George Lucas Educational Foundation

Academic Scrapbooking: Snapshots of Learning

A social studies teacher uses photo journals to make learning more personal and immediate for her students.
By Alexandra R. Moses
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Here’s an assignment: Grab a stack of acid-free paper, some glue sticks, and a few photographs, and set your students to work on a scrapbook.

Sounds a little like arts-and-crafts time? Perhaps, but academic scrapbooking is actually being used as a powerful classroom tool to help students better connect with the subject at hand, from lessons on ancient Greece to an exploration of themes of love in literature.

Heidi Willard, a social studies teacher and enthusiastic advocate of academic scrapbooking, describes it as “personalizing the curriculum.” Students get away from the textbook -- but not the lesson -- and complete a hands-on assignment that allows organized classroom movement and results in better retention of the material. “My experience as a teacher has taught me that it is the activity in the classroom they remember,” says Willard, who has used scrapbooking with both special-needs and traditional students. “It is more of a personal adventure.”

A Flash of Inspiration

Willard discovered the benefits of scrapbooking ten years ago while teaching a group of particularly hard-to-reach middle school students. After returning from a short vacation, she showed them her travel journal and photographs. “I noticed they were actually listening to me and making eye contact with me,” she says with a laugh. “It was sort of an ‘A-ha!’ moment for me as a teacher.”

She convinced the principal of her school to let her take the students on a field trip, gave them disposable cameras, and asked them to make a group scrapbook about the experience. From then on, academic scrapbooking became a staple in her teaching.

The benefits of creating scrapbooks go beyond piquing student interest, Willard says. The projects encourage independent learning by allowing students to work at their own pace and enhance individual learning styles and strengths. This, she says, gets students personally invested in the assignments.

“I find that students take more risks in their learning and stop trying to please the teacher so much,” says Willard, who has turned her enthusiasm for scrapbooking into a small business, creating and selling kits for various grade levels and subjects on her Web site, Scrapbooks That Teach.

Still, scrapbooking can be a tough sell to administrators concerned about how such projects will help students meet curriculum and testing standards. “Many people see scrapbooking as just a lot of arts and crafts and putting stickers on a page,” says Lori Elkins Solomon, who writes a curriculum guide to scrapbooking called "Readin’, Writin’ & Scrappin’." Solomon says calling them photo journals rather than scrapbooks can help erase preconceived notions of scrapbooking. And Willard offers on her Web site a script teachers can use to convince administrators of the value of the activity.

Willard and Solomon also emphasize scrapbooking’s more tangible academic applications. In creating scrapbooks, Willard says, students must use reading, writing, research, and critical-thinking skills. Solomon, who began scrapbooking with her students in 1999, says that for writing classes, scrapbook page assignments can be used to get students to experiment with various writing styles, including narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive. Scrapbooking also integrates visual literacy by requiring students to combine words and images.

The Big Picture

To effectively use scrapbooking in the classroom, it’s important to think outside the Creative Memories box, even if that’s the style a teacher chooses. It can’t be scrapbooking for scrapbooking’s sake, Solomon says. Teachers must apply the same standards to the scrapbook assignment that they apply to other academic assignments and be sure that it adheres to curriculum goals. And though stickers and die-cuts may be the only way to get a student interested in, Jane Eyre, other methods, such as essays that incorporate graphics or photos, also work.

As an English teacher, Solomon says, her aim with scrapbooks was to get her students writing. For one literary-research project, students chose a theme and created a book, following certain prompts for individual pages, such as finding a poem, a work of art, and a great thinker that expressed the chosen theme. Students also wrote an introduction and designed a cover. To help them understand personal identity and character development, another assignment required students to explore their own identity through a personal photo journal that combined student-created artwork and photos with the writing.

“Literature becomes personal when they realize there are themes that can relate to their own life,” says Solomon. By making her assignments more than just essays or research papers, it helped draw out her more reluctant writers and created better writers in general, she adds.

Willard takes a different approach and uses the actual scrapbooking kits she designs. The kits include a group activity and materials, such as fiber, stickers, and stencils, to help create the scrapbook page. Using a classroom camera, she and the students document the class activity and the students as they work. The photos are included in the scrapbooks.

