As educators, it’s critical that we help our learners become responsible digital citizens. At the same time, there is no doubt that in the Digital Age we also want students working with multiple forms of media as they create and demonstrate their learning. This can be a tricky path to walk since media such as images, video and audio are so easy to locate and put to use. Teaching students which digital media are okay to use and which are not has to be part of the work we do as educators, and that begins with modeling this behavior ourselves.

Ideally, we would teach students to create their own photos, videos and audio (more on that tomorrow), but at minimum we need to help them find great media that they can use in their classwork and online without being concerned that they are breaking copyright laws. Fortunately, there are lots of websites that are devoted to helping people find those types of media. Check out this post for an annotated list of just a few of them.

For our challenge today, we will focus on finding images that can be used freely in learning objects. It helps to have a basic understanding of copyright as it applies to education as well as an understanding of Creative Commons licensing. If you feel you need a background on this, I recommend the following:

A Teacher’s Guide to Image Copyright

The Creative Commons Site

Finding Images

4-8-2013 1-36-02 PMOnce you are familiar with what you are looking for, there are several places where you can access Creative Commons and Royalty Free Images. One way to locate Creative Commons images is to modify a Google Image Search. If I wanted to find a picture of a shark, for example, I would do my normal search, then use the advanced search menu in Google to define the Usage Rights that I am looking for. Typically, I select the “Labeled for Reuse with Modification” option. That way, I know that not only can I use the image, but I can also modify it to my purposes.

A slightly more efficient method is to use the Creative Commons search tool. This tool allows you to search many online media repositories such as Flickr to find digital resources including images.


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My favorite tool for locating Creative Commons images is PhotoPin. You may find that it is blocked in some schools because it will bring up some images that would not be appropriate for all audiences. In the EVSC, we block PhotoPin for students and require a teacher override for faculty to access this tool. The extra click is a bit annoying, but totally worth it.

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What I love about PhotoPin is that it has the simplicity of a Google Search and it yields only CC licensed images from Flickr. I also love that it by default sorts the results by “interestingness. ” I can also choose to search by “Relevance” and “Recent.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 11.07.35 AMOne thing to be aware of is that sometimes the first few images that appear are sponsored images from commercial sources. I typically scroll past these because they take me out of the PhotoPin environment. I almost always find an image that fits my purpose via PhotoPin. Once I do, I simply hover over the image, and I choose “Get Photo.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 11.25.37 AMI am then given a selection of sizes for the image as well as an attribution link that I can include in my project or on my site. All I have to do is download the version of the image that fits my needs. Even cooler, I can get an embed code for my website or blog that sets up the attribution nicely for me.


Other Tools

If PhotoPin is blocked for you, there are plenty of other places on the web to find good images to use in projects. Here is a short list:

Your Challenge

Explore some of the resources above, and in the comments below share how you might use them in your classroom. We’d also love to know if there are other free-media resources that you use, how you teach your students to use media responsibly on the web, and what what types of projects lend themselves to using these resources.


  1. I normally have my students site where they got their pictures from. I haven’t used any of these sites before. I like the sites knowing that they are free for anyone to use, however, they didn’t have a huge selection of pictures for what I was looking for. I will definitely suggest that the students check here first.

  2. I had not really thought much about the pictures online and using them for projects belonging to others until now. It is good to know that there are websites out there that we can share with students so that they do choose and use pictures that are legal. We have students create pic collages for projects quite a bit as well as book report projects and social studies projects which require pictures also. I will know share with the students that they need to look on these websites to find the royalty free pictures. I know I did not do that when creating my gravatar on day one.

  3. Thank you so much for teaching me more about this! I did not realize there were easy ways to find free photos to use. I will use this all of the time for all of these social stories I create for students as well as working on the therapy weebly to share resources.

  4. Thank you for this post. We have been discussing this issue in my class and my students are still having a hard time knowing what they can and can’t use. I will show them the sites above. I also plan on sharing this with our staff. Last year we had an issue with a photo from Flickr being used in a PowerPoint and loaded to Moodle without the student asking permission. The owner was very nice, and I am glad he questioned us about it. It is easy to think you won’t get caught using photos from the Internet, but people watch their work. It isn’t worth the risk and it isn’t fair to the owner to use photos that aren’t shared.

  5. When my students do a digitial project, one of the requirements is a webliography page for their sources of information and pictures they use. This post reminds me that I need to have a formal discussion about copyright including images. I looked at several sites including pics4learning and edupics, but I found the results to be limited. I was not aware of the google images option in the advanced search to limit pictures to ones that are free and can share. I will definitely share this with my 6th grade students. Thanks!

  6. For research projects, I have usually sent my students to Google Image or Dogpile, both of which have served the intended purpose. Before letting them copy and paste, we always discuss how they feel when someone takes the credit for something they may have said or created. This always leads into a “fairness” discussion. Then we begin discussing how the same is true when we use things from the Internet – not that it’s wrong to copy and paste things from there into our project, but that the people who created that information or picture needs to be given the credit and how we do that properly. Once we have this discussion, they are very good about giving each other credit for things they have done or said in class.

