Lesson Plans MMoCA Collects

Todd Hido: A Sense of Place

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Developed by Susan Young Hoffman, DeForest Area Schools, DeForest, Wisconsin

Summary of Activity

In this lesson plan students study a photograph by Todd Hido, investigate composition and a sense of place, and create a series of photographic images about their own neighborhoods.

Student Goals

Recognize the effect of composition in photography
To recognize a sense of place in art
To convey a sense of place in original artwork or writing

Learning Objectives

Students will analyze a photograph by Todd Hido and compose a photograph or drawing that expresses a mood. They will create a series of images about their neighborhoods.


A sense of place can be thought of as paying attention to local plants, animals, architecture, weather, and geography. Many students spend so much time indoors that they have lost their personal sense of place.

Ask students to describe on a sheet of paper:
1. a town in which they have lived and 2. what their house, apartment, or living space is like. Mention they may include descriptions of plants, animals, architecture, weather, and geography. Limit their writing time to four or five minutes.

Ask students to discuss for one minute their town descriptions, each with a partner. For another minute ask them to share the descriptions of their homes, each with another partner.

As a group discuss what similar things were shared. What was different?

Show a variety of postcards. What do we know about the location in each?

Click here for a discussion about sense of place and a listing of related children's books.


  1. Describe the neighborhood you see in the photograph. A picture that tells a story is called a narrative picture. What do you think it would be like to live in this neighborhood? Tell a story about this picture.
  2. What contrasts do you notice (dark and light areas, filled spaces and open areas, jagged lines and smooth lines, etc.)? What is the effect of the shadows? How does this make the picture interesting or spooky?
  3. Artists make choices to give their artwork a certain mood. What they decide to include and crop and how the objects are arranged or placed in their works is the composition of the artwork. The composition may affect how the viewer feels about the piece.
  4. Where does the viewer seem to be in this photograph? How does this make us feel? What makes us feel uncomfortable looking at this picture? What is the effect of the cropped car? How would your feelings–and the mood of this photograph–change if this photograph had been taken during the day?
  5. Interesting photographs ask more questions than they answer. What would you like to ask the photographer about this picture?


  1. (All grades) Walk into this picture. Answer the following questions in writing: What do you see? Who lives here? Are people at home now? Where are they? Where else might you go as you walk into the background or out of the border? What will you do next? Compare your answers with a partner. How are your views the same or different?
  2. (All grades) Imagine a simple story about something that happened at school?on the playground, in the hall, during lunch, etc. Take a photograph (or draw a picture) that tells this story?without any people in your artwork. Stage your photograph with items that someone might have left behind that give clues to your narrative. Write a story or poem that goes with your artwork.
  3. (All grades) Design a postcard that indicates a strong sense of place.
  4. (All grades) Write a tour of your neighborhood or create an alphabet book about your hometown.
  5. (All grades) Design your own dream home and decorate it. (K-grade 4) Before working, read The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater (Scholastic, 1977) to discover how Mr. Plumbeam creates a dream home that is different from his neighbors' houses.
  6. (Elementary and middle school, with possible extension for high school) Draw a house using "spooky" lines, colors, and shadows. Next to it, draw a similar house using "happy" lines and colors. For comparison, look at A Dark Dark Tale by Ruth Brown (Dial Books for Young Readers, 1981) and The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater (Scholastic, 1977). Examples of student outcomes for this activity are illustrated below.

    Click here for tips on drawing floor plans.

    Click here for lesson plans on drawing fantasy buildings in two-point perspective.

  7. (Middle school and high school) Hido has published a book that includes this picture. In it there is a poem about driving by a "place where something happened. Things went wrong." Write a poem about things that went wrong or a short mystery set at night in a deserted neighborhood.
  8. Click here to read the poem that appears in Hido's book House Hunting and select "information," then "writings," then "A.M. Homes," who is the author of the poem.
  9. (Middle school and high school) Read the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, 1984). Look closely at the illustrations. Compare them with Hido's photograph. What makes them eerie? What has Van Allsburg done to create a sense of place?
  10. (Elementary school and middle school) Investigate the history of the place where you live. Who built it? How old is it? How many families have lived in it? What structural or decorating changes have been made? Read Home Place by Crescent Dragonwagon (Macmillan, 1990), a story in which a family looks for clues about the family that once lived in an abandoned home. (Grades 5-9) Read Richard Peck's Voices After Midnight (Delacorte, 1989), a time-travel book in which the main characters become involved with the family that lived in their New York town home during the blizzard of 1888.
  11. (Middle school and high school) Research which cameras and lenses are best suited for night photography. How does exposure affect the end result? Prepare a presentation for the class.


Helpful websites
For images of Hido's work, go to Google, click on Images, and enter "Todd Hido."

Link to articles about Hido

Todd Hido's website

Children's books about photography, including fiction, biographies and history, and art books; learning to "read" pictures: "The Camera's Eye," Book List, May 1996, p. 21.

Children's books about pioneering women photographers, as well as modern-day women photographers; photography: "Camerawomen," Book Links, March 2003, p.29.

Children's books and lesson plans about "Homes, House, and Families," Book Links, July 1994, p. 15.

Picture books that emphasize individuals' connections to their native environments: "A Sense of Place," Book Links, March 2000, p. 15.

Teaching ideas for Chris Van Allsburg's picture book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick: "Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick," Book Links, September 1996, p. 23.

A listing of paperback versions and paperback originals of children's detective stories: "The Lure of Mysteries," Book Links, November 1998, p. 60.

Using mysteries and detective stories to hone deductive reasoning and problem-solving skills: "Mysteries for Young Detectives," Book Links, September 2000, p. 57.

Curriculum connections

Art appreciation, fundamentals, and technique: color, space, and photography
Geography: the Midwest
Language arts: creative writing, mystery reading and writing, poetry, sense of place
Social studies: community, sense of place

Grade Level

Suitable for all grade levels


Cameras (digital and non-digital) for students, color and black-and-white film, computer photographic programs


composition: arrangement into artistic form

cropping: selective removal of the upper or outer parts of a photograph

exposure: the subjection of sensitized film or plate to the action of light rays, the time during which such a surface is exposed

mood: a pervading or predominant feeling

narrative: a story

stage: to arrange for presentation


Todd Hido, Untitled #2154-A, from House Hunting, 1998. Cibachrome print, 24 x 20. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Madison Art Center Purchase Fund. 2002.01 ? Todd Hido.

All grade levels

Art, geography, language arts, social studies