to be college and career ready, students in journalism courses need to receive training in more than just reporting and layout. Avoiding the multimedia does a disservice to my students and our readers.

With this in mind I tried my hand at producing my first video package. I wanted to make my package over a topic that I would want my students to cover so I chose to focus on the school-wide lip dub the mass media students produced on Friday, April 28.

I had my DSLR camera and shotgun mic set up to record the lip dub run through prior to the main event. However, when I reviewed the footage The mic hadn’t picked up any sound and the video did not work correctly. There was no time to look up a fix and the mass media teacher and her students were understandably busy.  So I adhered to the adage that the best camera is the one you have and shot some footage on my iPhone. I had also planned to film them editing the footage they took to create the final product but as luck would have it a discipline problem with one of my students prevented me from getting to the mass media room during my lunch and by the time my next break rolled around they were done editing.

I did not want to stage any footage so this left me with my iPhone hallway & assembly footage and the interview I had conducted with the lip dub’s producer. As I started to put the video together I quickly realized I did not have enough B-Roll. Luckily the mass media students were allowed me to include some of their footage to fill in my gaps and I was able to “Make it Work” as Tim Gunn says.

The final product can be viewed below. It is definitely not the best video package but it’s a start and now that I have some basic skills, I can take them to the classroom and my students and I can learn to improve together.

*The music on the video came from the lip dub itself, not an outside recording. The school secured the permission to use the song for the purpose of the lip dub.

Infographics provide new ways to display content

The most recent assignment for my teaching multimedia class required us to use websites available at little to no cost to aide in the creation of digital infographics – more specifically a map, a survey/poll and a timeline.

I created the map first using the “My Maps” feature on Google maps. This was very easy and hardly took anytime at all. On this feature you can select different map options such as the color or typographical features. You can add points of interest and also connect them using lines or the travel features. One of the great things abut each point is that you can name it and write a description as well as modify the indicator icon.

For the map I created below I plotted the various schools that impacted my journalism career. I choose to use color to differentiate between schools I’ve attended and places that I have worked. I then added a description of each event so I feel it has a story element as well.

The poll/survey option asked us to explore the service Polldaddy. Again creating an account was straightforward, especially since it integrates with WordPress and as this blog is hosted by WordPress I could simply log in with that account.

I used Polldaddy to create the survey below based on the type of survey my newspaper students would use to gather information. The survey options has multiple formats for questions including multiple choice, open response, ranking and Likert scale settings. I liked the way this service integrates with WordPress and the clean simple look. Our newspaper’s online site is hosted on a WordPress site through School Newspapers Online (SNO) and it seems this would work well for public polls or some surveys.

However, most of the time when my students conduct surveys the use Google Forms.  We are a GAfE school and all students have Gmail accounts so most of the time our surveys are distributed that way. This allows us to track who has responded to the survey to ensure a more representative sample.

The timeline element proved to be the most challenging. I found that one of the suggested services, Dipity, no longer existed and while the other, Tiki-Toki, did offer a free account, from what I could gather on the website this type of account did not allow the user to upload photos for integration into the timeline. Since that was a requirement for my assignment, as well as something I’d want my students to have the capability of doing, I searched for another option.

I settled on Timetoast, which like the map and survey service was intuitive and user friendly. One nice thing about this service is that you can display timelines in a traditional linear format or a list format that displays larger previews and photos. Additionally, events for both a specific date as well as a timespan.

One drawback I noticed was that dates required a day, month and year. This proved difficult as I didn’t always know the specific day for the topic I chose.  Additionally the timelines are very basic looking and don’t provide options to customize the layout to match the tone/mood of the topic. Lastly this service does not allow free users to access embed codes for their timelines, therefore in order to view the timeline I created to showcase the construction occurring at our high school you must click the following link:  https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/1498678.

I think I would look into some more options before committed to this site for my publications staff; however, it would be a great introductory tool for my 21st Century Journalism students or to use in other content areas such as English.

Overall this was a beneficial lesson and I’m excited to have more options for storytelling as my staff works to improve and increases its online coverage.



Radio interviews challenge adviser


In my last post related to podcasting, I wrote of unfounded fears. This week I’m eating my words.

To be fair however, most of what made made this assignment challenging was a result of my actions and not some fault of the instruction or assignment. Just like my some of my students, I had good intentions but I let procrastination and other responsibilities take over.

The biggest issue I had with the interview itself. Because I waited till the end of the two week time span allotted for the assignment,  I had to record my interview in one shot. As I was listening to myself, I noticed I filler words such as “um” frequently in my questions. I didn’t want to write my specific questions out as in my last podcast I felt I did not sound natural; however, I think I should have done one or two trial runs prior to recording to work on any kinks getting thoughts from my brain to my mouth.

