Civically-Engaged Media Literacy

Humans of Our School

Adapting "Humans of New York" to help students learn about their communities

Overview and Context

This lesson is aimed at grades 4-6, and will promote student research and learning about their community through the principles of listening and questioning.  Students will apply these principles to an interview of one of their school’s staff members and use writing skills to tell the story they uncover.  Some of these lessons may be one day lessons, but several of them will take multiple days or even a week.


Students will be assessed through the attached rubric as well as through their Google Slides presentation.

Resources and Materials


  1. Humans of New York book and/or Humans of New York website
  2. Rubric (Google Doc) 
  3. Camera or cell phone
  4. Laptop or other way to use the internet
  5. Google Slides


A Step-by-Step Plan for Teaching Narrative Writing from Cult of Pedagogy: Author Jennifer Gonzalez shares the process she used to teach narrative writing to middle school students.

The Best of Humans of New York

Full Frame Essay: Humans of New York – A Global Community Connecting through Photographs

Step-by-Step Instructional Plan

Lesson 1: Overview: Why are we doing this?

This lesson is focused on learning about our school community and building connections between students and staff through shared experiences and storytelling. Students will learn how to conduct an interview, take photos that show emotions and write a narrative based on their interview.

Students will be given a general overview of the purpose of the lesson, which are:

  1. To form connections between students and staff.
  2. To learn interview techniques such as broad questions, listening, paraphrasing, and follow-up questions.
  3. To identify emotions the speaker is showing and capture these feelings in photographic form.
  4. To collaborate with a partner.
  5. To write a narrative based on the interview.
  6. To create a Google Slide presentation with pictures and story of interview subject.

Lesson 2: Identifying Emotions

After students have been given an overview of the unit we will begin by reading several of Brandon’s photo blogs. We will identify emotions of the subjects in Brandon’s pictures and compare what we see in the pictures to the emotions we identify in the narrative.

Lesson 3: What makes a good interview question for this assignment?

Ask open ended questions that invite the interviewee to tell a story about his or her life. We will brainstorm questions. We will focus on shared experiences in our community, such as how the fires affect us, the river, the importance of salmon and water and native dances. We will also discuss questions that are more generalized to the human experience, such as childhood, holidays, pets, etc.

Lesson 4: Role play

With a partner, role play a situation that you would find yourself in as a Humans photographer. One person will be the subject, and the other will be the interviewer. Students will need to think about the following. How will you approach your subject? How long will your interaction take? What type of energy will you need to make the subject feel welcomed and open? What kind of follow up questions are needed (and when) in order to elicit more information and feelings from the interviewee.

Lesson 5: Preparing the script

Using the list of questions the class has brainstormed, students will create a script for approaching staff to interview for our Humans of our School project. The script will include an opening conversation starter and a question about whether they are comfortable allowing you to take their photo. (All staff will be approached by me ahead of time so that I know they are willing to be interviewed, and can help prompt students if they get stuck) A few thought-provoking questions (both positive and negative) will get your subject to share their story—lastly, a wrap-up statement thanking your subject for their time.

Lesson 6: Becoming a photographer

We will look through the photos in one of Brandon’s books to find a few key features that make his photos memorable. Throughout all of his books, the techniques he uses are crafted so that the reader can better connect with his subject while getting a feeling for the subject’s surroundings. When taking photos for this project, keep these ideas in mind.

Try Different Angles:

  1. First, it is essential to look at the use angles in all of Brandon’s photos. You will rarely see an image in which the subject sits/stands directly in front of the camera. The subject will typically be seen with a tilted head or an angled body.At certain angles, objects can also appear larger or smaller than reality. This is a fun way to change the context of the photo.
  2. The angle of the background is a crucial component of Brandon’s photos. You will notice that the subject will always appear perpendicular to the background so that the picture has depth.
  3. You will never see a photo of a subject standing in front of a wall or door. The depth of the images works in unison with the depth of content that the stories convey.

Fill the Frame with Your Subject

  1. Making the subject the highlight of your photo is key to a Humans photo. The subject should always be in the center of your frame or slightly off-center to keep balance.
  2. It is essential to balance the size of the subject with the surroundings. A good photograph needs balance. Try to limit objects that can distract the reader from the face. It is human nature for a reader to look at a person’s face in a picture immediately. Use this to your advantage.

Lesson 7: Writing an Effective Narrative

A narrative is a story told in the first-person point of view, which means the writer uses the word “I.” A narrative should begin with a topic sentence that introduces the subject matter and a specific thought or feeling the writer has. The middle part is called the body. The body is where you explain what happened in the story, usually chronologically. The body can include various components that may include details about the setting or conversations between characters. It is vital to include sensory details in the narrative story. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch you experienced during this period are essential to setting the scene. The narrative ends with a conclusion. A conclusion can include your thoughts or feelings on how the story made you feel emotional, discuss what you learned, wrap up the story, or provide a funny anecdote.

  1. Topic Sentence
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion

Lesson 8: Finding Humanity

In the last assignment of this unit, we will explore the stories of the people that make up our school. Students will become a mini Brandon Stanton at our school to choose staff members to photograph and interview. Using the skills they have attained from this unit, their goal will be to create their very own human entry and make a Google Slide presentation about them. To start, they will need to seek out one or more staff members at our school, eventually sharing one of their stories in their presentation. It is important to have photography, interview, and note-taking skills to be successful.

Lesson 9: Creating a Google slide presentation

Student’s slide presentation will be a collaborative effort where groups are able to share the story of the staff member they interviewed.

This post is part of the Civic Engagement and Civic Journalism collection.