Layered Selfies

Essential Question

How do self-portraits reflect your identity?

Lesson Objectives

  • SWBAT understand that self-portraits are a reflection of self.
  • SWBAT create a digital self-portrait, adding layers of images that express their interests.

Lesson Context / Summary

The obsession with self-portraits (selfies) is not new. Virtually every artist has at one time or another created one. What has changed is the ability we now have to share these self-portraits easily (and often without thinking) with the world. 

"History of the Selfie" infographic

My goal for this lesson, used at the start of the school year, is to have students transform one of their selfies into an image that tells a story of who they are.


  • 1:1 devices
  • Student provided images and phones (to take pictures)
  • Access to (free desktop photo editor) - alternatively students can use any photo editor they are comfortable with.

Lesson Opener

I start this lesson by asking "Who has taken a selfie?", expecting almost everyone to raise their hands. I then ask, "What is the story that your selfies tell?", allowing students to reflect for a few minutes, and then inviting them to share their thoughts with the person sitting next to them (Think-Pair-Share). After a couple more minutes I ask for volunteers to share out what they said, or what their partner shared with them. 

I continue by showing students the following two images, and for each one, I ask, "What is the story that this person is telling?"


Direct Instruction

I tell the students that over the next couple of days, they will be learning how to create a similar image of themselves, that tells a story of who they are. I ask students what they think they need in order to accomplish this, guiding them to include the following:

  • several selfies or pictures of themselves
  • pictures of things they are interested in/like and that they would like others to know about. 
  • instruction on photography basics and the use of a photo editor

I tell students that since I know they probably do not have their images today, we will start with some photography basics. I present Very Basic Photography slide deck:

I tell students that as they collect their images for this assignment, they will need to think mostly of symbolism since they will need pictures/images that represent them. I explain that for next class, they should bring their phones (to take selfies if needed), as well as a collection of images that represent them (their likes, sports they play, etc.)

Guided Practice

At the start of the second day, I share the rubric for this assignment with the students, as I explain the requirements.

"Your layered selfie must include:

  • Background
  • Selfie (picture of student)
  • 4 images/symbols that represent you

Each of the layers must be renamed, and each image not used as background must have its own background removed. Each image should be resized, placed and layered in such a way that your story is easy to understand."

After clarifying questions have been answered, I share a Pixlr Basics slide deck with the students. I share and show briefly how to add the images in different layers, etc. However, I do not spend too much time with this, but rather share the slide deck with them so they have it as a reference as they work.


Independent Practice

Once questions have been answered I tell the students that they can get their devices, phones and anything the brought to take pictures of and get to work on their selfie. I also advise that we are all learning how to use Pixlr, so that if they figure out how to do something "cool" they are welcome to share with the class. I remind them that they are also able to find tutorials on how to use Pixlr on YouTube if they need/want something specific, but that they must ask me before jumping on YouTube to find anything.


Note: Here are some tutorials I've found useful:

Assessment / Reflection

I ask students to submit their layered selfies to the Edmodo assignment I create for this purpose. Their images are graded using the rubric mentioned before. 

I also have students write a reflective blog post in accordance with my "Project Blog Instructions". 



Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.


Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

I loved the photography course on KQED and the topic of selfies is on my radar. I love your lesson. Van Gogh did a selfie:) I was recently at an art museum and they had student work displayed using the selfie concept. This gave me so ideas to use in class. The rubric is a great guide for students to create their artifacts. Super lesson to use for the beginning of school or fill in times. IT is a good way to integrate technology for students and build their portfolios. Thanks for sharing.

One of the current exhibits at San Jose Museum of Art is called "This is Not a Selfie". Here's the link to the virtual tour available on SJMA's Facebook: