Creative Teaching: Using Photography

Posted by Paul G. Kelly on

Finding new ways to make your Bible study come alive for learners can be difficult. We tend to use the same teaching approaches over and over again. Shera Melick, retired professor of educational leadership, used to say that the only wrong teaching technique is the one that you use all the time. Perhaps she was right. Variety sparks learners to new thoughts.

Camera on a tableOne tool that I use sparingly with both adult and teenage learners is photography. I don’t use it often, but when I do I’m surprised how powerful something like a photograph can be. So, how can you use photography as a Bible teaching tool? Let me give you a few of the ideas I have used. Perhaps they will stimulate even better ideas for you.

1. Take a Picture of . . .

I used this learning strategy with teenage learners. Most people have a cell phone when they come to Bible study. (I leave mine in the car, but that’s a discussion for another day.) I put the learners in pairs and asked them to take the first 10 minutes of class to create on the camera on their cell phone a picture of God. They laughed, but, when they saw I was serious, they got to work. Most of the pictures would probably be more appropriately described as evidence of God . . . a child’s smile, a tree growing out of solid rock, a perfectly formed cloud. But these pictures made a great discussion starter as we jumped into a passage about how God has revealed himself. You could tell learners to take a picture of love, wealth, doubt, joy, compassion, or a lot of other things. (I would avoid something too simplistic, like, “Take a picture of your little brother or sister.”) But pictures that get learners thinking about how to display an idea can be rich.

2. Which Picture Best Describes . . .

I actually use this strategy in class when we are talking about philosophical positions for Christian education. (If philosophical positions for CE excites you, call me; you need to be in seminary.) We talk about three ideas and then I ask them which of three photographs best represents each idea. For this, I use some pictures from master photographers, but I’m not sure that is essential. I don’t print these, but just show them on the screen. Consider using this idea when you talk about a biblical truth into which you want students to dig deeper. For example: “Which of these photographs best illustrates for you what the Apostle Paul said about grace in this passage? Why?” The discussion should give texture to your teaching, help them to put it in their own words. This makes for better learning and better recall.

3. Find a Picture that . . .

I have seen this learning strategy used in two or three different settings. First, the teacher spreads out a lot of printed pictures. (It works if you just use pictures you can print from your ink jet printer, though you will need a new cartridge after this.) Black and white, color, or a mixture of both will work. Pictures should be of great variety: people expressing a variety of emotions, animals, people in various groupings, structures, statues, even pastoral scenes of fields or mountains. Give learners a direction like, “Find a picture that describes your spiritual life right now.” Allow five minutes or so for learners to find a picture, then about one or two minutes per learner for them to share why they chose the picture they did.

This could be a great discussion starter, but it might also be a personal reflection activity. Suppose you used it at the end of a lesson addressing the need to be still and listen to God. Students select an image that reflects where they are now, and perhaps a second that describes where they want to be spiritually. This could be a great moment of commitment.

People seem to connect well with pictures. It makes sense that we would use them in our study of Scripture. Activities like these can help learners connect with ideas, connect with each other, and connect with God.


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