  7. I am always looking for updated pics for presentations for chemistry. Photopin looks very easy to use. I have usually used Google with the advanced search option. Being able to visualize atoms, molecules, reactions is always easier with a pic or short video clip. There are a lot of great free stuff out there and it is growing every year. These sites will make it easier to update in the future.

  8. I generally use Google Images for my presentation PowerPoints and have told the students to do this also. This has given me a lot to think about and I will share these sources with my students and other teachers.

  9. This is a great teaching moment for our students. Many think that just because it is on Google Images that they can use it, but that can not be farther from the truth. This will start that discussion on what is fair use and what is acceptable. Another thought that our students have is that because it is for school, it is ok. That, while grayer, is not really true either.

    A site I have used is This will allow you to search for different media from a variety of sources. Many of the resources that you can find will have a varying degrees of licenses, so you need to make sure to read the copyright information.

  10. Grabbing images off the internet is extremely easy! However, our students (and sometimes teachers) need to be reminded of copyright. Using sites like the ones listed in this post help us to have the conversation about responsible use and following copyright laws. At our school, students could use these site for a variety of projects. From creating travel brochures in social studies to writing research papers, these sites can help students to create projects with more detail and in a responsible manner.

  11. First and foremost, I never allow students to use media without providing “where” they found it. We talk about giving credit where credit is due. We discuss how it feels to have someone take credit for your work and thus they understand the importance. We are blocked from photo pin however we pics4learning, edupics, 4freephotos and google images.

    I envision using media in reports, presentation software (keynote, google presentation, powerpoint, etc), movies, digital posters, digital design and student websites. Students even use photos in twitter and on Facebook. Again, if students are responsible and give proper credit, we can work on finding appropriate royalty free sites.

    Thank you for the resources! Wonderful!

    • Maria,
      It is great that you teach the students to provide the resource that they got the images from! That said, providing a reference does not mean that it is OK if the image has a copyright. Try to work in at least using the advanced search in Google so that the students know that it is ok to use the pics too. This was always difficult for my middle school students to grasp as well!

  12. This is definitely an area I am continually educating myself on. It’s tough to drive home to younger students that just because you have the ability to copy and paste, doesn’t mean you should. Our students now have the ability to create their own pictures and videos to use. I will definitely try to steer our teachers to get students to provide their own resources. Now I have this page to share with them as well!

  13. it is definitely eye opening to discuss how using other images and resources without permission is like stealing. At the elementary age it can pair nicely with research projects, collages, and project based learning within the classroom. Discussing the responsibility of taking that extra step to refine your search is something I would probably look for in the older grade levels, and teaching how to refine. But starting the discussion very early, will bring up thought conscious students when it is their time to make such projects.

  14. I have used many of these already and have them on our Protopage so the kids have access to them. I had not heard of the last few on the list but after exploring them they are now on our site too. As the technology teacher it is my responsiblility to make sure I am teaching them about good digital citizenship and need to get more in the habit of following it myself. Until this year I really hadn’t given much thought to just getting a picture off of Google Images and then using it. That is where everyone always told us to go. It is good to know that they also have that FREE added search box. Many of these sites are limited in what they provide and the students have to fall back on and rely on Google. I just remind them to give credit where credit is due. My 3rd- 6th graders are making flers, thank you cards, calendars, newsletters, and brochures in publisher. As they have been making them they have needed to change the pictures in them and used many of these sites to do this.

  15. Finding Useful images is massively helpful. Google image search has a lot of useless images. And not to mention the different blocked and inappropriate pictures that pop up.

    Having a picture that can explain a math concept is huge. HAving a picture is worth a thousand words? A math picture has to be worth more.

    Slope is a concept that some of the students struggle with, and what I have done in the past is have them create a collage of the pictures of slope. Being able to have all of these pics in one place ready for us to just copy and paste into a paper would be the best thing!

  16. The majority of the time my students will use Google Images if they need to add a simple image to a presentation. Our district has such strict filters on the student devices, that even Google is highly filtered, but usable. We can also pull video for the kids off of the My Big Campus library resources. A website that I have found that provides some valuable tools for teaching digital responsibility, using images properly, etc. is This could be used in the classroom or in PD for other educators.

    My students use images for Keynote presentations, the Trading Cards app, Google Docs presentations, etc. I teach them how to safely use images before and during each project or activity. Digital citizenship is a major priority in our district. These students may be digital natives, but they certainly don’t always know the laws of the land and it is our job to guide them safely and responsibly through it.

    • So true. Without an adult presence in all of their worlds, students can make bad choices without understanding that they are bad. It’s part of our role as educators to be that guide out of concern for them and their future.