For a segment on ancient Rome, for example, Willard had her students build a wax slate with a stylus like ones Roman scribes likely would have used to document their Senate's activities. The students then used photos taken during the activity and the provided scrapbooking materials to create a final product that illustrated their understanding of the lesson. In addition, for each scrapbook assignment, students conduct research or complete a reading assignment and write a journal entry.

Willard says her students look forward to the scrapbooking days, and have become creative with the projects, collecting their own objects to include on the pages. The key component, she says, is that they connect to what they’re learning. The students not only get to create something that’s their own (which illustrates the way they understand the underlying lesson), they also “see” themselves through the photographs as they’re creating it. That, she says, helps them better remember the lessons.

Solomon believes scrapbooking gives students a sense of ownership over their work, not only because it’s something they’ve made but also because they’ve invested so much of themselves into the process.

“They become more confident and more connected, emotionally and intellectually,” she says. “It’s not just an academic skill. We don’t want our students to be little machines. We want them to become people who are self-motivated and who can navigate the world around them by asking questions and knowing how to connect.”

Alexandra R. Moses is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in education.

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jenny Lando's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I want to applaud Ms. Willard and Ms. Solomon for adding to my ever growing toolkit with a new way to approach my learners. I have already had my elementary students create nature journals using photography for their science classes but I had not applied my own personal skills at scrap booking to my social studies lessons.

I am, however, curious as to why Ms. Moses chose to call out Creative Memories in the way she did. I am currently supplementing my family's income as a consultant for Creative Memories. Our current tag line is Your Life|Your Story|Your Way. We don't have "a box". Instead Creative Memories offers a variety of tools and products to allow each person to create an album in their own way be that the traditional paper form or the more recent trend of digital scrap booking.

Thank you for your time.

Vickie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

With the growing popularity of scrapbooking among all ages and all kinds of homes, why not integrate it into the classroom. The ideas of your article are great! Children love to see themselves and what a great way to make your social studies, litersature and writing personal.

I have used scrapbooks for years with my primary students and have also found that they are enthrawled with recanting what they were doing and learned while doing it in a personal or class scrapbook. Moving into the technology realm we now do many personal scrapbooks of events on the computers using the photos they took digitally themselves.

Thank you for sharing your ideas, insights and reinforcing the arts into a vital learning environment.

Jordan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Similarly, the empowering social action methodology of Photovoice ( can help to engage students by allowing them to make their own connections to the curriculum.

Joette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great transition tool to first sprark a student's interest. Those same skills can then transfer to science, histroy and literature projects. Projects and presentations are present in most school classes from elementary school through college, and into many professions. Students need to be versed and practiced in different types of media so they can have the most impact to their audience. Scrapbooking is another tool for the student's toolbox along with poster and other media presentations.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This may be a good tool to use in getting some students motivated. It appears to me thar it would take more valuable classroom time than many other good instructional tools available to all teachers would.

Such tools used in the area of History and Social Studies take too much time. This curriculum area has low standarized test scores because of the use of such tools.

slr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

great site! thanks

SLR's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Awesome ideas to bring out the creativity and collaboration in all of us.
this will surely transcend into the home where the lense of a camera, a journal, a writing tool can replace the all to familiar gaming devices which encourage overeating, inactivity and no creativity.
Thank you

Anderson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree. Why not combine a fun, easy-to-do hobby such as scrapbooking with learning? Kids love it and it's probably easy for teachers to assess (teachers can see where students have cut corners--figuratively and literally)?

I've used a few different digital scrapbooking software programs and found there is virtually hundreds of options to choose from.

Kim M's picture
Kim M
K-5 Visual Art Teacher

Thanks for some great ideas. I just started using digital camera with my students but your article gave me more ideas of things that I need to include in my lesson plans. I had basic rules but I am going to come up with some guidelines that my students should use to create their community scrapbook. I think that if we take the digital pictures during our art project. Then after we finish creating our project we can print out the pictures and arrange the pictures into a class scrapbook. I think this is a great way to get students more involved with our class project.

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