Using Instagram for Teaching Teens

Instagram logo

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a social media app that allows you to micro blog or post. Where Twitter is about primarily about writing, Instagram is about visuals: photos and video. Both share the use of #hashtags to connect posts to one another.

Why use Instagram?

Because that’s where young people are. It’s their medium. It’s the second most used social media by teens between the ages of 13 to 17 .

Teens post photos and short videos to share with their friends and community. They comment and create links using #hashtags. And get creative using and making up #hashtags to share photos and videos, the events they attend, their artwork, favourite things. They connect with people, friends, peers, and people they idolize, like their favourite artists and YouTubers.

Students can explore and uncover the world around them by providing them with critical thinking skills. Students can collaborate together to create projects and explore. Students can comment to share their reflections and create discussion using comments.

Some students are more likely to share photos and video and comments rather than written work. They may prefer or choose to use visuals or feel less pressure to perform compared to a formal assignment. It also feels more like play and they likely will feel more invested in the activities.

Introverted students and students who speak English as an additional language will feel more comfortable using social media to share rather than writing or presenting in person.

Students with differing abilities may benefit from using photos, video and posting comments rather than writing formal assignments.

The Benefits and Challenges of using Instagram

The use of Instagram for teaching is not at first apparent. Instagram is about creating photos and videos, sharing and connecting, not about research or finding resources like you can use Twitter for. In this way it’s more limited than Twitter. But Instagram has a simple interface and only does a few things making it easy to learn and use.

Instagram is about visuals (photos and video), creating #hashtags to connect to other people and making connections through short comments. Images and video can be edited in Instagram using filters, which adds to the creative component. Students can create short videos to show their work, highlight their visits to institutions or events they’ve attended and comment to provide context Students can use video to post their comments about the work of their peers.

Using social media in your classroom allows you to help students develop positive, digital identities. You can address issues of bullying and harassment (aka trolling) with your students, how students can have a safe online experience, and how to manage digital content. You can address issues of negative trolling and cyber harassment campaigns in your curriculum such as #Gamergate.

Unlike Twitter, students can set their privacy and visibility in Instagram. They can create private accounts and manage who can follow them and who can see and comment on their posts.

It is difficult to search Instagram. A #hashtag search will provide a stream of unfiltered posts: the good, the bad and the irrelevant. But it is easy to find people who follow you and your feed is fed by posts by your Followers, so it can be less daunting than using Twitter and even Facebook.

Which Courses is Instagram Suited for?

Instagram is ideal for visual courses, such as, art, art history, graphic design, photography, architecture, fashion design, photography and photojournalism. But other courses can benefit from implementing a visual component, including: social studies, history, geography, English, languages, health and physical education.

Getting Started

  • Download the Instagram app and create an Instagram account.
  • Create a #hashtag for the course, such as your last name or school name, subject and grade level, (#yourlastname subject grade or # school name subject grade), such as #hounslow gr 11 or #kelvinator 10.  Share your photos to get students interested in commenting and to model how to post.  
  • Encourage students to post their own photos using the same #hashtag and make comments to model how to comment and create discussion.
  • Connect with students by posing questions on a given theme using photos and the course #hashtag. Have students post their answers using comments. Encourage students to post their own photos and questions.


I’ve included some suggested activities that you can use, modify or use as an inspiration for your own activities.

Art Project: Create and Share
This is a good introduction to using Instagram in your class. Have students create an artwork (sketches, drawings, paintings, sculpture, poster or digital photography) around a theme, such as human rights, and what the theme means to them personally. They could create the artwork based on a personal experience, such as one that affects them personally, their family or friends. Have students share their project with the class using the #hashtag you create for your class or project.

What is it?
A good ice breaker. Have students find objects and pose the question “What is it?”  (#what is it) to the class Students can post their answers in the comments.

Digging up carrots at night.

Scavenger Hunt
Make a list of objects based on general themes and have students find and photograph objects around the school’s locale or around town. Have them describe the objects and explain how they fit in the project’s criteria.

Art Collector
Have students explore and discover art in public spaces or galleries. Have them identify the artist, time period, art movement and media/medium used. They can also compare and contrast two works of art. This can also be used for architecture.

Eli Bornstein's Structurist Relief in 15 Parts installed on the south wall of Max Bell Centre, UofM.

Graffiti Hunter
Have students hunt for graffiti and public art near school or in their communities. This can be used to discuss public versus institutional art and public versus private spaces. Art used as an agent for social and political change or the use of graffiti to build community identity. Artists such as Banksy can be used to illustrate the goal of using graffiti to advocate for social justice and change.

Graffiti on a train bridge.

Day at the Museum
Have learners visit a Museum. Have them explore and find objects or artifacts, and take photos. In the comments, students can identify the objects, post about their significance, and pose questions to other students.

Interior of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Close up of the Interactive Study Table at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Nature Explorers
Visit a natural space or environmental center. Have students work in teams to explore and find species, such as trees, vegetation, insects and mammals. They can photograph or record and the species and identify them in their posts. Or they can post photos or video of a species and ask other students to identify them.

Monarch butterfly waystation sign in a garden.

Your Community/Neighbourhood
Have students take photos of their communities to answer some of these questions: What does the physical landscape of community look like? Who lives there? What is unique about your community?


Citizen journalism
Have students attend and participate in an event. They can take photos and post what they experience. This could be an event of any type: sports event, art or music performance or a political demonstration.

University of Manitoba Faculty Association strike picket lines.

Better by Design
How do you get around your neighbourhood? How do you get to school? Are there signs that assist you? Are their barriers in your way? Do you feel safe? How can you improve your experience with better design? How can you improve experiences for pedestrians, cyclists and people with disabilities?

Wheelchair accessible lift sign.

Uncovering History
The world around us shows some hints of its history: evident in neighbourhood names, street signs, historical buildings, name of public buildings and parks, monuments and art. Explore your town and discover its history. Also uncover its hidden history. Whose history is represented? Who’s isn’t? What is missing? How can we represent the history of the Indigenous people of your region in our communities?

Indigenous street sign.

Safe Spaces
Have students explore and identify safe places. This is an especially good activity for students at risk due to homo or transphobia, racism and sexism.


A Few More Ideas

  • Fashion: explore trends, colours and changes.
  • Weather and climate: identify cloud and storm types.
  • Photography: focus on framing, lighting, colour, subject matter and context.
  • Design: See, show and critique signs, display ads and marketing you discover.


Dunn, K. (2015). 10 Ways to use Instagram in the classroom. Daily Genius. Retrieved from:

Morrison, D. (2016) How & Why to Use Social Media to Create Meaningful Learning Assignments. Online Learning Insights. Retrieved from:

Saloman, D. (2013). Moving on from Facebook: Using Instagram to connect with undergraduates and engage in teaching and learning. Retrieved from:

This article is available on Google Docs.


About jhounslow

Soccer enthusiast, cyclist, web developer, e-learning professional, educator, husband to a graduate student, and father of four daughters.
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