  17. The past two weeks I have helped three different high school teachers get their students started on Tellagami projects. One of the reasons the app works so well in EVERY class is that students have the option of changing the background to ANYTHING they want it to be. This is where some of these websites will come in handy. Whether students are putting a singe image on the background or using PicCollage to create a background with several images, they can use these sites to search free pictures that relate to the topic of their project..

    • Absolutely! Knowing where to find images is useful with many other tools. Tellagami is a great example of that. And how cool is it that then students are using multiple tools to achieve their goals?

  18. I use Google Images with the students. We are blocked from using photopin. I have lesson plans that show the kids how to use Google Images and the proper use of copyrited images.

  19. I use google images all the time and have it marked in the advanced search features to be the free to use as default so I don’t have to worry about it. It’s so much easier for a math teacher to search for existing images instead of spending tons of time making each shape when needed for a flip chart etc. I didn’t know of the other places- another thing to add to the toolkit!

  20. I use images most frequently when building the pages of my Weebly sites. The images are either very specific or more general background images. Photopin seemed to have the most variety of the sites I checked and a broader intended audience. Students use images as speaker support for speeches and presentations.

    • I most often use images in my blog and the websites I contribute to as well. I try to create my own as a first choice, but sometimes that’s not possible or reasonable. In that case, I start with PhotoPin. If I can’t find what I need there, I do a modified Google Image Search.

  21. Looking at several of these sites, I think that my favorite is PhotoPin. Working in the computer lab, students are always looking for images for one project or another. I know that it will have to be blocked, but our program has an easy override too. We have always used Google Images in the past.

    • Just a word of caution when using PhotoPin with kids… There are images in Flickr that are not appropriate for kids. They are artful and not really offensive, but they can include nudity, and they occasionally crop up in searches that aren’t necessarily related. I love PhotoPin, but I would definitely have to consider my audience (age, maturity, purpose) before giving them the opportunity to use it in my class. Of course, any tool will run a similar risk to some extent, so being prepared to deal with that should go with the territory anyway.

  22. Teaching Biology, I am always searching for visuals to help students comprehend many topics..whether ecological succession examples, Translation, or cellular transportation. If just looking for visuals, but not using them in a presentation, Google has been my quick go to place. However, it is hard for students to decipher which photos are accurate for a given topic.

    All of the tools listed in today’s challenge are new to me. PhotoPin seems the easiest/quickest to use..and had several Biology related photos. My quick search of Free Digital Photos was very similar.

    With these tools, my goal is to use an app called Note Anytime to make students’ notes more interactive and relative to their learning needs. I use the notes now with lectures scattered with lots of questions, chances to find specific items (photo, video, current event article, etc) on the internet to share on a topic. I am hoping these sites will help with proper use of photos.

  23. I use Creative Commons and modified Google Image searches with my yearbook staff. Sometimes the students want a particular picture that we can’t take–a movie image or something similar. We’ll use Google Image searches to yield results that are free to use and share.

    I also use various royalty-free music sites (just Google “royalty-free music”) for in-class projects. For example, we are creating podcasts in my journalism class. Podcasts traditionally include music at the beginning and end, much like a radio talk show. I’m have to teach my journalism students about copyright protection before they make it to yearbook.

    I try to model proper usage for my students. Honestly, most teachers (especially me) use copyrighted material in ways that are not covered by fair use laws. We tend to use whole books or movies, whole songs, and pictures that are copyright protected. Even though we are using these things for educational purposes, fair use doesn’t cover as much as some teachers think.

  24. I do a natural disaster research project later in the year… hopefully, the students will be able to find helpful photos on these sites.

    I’m not sure that these sites necessarily lend themselves to anything I’m doing in my classroom right now. I feel like they are just general pictures and they aren’t very specific. I tend to do very specific assignments and I don’t know that my students could use these pictures. For example, I’m doing a biography project right now, and only 1 of the 5 people are on these websites. That makes it difficult for me to be able to use these sites with my students.

    • Miranda,
      There is distinct line on copyright laws that limits the use of images that you find on the web. The problem is that most people don’t think about it and just pull whatever they want from the web. A bigger problem is that many teachers model this illegal behavior to their students. As educators, we need to show our students how to search for copyright free images and how to tell if they are able to use them legally. That often means that there are not as many images to choose from, but it is the right thing to do.

      Last year we received a legal notice about an image that was placed on our website years ago and the image was apparently owned by someone else who took legal action against us. We searched for the image on our site and removed it, but understand that while this is rare, it does happen.

  25. Image searching has been a concern with what students find since any image can be titled anything and come up in a general Google search. I forgot about the filtering of image searches to be sure that it’s safe to modify especially if it’s going to be republished. I try to use interesting and related photos as backgrounds to presentations and also for announcements which I’d like use photos I’ve taken myself to be safe but I really like the search and ease of PhotoPin and the other sites too!

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