I did tell my guests the general outline of the questions in advance in hopes they could provide more thoughtful answers. I feel this went well; however, they too did not speak as smoothly as I would have liked and editing out stumbles in the middle of sentences proved cumbersome. I ultimately decided – in most cases as at least – to leave the full responses rather than have choppy cuts.

The last issue that I had was recording my intro and conclusion in a separate environment than the actual interview. The ambient sound and volume of my voice was different than the interview itself. If I was to do it over I would ensure I recorded the entirety of the speaking sections in the same manner.

Though this assignment proved more challenging that I had anticipated, it also opened my eyes to the idea that using multimedia – or more specifically teaching it to my students – is not unattainable. This type of assignment could be easily incorporated in my introduction course as students already record they’re interviews for accuracy purposes.

In the future I would like to encourage my newspaper students to try creating podcasts that profile students, teachers, community members, etc. in the manner such as StoryCorp. and I think a Q & A style podcast such as the one I did could be an easy stepping stone for them on the journey to incorporating more than text on our website.

Podcasting fears unfounded


Check out my first podcast above but before you do, let’s get one thing straight from the start… I do not have a voice meant for radio.

With that being said my concerns about this assignment turned out to be largely insignificant.

To be honest, I have not had my students do anything with audio other than record and transcribe interviews – in large part because it wasn’t something I was comfortable with myself.

However as it turned out, the hardest part of this assignment was truly determining what to write about, because many of my own students do, I procrastinated making that determination as long as possible. Once the script was written the actual recording process was pretty easy.

I had set up and Audioboom account earlier in the week and downloaded the app to my phone this weekend so I could play around with the recording and text the levels. Since this assignment asked us to abstain from editing,  I had to restart about three times before I got a solid take all the way through.

Listening to myself is not something I enjoy (as I noted above) and I definitely noticed some areas that need work. For example still sound a too scripted for my taste and I need to slow my rate of speaking.

However, this experience showed me how relatively easy it would be to incorporate a lesson on producing audio/podcasts in to my 21st Century Journalism class as well as the value of having students use audio packages for the newspaper’s website and even perhaps to accompany the photo slides shows (and maybe one day videos) that yearbook staff have produced using the Aurasma app.

While I know there may be some backlash from students who like me are often afraid of the unknown, in the spirit of my podcast and the video that partially inspired it I will remember that it only takes one follower to transform the lone nut into a leader.

Video courtesy of  Derek Sivers  


Manual mode (not) made easy

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Photography. We do it all the time. It’s easy,  you just set the dial to automatic and click. WRONG.

Photojournalists must not just take photos, they must make them. This means considering composition techniques, lighting, equipment choices and more.

I talk to my students all the time about moving beyond automatic. I talk to them about exposure in terms of white balance, ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I encourage them to use the shutter speed or aperture priority modes.

I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on these concepts especially after taking Teaching Photojournalism last semester. However, when I went to take photos for this assignment I realized while I may understand the theory behind concepts, my execution – at least in manual mode- needed some work.

The first week of the assignment I went out and shot my photos only to discover most were over or under exposed and were not useable.

I had to reshoot my images this weekend – nothing like procrastination huh? This time they turned out much better in general. However, a couple shots still proved tricky.

The items I struggled with most were silhouette and panned action. I still don’t feel my silhouette is a true representation, but it’s the best I had to work with.

The items I felt most comfortable shooting were the compositional items as well as the depth of fields as I love playing with those in my photography. Check out my gallery above to see the top 10 photos from my shoot.

Stepping into the shoes of a photographer made me realize that while I love photography and think I’m generally pretty good, I have a lot to learn about seeing the light and how the aspects of exposure work together – especially when I’m the one behind the controls.

Multimedia a must for journalists

Video. Audio. Slideshows. Interactive Graphics. Photos. Text. Social Media…MULTIMEDIA.

The concept of multimedia journalism is not new. It has been five years since the New York Times published its landmark multimedia project, Snowfall, yet multimedia existed before the project launched it into the mainstream public’s eye.

There’s no question that multimedia content can tell stories in ways that traditional print cannot. So if this is the case, why have myself and my students been so slow to embrace it?

The answer is simple… fear.

While I have an B.S. in journalism from a reputable university, multimedia platforms and techniques were not covered in the courses. Since then I have been working in positions where I am a singleton and generally have little funding, or time, for training in these areas.

The honest truth is that I feel inadequate to teach my students about these exciting ways to disseminate information, and so while I might show them a tool like Thinglink  or Storify, and encourage them to try those out, I don’t push them to experiment as hard as I should.  

I am insecure, but also nervous and excited for “Teaching Multimedia.” I am scared I will make a fool of myself trying to record and edit video, or creating interactive items. However, I am willing to take the risk, as I feel if I do not embrace the technology and teach my staff members to do the same, then I will not be preparing them for the real world that is journalism today.

Print may not be dead, but it is only one small portion of the journalist’s toolbox.