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Unit Plan: “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words”

Unit Plan: “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words”
Image credit: Alex McMillan (me)

I’ve been working on a spur of the moment unit lately– we are doing an experiential learning field trip with our 8th graders, but only 50% of them want to go! So we have half of a grade that we need to do something meaningful with. Since the other half of their cohort is going to be exploring the UN’s Sustainable Development goals, we (the teachers covering the remaining half), thought we would approach the same themes with the others with a short & fun unit. We thought we would look at visual communication and help the students create social media posts that convey their perspectives about global issues.

We have been working together on the unit plan (shown below in the iframe). It’s still very much so a work in process– so I appreciate any feedback that the interwebs might have!

The Google Doc can be found here.

My process for selecting these goals was kind of through exploration. I started by looking at several art standards and liked what I was seeing. I felt that they were a bit large and impossible for the three days for this particular unit, so I decided to whittle them into a slightly different shape that would also overlap with Individuals and Societies as well as Language Arts. That is, we are talking about cultural interpretations of objects/symbols as well as metaphors. It’s just one big amalgamation of subjects without being one specific subject’s standards.

I think that this unit plan is different from other unit plans that I have made in the past in that I have a bit of freedom; without feeling like I have to necessarily get through a massive amount of standards, it makes me feel more relaxed and approach this unit with positivity. This optimism makes me feel like the students will also enjoy themselves (do I sound like one of Gladwell’s “salesmen“? That is, others actions and moods mimic mine.)

Something that I have been kind of having a mild obsession with lately has been the idea of making connections. I would really like to bring in the idea of connectivism and digital citizenship really by having students create social media posts that are not really made for online use, but rather printed on paper. Students are hyper-connected and use social media already, but this is an opportunity to use the context of social media to practice sharing the right way (i.e. high quality content, not over-sharing personal information, commenting responsibly, creating original content and respecting copyright, etc.) By doing so, students will hopefully be able to connect with peers to solve global issues.

The above image will be used as an exemplar made with Google Slides. It is a mock-up Instagram post that will be used to help the students practice sharing meaningful content and comments online, photography skills, and visually communicate.

Furthermore, I hope that through the reflection process at the end of the unit, we will be able to share and comment in a kind, respectful, thoughtful, and useful which is something that they have never really been taught. As a result they have been participating in comments and succumbing to the negative culture of the internet and displaying negative alter-egos. Don’t believe me? Look at YouTube comments. Look at Reddit comments. Look at Instagram comments. Yuck.

Realistically, this is a short unit and I do not expect them to change the world, but in a way, they will have a chance to practice changing the world and having a voice about topics that matter. And if we are lucky, perhaps school will become a little bit more fun and meaningful along the way as they find their voices and try to make a difference.Full disclosure, I am also working on this unit for a COETAIL class. This unit plan is my final project.


  • Hey Alex! I am a Coetail 10 participant and I came across your blog post. Your final project looks like a very worthwhile endeavor. I think that teaching kids digital citizenship skills at a young age is crucial. Like you mentioned all you have to do is look at comments on Youtube, Instagram, etc. and you can clearly see it is a much needed topic to address.

    I am curious about one thing. Is there a particular reason you are only having them print the images for a poster? I teach first grade so my students post to a class Seesaw where other friends can view and comment digitally. Do you have a tool that they could use to add their posts somewhere online? If not, maybe you could even challenge them to actually take their posts and add them to their personal Instagram pages if they already use one. It could make it interesting to see not only what other students would comment and say, but the rest of the world as well. Giving them that larger authentic audience could cause them to be more thoughtful in their posts. Just some food for thought.

    I do really love this project because it focuses on art, digital citizenship, and even design/visual literacy concepts as well. I look forward to seeing how your unit plays out. I think it will cause great learning for all involved! Good work.

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for the feedback. The team did think about encouraging the students to post online for an authentic audience. We scrapped it because we thought that students might be posting pictures of one another and from a child protection perspective we felt that it should be up to the kids. In short, we are encouraging them to share if it’s not personal, but not requiring it. 🙂

      • I think giving them that agency to choose to post online or not is also very powerful. I think that was a thoughtful and good choice by your team.

        • Thanks, Jessica! 🙂

          We finished the mini-unit and it was a success! The kids had a lot of fun and the instagram posters look awesome!

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