Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
America Will Be

Understanding Primary Sources:
Reading a Historical Photograph

Objective: Students examine a historical photograph to gather information and draw conclusions.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
1 hour

Building Background:
Show the class a present-day photograph. Have students describe what they see. Encourage them to be as detailed as possible. Make a list of their responses on the chalkboard. Explain that historians examine historical photographs in much the same way as the class just examined the present-day photograph. Historians look for details which will provide a better understanding of the people, events, and time period of the photo. Tell students that they will now be studying historical photographs. They will be looking for clues that may help them draw conclusions about the events surrounding the taking of the photo.

What To Do:

1. Divide the class into several small groups. Distribute a historical photograph to each group. Try to choose photos that clearly show definite time periods either through the style of dress of the people in them or the photo's physical setting.

2. Distribute one Examining a Photo worksheet to each group. Have students work together in their groups to study their photographs and complete the worksheet.

3. After groups have completed their worksheets, have each group write two brief paragraphs. The first should describe what students think was happening in the moments before the photograph was taken. The second paragraph should describe what students think happened in the next few moments after the photograph was taken.

4. Once groups have completed their paragraphs, have each report its findings to the class. First, have them discuss what they learned about the photograph after examining it closely. Then have each group present their paragraphs, pointing out details from their photograph to support their conclusions.

5. Encourage the rest of the class to examine the photograph for additional details or to ask questions following the report.

Discuss with students the ways in which their observation of details changed as they continued studying their photograph. Have them identify which details gave them more information, which gave them less.


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