In this lesson, students will learn about redox reactions in film photography by reading an article and engaging in related activities. The activities help promote literacy in the science classroom. Parts of this lesson could be used as plans for a substitute teacher.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices
    • Developing and Using Models
    • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Create a drawing that explains what happens on the molecular level when silver salts undergo a redox reaction, including writing a chemical equation representing the process.
  • Create a drawing that explains what happens on the molecular level when a metal displacement redox reaction occurs, including writing a chemical equation representing the process.
  • List three ways that light can be used to probe matter.
  • Explain how Polaroid color film works.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Chemical Reactions
  • Chemical Change
  • Redox Reactions
  • Electron Transfer
  • Half Reactions
  • Light


Teacher Preparation: ~20 minutes
Lesson: Approximate times for students to complete each activity in the lesson:

  • Anticipation Guide: 10 minutes
  • Reading: 20 minutes
  • Timeline Exercise: 20-30 minutes
  • Using Light to Investigate Matter: 30-40 minutes
  • Redox Lab: 50 minutes
  • Polaroid Film Inquiry: 30 minutes

Materials (per lab group)

Using Light to Investigate Matter:

  • Glass Beaker, 500 mL (or other medium sizes)
  • Pencil
  • Prism (may be able to borrow from a physics teacher)
  • 2 pieces Polarizing Film (may be able to borrow from a physics teacher).
    • Note: lenses from polarized sunglasses will also work.
  • 1 piece white paper

Redox Lab:


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • When students complete the lab, instruct them how to clean up their materials and dispose of any chemicals.
  • Both copper (II) sulfate and silver nitrate can cause skin and serious eye damage, corrosion, or irritation.
  • Zinc dust and magnesium ribbon are both flammable. Keep away from heat sources, sparks, open flames, and hot surfaces.

Teacher Notes


Lesson Overview:

The lesson includes multiple components, as outlined individually below. The Reading is essential for all of the activities. Teachers can choose to do one or all of the included activities. Student handouts and corresponding answer keys are provided for each item described below:

  • Activity: Anticipation Guide
    • Students identify whether they agree or disagree with the ten statements. After they complete the reading, they can adjust their answers and rephrase “disagree” statements, so they read true.
  • Reading: Polaroid Photography
  • Activity: Timeline Exercise
    • Students will use the reading to find dates for various milestones in the development of the Polaroid camera and film system and calculate Edwin Land’s age at the time. They will then respond to a writing prompt.
  • Activity: Using Light to Investigate Matter
    • Students will rotate through three stations (Refraction, Prism, Polarization) to discover how light can be used to probe matter.
  • Activity: Redox Lab
    • This is a microscale lab. In Part I, students will use double replacement reactions to prepare silver salts. They will then expose salts to sunlight to induce redox reactions.
      • Note: this works well even on overcast days.
    • In Part II, students will perform two metal displacement redox reactions. In both parts, students will examine models and make their own sketches of the processes occurring on the molecular level.
      • Note: The models for the two types of redox reactions are provided as a slide deck, with 4 slides for each type of reaction process. You may choose to display on screen for a class discussion, or print (4 slides on one piece of paper) for students to complete in groups. On the last slide of the deck, there is a depiction of Johnstone’s triangle, which you may find helpful in aiding students in forming bridges between molecular, representational, and symbolic levels of understanding.
  • Videos of reactions featured in the lab:
  • Activity: Polaroid Film Inquiry
    • This activity guides students through the steps involved in capturing and developing a Polaroid color photograph, assisting them in gaining an understanding of the chemistry behind the “magic” of instant film.
    • *Note: The models for the activity are provided as a slide deck. You may choose to display on screen for class discussion or print for students to complete in groups.