At the beginning of my Digital Photo class, before I teach the students anything, I will send them out with cameras (or if no cameras are available, their cell phones) to find as many things as they can. One photo can only count for one thing on the list. I use this to get an idea of their photo taking skills, but to also get them excited for the course. The students LOVE doing this and the results might surprise you.
As a follow up, I will have the students take their best 10 photos and create a quick slideshow for the class.