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Capture the moment


In this lesson, students will learn about the importance of storytelling in journalistic photography. Using selected student photography, they will discuss the visual impact that can occur when photojournalists capture unique storytelling moments.


  • Students will learn about capturing unique storytelling moments in photography.
  • Students will explore recent work in photojournalism and evaluate photos based on Joe Elbert’s hierarchy of photography.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.D Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


45 minutes (with 45 minutes of optional extended learning opportunity)


Slideshow: Capture the moment

Handout: Exploring Elbert’s Hierarchy of Photography

Handout: Practice with Elbert’s Hierarchy (for optional extended learning opportunity)

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 5 minutes

Using the first few slides of the presentation, ask students the following questions: What makes a good photograph? Is there a difference between good art photography and good journalistic photography? Give students time to discuss and then share with the class.

2. Presentation — 10 minutes

Go through first 11 slides together (the ones with Creative Commons nature photography). Stop frequently to discuss, or have students discuss in pairs or small groups and then share their thoughts. Many students will agree that these photos are artistically beautiful but don’t tell a unique story.

3. Presentation, continued — 20 minutes

Beginning with Slide 12, show students “typical” student photography and compare to the photos that really “capture a moment.” Stop frequently to ask students to discuss individual photos. What do they notice? In what ways do these photos trigger the students’ emotions or make them wonder or tell them a story? (Note: in this lesson, students can think/pair/share, discuss as a whole class or work with partners. Also, feel free to pick and choose which photos to discuss in detail based on students’ initial reactions.)

4. Presentation, final slide — 5 minutes

Share Slide 41 with students about Joe Elbert’s Hierarchy of Image Energy. Discuss the different levels.

5. Preview homework assignment — 5 minutes

Distribute and explain the worksheet, answering any questions from students.


For students who have a lot of photojournalism experience, you can ask them to evaluate their own photos according to Elbert’s hierarchy (rather than looking at professional photojournalism).

For students who struggle, provide four photographs, one for each category in the hierarchy, and ask them to decide where the photographs would fit and why they think so (rather than trying to find photographs on their own).

Optional extended learning opportunity

For teachers who would like to give students more practice with Elbert’s hierarchy of photos, consider extending your lesson for a second day.

1. Instructions & group work — 20 minutes

Assign students into small groups (2-4 students, depending on class size).  Pass out a copy of the Practice with Elbert’s Hierarchy worksheet to each group. (Note: It’s a good idea to make this a two-page single-sided document rather than copying on two sides to better accommodate today’s activities.) Instruct students to work together to brainstorm and complete the worksheet. Give students approximately 15 minutes to work.

2. Gallery walk — 15 minutes

Once students finish their brainstorm and have sketched out photos that fit each of the four categories on Elbert’s hierarchy, hang the handouts around the room or place on desks and ask students to perform a gallery walk. Students should wander at their own page around the room and look at all of the photo sketches.  Instruct students to take notes about ideas they thought were creative, photos they really liked, etc.

3. Discussion/reflection — 10 minutes

Ask students to get back in their small groups and share their reflections from their gallery walk. Then, groups can share in a full class discussion.