Students take photographs of people, places, and objects in their lives that are meaningful to them.


Students will be able to:

  1. identify items, people, and places with meaning to them
  2. create a “meaningful photo” collage with these images
  3. explain what each image represents and its personal meaning


Picture-taking device (camera, phone, etc) and a means to print or develop pictures; large paper for collage, pen and paper for written reflection


Time Activity Notes
Before Lesson
Prior to the in-class activity, give students the following assignment
  • Over the next week, take photographs of things that make your life feel meaningful or full of purpose.
  • These can be people, places, objects, pets, etc. If you are not able to take photos of these things—for instance, if they are not nearby—you can take photos of souvenirs, reminders, or even other photos.
  • Try to take at least nine photographs.
Consider ways to allow students who may not have access to the necessary technology (a camera phone, a camera, etc) to participate actively in the activity.

This lesson is adapted from an activity by Greater Good in Action. See this site for more information, research, and sources.

2 mins
  • Have students gather their pictures to prepare for the day’s activity.
3 mins

Explain instructions for creating the Meaningful Photo Collage. Depending on your classroom materials and student needs, create parameters for the collage that work for you. Basic guidelines may include:

  • Include as many of the pictures that you took that you can fit into collage
  • No explanations or words are required (this will happen in the writing portion)
  • Embellish, decorate, or add to the collage to personalize it
10-15 mins
Collage Making
  • Give students ample time to create and personalize their collages.
  • Ensure that supplies are ready.
You may want to play music during this time.

This time can be social; encourage students to share their images with peers and talk about what they chose to photograph and why while making collages.

With permission from students, plan to hang these collages around the room.

25-30 mins
Journal Response

Once students have created a collage of their photos and items, give them the following journal prompt and ample time to write a written response:

  • Take time to look at and reflect on each image. For each photo or item, write down a response to the following question:
    • “What does this photo represent, and why is it meaningful?”
  • Students should write one explanation for each photo.
  • To encourage a thorough explanation and thoughtfulness, give students an appropriate guideline for length of response (for example: write 4-5 sentences for each image).
This should be a quiet, reflective time.

Differentiation: for students who have difficulty expressing themselves in writing or starting a new task, provide sentence starters for each image. For example:

  • “This photo represents _________ because ________”
  • “This photo is meaningful to me because __________”
5 mins (if time permits)

If time permits, ask students to reflect on the process of gathering and writing about meaningful items, places, and people in their lives. Suggested questions:

  • Was the process of selecting what to photograph easy or difficult for you? Why?
  • Did you surprise yourself with any of the pictures you took? Were you surprised to see any of your peers’ pictures? Why?
  • What emotions did you experience during the written reflection process?
  • What new understanding, if any, about things that are meaningful to you, did this activity help you find?
  • How do these images connect to your sense of purpose?

Criteria for Success/Formative Assessment

Student reflections demonstrate thoughtful engagement with the reflection prompt and thoroughly explain the meaning of each image on the collage

Student collages should include an appropriate number of images that demonstrate thoughtful completion of the pre-class assignment

This activity adapted from Greater Good in Action, a resource produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.