Selfies of the Past (LS-MT-96)


This Learning Scenario created by Mark Busuttil explores the notions of self-portrayal by combining past and contemporary techniques. In this scenario, pupils are engaged in developing their critical thinking and creativity to explore the reasons behind portraits of the old and the new. For that, they engage through a ‘retrospective of selfies’.

This session was conducted with a 5th-grade class, tailored for the age group of 9-10 years old. The session explores the concept of portrait meaning and connects it to the modern perception of taking portraits. It caters for a mixed ability class that allows students to freely express themselves.

The session revolves around the concept of self-expression through media, specifically imagery. By using Europeana resources, pupils are first introduced to several portraits and are asked questions about them. This would elicit the meaning behind such media, the items/props being reflected in them and the expressions or poses assumed by the figure in the image. From such elicitation, students can draw inspiration for creating their own setting to take and direct images taken.


Prior to this session to occur, students were first introduced to the use of camera, angles and lighting. Following this session, students were engaged to reflect on the imagery that they produce, what feelings it might instil in their audiences and the ethical use of imagery in today’s social media.

Prior to the session, we should inform students that they need to bring with them props/items that have meaning for them. This will make them more engaged in the session and also curious as to why they shall be using such items. One thing to keep in mind is that the lesson progresses to modern-day usage of photos and some students may start a discussion about selfies. Whilst this is extremely good. Why? Because it leads to a solid discussion about a plethora of topics, keep in mind that self-expression is an individualised concept. If students do not see eye to eye on several points of view, you need to direct them towards the acceptance of others.

During our session, students found the pictures from Europeana resources good. However, they began to immerse themselves in the session when they were given a modern context. I found this incredibly refreshing and used this newly found interest to fuel their creativity when they came to take their own portraits.


The part that I would have improved upon would be the discussion after directing one’s own portrait aspect of the lesson. I feel that I could have made a better contrast between one’s own perceived idea of self-image vs. what society may impose. Many students came up with so many valid points that needed deeper conversations. I should have taken note of them and continued such rich discussions in another session rather than just brushing the surface and trying to explore every mentioned aspect.

Being a holistic session, I left it in the students’ hands to evaluate themselves in how much they had gotten out of it. Although the majority attained most of the objectives set out for them, some denoted new objectives that I had not planned or perceived.

One student wrote: “I can relate what I feel to other works of art”. Rather than the attainment of a prescribed educational objective, I feel that next time, I’d let the students explore and share what they have learnt whilst keeping some of the original objectives as a template. Share information about Europeana resources.

Although it wasn’t easy to find what I wanted initially, I ended exploring the vast array of items that the website has to offer. Pity that most of the material on the website cannot be used in class. But you can still draw inspiration from them and use that creativity to build your lessons. I especially liked seeing how other educators used the resources and made them their own. This inspired me to do the same.

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The featured image used to illustrate this article belongs to the public domain. Click here to find it.

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