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Grades 6-8
In this lesson, students will study images that we altered digitally, to create a desired effect. Students will discuss how a photograph conveys information, and how changing that photograph can change its message. This lesson plan is based on the National Geographic News story, "Shark 'Photo of the Year' Is E-Mail Hoax," which covers an urban legend based on a doctored photograph.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, fine arts, journalism
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 3: "How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface"
Two to three hours

Materials Required:
  • Computer with Internet access
Students will
  • read and discuss a National Geographic News article about an email hoax;
  • analyze the associated photograph to find evidence of alteration;
  • ask geographic questions to determine whether or not the photograph could be real;
  • discuss the ways that altering a photograph could influence viewers of the photograph; and
  • discuss how images influence our opinions and ideas.
Geographic Skills:

Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Have students examine the photograph featured in "Shark 'Photo of the Year' Is E-Mail Hoax," and discuss what is happening in the photograph. Ask the students as a group what action is taking place in the image, what the pilot of the helicopter might be thinking, and what the person on the ladder might be thinking. Additionally, what might be going through the shark's brain?
Remind students that, like stories, photographs have settings that influence the way the viewer thinks about them. Where was this photo taken? Students can use clues such as the type of shark that is in the photograph, the bridge in the background, or the color and texture of the water to make educated guesses.

Have students read the news story associated with the image, "Shark 'Photo of the Year' Is E-Mail Hoax," or read it aloud to them.

Ask students if they picked up on the cues, such as that the bridge in the photo was the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, or if they noticed that the shark was a great white shark, which, contrary to some media reports, does not usually eat humans.

[Students can find out more about the behavior and diet of these seal eaters on National Geographic's Ten Cool Things You Didn't Know About Great White Sharks . When these sharks breach, meaning when they swim upward at a fast sprint, bursting through the surface in a leap and falling back into the water, they are usually after a seal or a sea lion.]

While great white sharks have been spotted in California, as you can show your students on the map found on the Great White Shark Creature Feature , this image was taken in South Africa. Show students maps of California and South Africa, taking care to point out the bodies of water labeled in each map. False Bay, the geographic location mentioned in the photographer's account, is near Cape Town, on the map of South Africa.

Students might also consider that great whites are influenced by a sense of sound . How might the sound of the helicopter have affected the shark's ability to find the "prey" in the photograph?

Discuss as a class the reasons why this photograph was circulated on the Internet. Some digitally created images are created to enhance a mood, or to trick people. Was the artist trying to sell something, or influence people to take an action? A caption may give more information. The caption described in this message lets us know that the image was intended to amuse or entertain people. Ask students to be on the lookout for images used in magazines and newspapers that are trying to convince you to do something. What clues do these images offer to let you know that the image is a hoax, or was created for another purpose?
Suggested Student Assessment:
Have students create a list of facts, based on the information in the photograph, such as "There is a shark," and "The shark is about to eat the man." Have students place a checkmark next to the facts that are accurate, based on the article, and circle the ones that were disproven.

Ask half of the class to write a one-paragraph crazy news story, as if the hoax photograph were true, and the other students write a mock news story based on either of the photographs that were used to assemble the hoax photo.

Extending the Lesson:
Remind students about using the Internet safely and wisely at school and at home. Some guidelines for safe surfing can be found on our Parents page . Have students create a list of guidelines for new users of the Internet about how to identify a hoax or a scam, and what to do when they find them. For example, if part of a photograph has glare, and the rest of the photo looks like it was taken in the rain, it may be a hoax. To better learn how to detect hoaxes, students can visit the following sites:

Don't Spread That Hoax
Urban Legends and Folklore

Related Links: