Historical photos are a great way to help students better understand a time period or event in history. Primary sources can include documents, journal entries, newspapers, or photographs, to name a few. This post will focus on how you can use historical photos in your social studies class to help your students better understand a time frame or event in history.
What is a primary source?
Primary sources provide students with a deeper understanding of the topics they are studying. It is material from a specific time period.
Historical photos can be used to compare events and people over time. For example, you can use a photo taken during World War II with a more recent one to show how times have changed in a particular area.
When researching a historical event or time period, it’s important to look for photos that depict everyday life as well as more formal events or gatherings. This can help students better understand the context and culture of the time.
Why use historical photo analysis in your social studies class?
Using photographs to analyze history can be an incredibly powerful tool for teachers to use in their social studies classroom. By looking at primary images from a certain time period, teachers are able to bring the emotions of that time period to life for their students. Photographs allow students to understand that history happened to real people and not just in books.
By encouraging students to look for details, think critically, and ask questions about the photo itself, students can begin to make connections between what they see and what they know about the past. Through this process, students gain a deeper understanding of history by being able to relate it directly to their own lives.
Where to find primary photographs?
The easiest way to locate photos for your class is by purchasing a photo collection from sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, Classful or Made by Teachers. Here teachers have already done the hard work for you and, in many cases, they have also provided a lesson plan for you to use and/or adapt to meet the need of your class.
If you would like to look for your own photos, try searching websites such as the National Archives and Library of Congress. These sites have hundreds of images you can use – you can also find newspaper articles and other primary sources.
How to analyze the photos
Once you have found your photos, what do you do with them? Here’s an easy step-by-step guide for using photo analysis in your social studies classroom:
To introduce the photos to your class, you can print out a small collection to place at tables around the room or project pictures on a large screen.
Ask your students to make observations about what they see. Questions such as who, what, where, when, why, and how will help students gain insight into what is happening in the photograph. Additionally, ask students to look closely at the images and encourage them to question what they see:
- What is happening in the picture?
- Who is in the picture?
- What are they doing?
- What do we know about this person?
- What does this scene tell us about life during this time period? Who was the intended audience for the original picture?
By asking open-ended questions, students will begin forming their own interpretations and opinions of the image which can lead to deeper conversations about the historical period.
Next, have students make predictions about the event or time period based on their observations. It is important for students to provide evidence to support their interpretation so that they are not just making guesses. Students should use the information from their observations as well as any prior knowledge they may have about the time period.
Having your students interpret what they see in the image will help students think critically and draw conclusions based on evidence
Once your students have made predictions, it’s time to create probing questions. Students should develop 2-3 higher level questions that, if they knew the answers to the questions, they would have a better understanding of the images. Questions such as, When the soldier saw the plane coming, did he know it was a Japanese plane? What did he think was happening? (In reference to an image of the bombing of Pearl Harbor).
Using photographs in the social studies classroom can be an excellent way for teachers and students alike to gain a better understanding of history that goes beyond just textbooks. By encouraging close analysis of historical images, teachers can help foster critical thinking skills while providing students with a fun activity that encourages discussion and debate around important topics in history. With careful selection of appropriate photos and guidance on how to analyze an image, teachers can create an exciting learning environment where everyone benefits!
Want to give it a try? Below are some done for you resources you can use with your class:
The perfect activity for Pearl Harbor day!!! – Jeanne L.
Perfect for providing background information with my TKaM unit. -Michele B.
This resource was a great way for students to be part of their learning and not just listen to a lecture. -Melissa C.
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