Pictures in the curriculum: Litter Britain

photographerIn this series I'm looking at how well-chosen digital photos can be used in different areas of the curriculum. In this article, the focus is on Environmental Studies, bringing in aspects of health and safety, Media Studies and others.

Introduction: the beautiful English countryside

Looked at from a distance, or even close up, much of Britain's countryside is still as beautiful as it is green. But look even closer, and it soon becomes apparent that what the rambler needs is not just a waterproof, a thermos, and a box of sandwiches, but a broom, a bin liner and a pair of disposable gloves.....

I could have taken lots of photos to prove my point. However, as with the other topics I will be covering, I think this is a case of less being more. In other words, although a picture may be worth a thousand words, two pictures are not necessarily worth two thousand. There is probably an optimum number of pictures that is guaranteed to maximise impact. I have decided to stick with one.

Beer can in the grass

Not exactly an enhancement of the sceneryAs you can see, the photo here shows a discarded beer can in the grass. This is actually a grass verge along a secluded footpath that partly encircles the remains of a 13th century abbey.

I am not sure why someone would think it acceptable to despoil such a lovely spot. It's true that there are no litter bins here, but there are a couple of hundred yards away. In any case, surely it is not that much bother to keep an empty bag handy to make it easy to get rid of your rubbish properly?


As well as the unsightly nature of discarded beer cans, there is also the health implications. I dread to think what might happen to a child who slips and falls in a way that causes themselves to cut their hand or their knee on an old tin can.

The writer Bill Bryson has embarked on a mission to get Britain to clean up its act. The story is that some areas in Britain have addressed the litter problem very seriously. Others, to put it kindly, seem to have other priorities.

Where does ICT fit in? Some ideas for using digital photography in Environmental Studies and Media Studies

So what does this have to do with ICT or educational technology? What this article illustrates is that pupils can use digital photos as a starting point for further research, learning and action. Here are some ideas:

  • Ask each pupil to take a photo to illustrate the theme of Our Environment. That would give the class around 30 pics to work with.

  • Use the photos as a focus for class discussions. For example, can they be grouped into themes?

  • You could also encourage the pupils to ask: Are the pictures accurate? I remember once looking at the prospectus for the school I was teaching in at the time, and coming across a picture that depicted this inner city school as some sort of rural idyll.

    I walked around the school playground and found the single spot where the view matched the one in the photo. When I moved literally just a foot in each direction, the view changed back to the standard grey landscape that we had all come to know and -- well, that we had all come to know.

    So, although the picture was accurate in technical sense, was it really accurate in the sense of being truthful? Perhaps your Media Studies colleagues might be interested in exploring this line of activity.

  • Could the photos be used to raise local awareness, or even to demand local action? Local Authorities are legally obliged to clear rubbish from public places. Imagine the potential impact of a class, school or group of schools creating a Rubbish Watch blog designed to shame the council into doing something by posting fresh pics every day or every week!

  • This does not need to be as negative as perhaps I've made it sound. How about another angle. The pupils could be asked to take photos of the area and discuss and design ways in which litter bins could be provided in a way that doesn't mar the local views. Or perhaps they could design posters encouraging people to dispose of their rubbish responsibly.


As you can see, a single photo can be used as a springboard for ideas and activities right across the curriculum. I'd love to hear from you if any of these suggestions sound useful, or if you have others that I haven't thought of.

This article was originally published on the old ICT in Education website on 21st August 2008. If you found this article useful, you may also enjoy those found here: