Making the Familiar Unfamiliar

Making the Familiar Unfamiliar

Learners examine familiar things in new ways and notice things not previously seen that inspire wonder.


4 - 12+


Biology, Storytelling, Experiential Learning, Photography

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When we move through our daily activities, we get used to seeing some things so often that we stop paying attention to them. Photography is a tool that allows us to capture everyday moments that we can later examine in more detail through reframing the images, zooming in, or using different filters. The goal of this activity is to get learners excited about noticing familiar things in new ways to reinspire awe and wonder about how extraordinary the familiar can be.

Guiding Questions

  • What do you notice?
  • What makes all the images alike?
  • What makes them different?
  • What is something unexpected that you now see in images that you had not noticed about the object before? What does this make you wonder about?
  • How did looking at these images help you see differences in something that is so familiar?

When to Use This Activity

This activity can be done at any time. One suggestion is to complete this activity BEFORE learning to generate questions about something familiar that you can answer through investigations or explorations in following activities.

  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Audience: ages 10 and up
  • Ease of Use: simple. This activity provides a way for learners to discover that there are still great questions to ask about things that are familiar to them.

Learning Objectives

Learners will examine familiar things in new ways and notice things not previously seen that inspire wonder.

Teaching Approach

  • Learner-centered instruction

Teaching Methods

Defamiliarizing the Familiar: Helping learners find something strange or mysterious in the everyday world.

Skills Summary

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • communication

What You'll Need

Materials You Provide:

  • Defamiliarizing the Familiar: Which One is Unique (PDF)
  • Four images of an object from different angles


  1. Identify a familiar object and project many pictures of this object from different angles. One way to do this is through using the Defamiliarizing the Familiar: Which One is Unique? learning tool. Don’t tell students what the images depict, but take something like pictures of a bee and put them in the four quadrants.

  2. Ask learners the guiding questions around the images.

  3. Ask learners to discuss how the photographer helped them see something familiar in new ways.

  4. Ask learners to formulate their own questions about the images.

Modifications, Variations, and Extensions

  1. If students have access to phones or cameras, invite them to reframe something familiar in new ways through photography by zooming in or taking photos from different points of view.

  2. Use images from Anand Varma’s photography collection or Instagram page when using Defamiliarizing the Familiar: Which One is Unique? tool.


Conijn, J., Rietdijk, W., Broekhof, E., Andre, L., & Schinkel, A. (2021). A theoretical framework and questionnaire for wonder-full education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 54(3), 423-444.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Elizabeth Wolzak, Director, Learning Innovation, Edu Lab, National Geographic
Heather J. Johnson, Associate Professor of Practice of Science Education, Vanderbilt University
Stephanie Hamilton, Education Consultant, Global Inclusive Learning Design Reviewer
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Graphic Design
Patrick Cavanagh, National Geographic Society
Rights Clearance
Jean Cantu, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

March 4, 2024

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