Monday, December 31, 2012

Power of Pictures - Part 1

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Why do I believe that using photos is a great way to teach kids critical thinking?  What is the connection between pictures and questions?  How do you read pictures?  What do pictures have to do with text?  Why should you teach photo-analysis in the classroom?  Photos are engaging. They are a non-threatening media (no text to struggle with).

Who hasn't looked at old family photo's without having questions about the pictures? 
  • Who are these people?
  • What are they doing?
  • When was this taken?
  • Where was this taken?
  • What's the story behind the photograph?
These questions lead to exploring connections.  Kids are great observers and they ask great questions.  Research is a multi-dimensional process - it is a skill that enhances life long learning.

How do you use photos in the classroom?  The Library of Congress and the National Archives as well as countless state Historical Societies have developed worksheets and lessons for analyzing historic photos.  I love most of these lessons.  So what's the problem?  

The language and concepts are to big for many of my younger and struggling learners.  I decided to  scaffold the process.  When kids work with the process they get better at it.  They ask deeper questions and are excited about discovering the answers.  To me photos are magic portals to exploring history.

I introduce the students to VTS - Visual Thinking Strategies with two books:  "Rosie's Walk" by Pat Hutchins (I like the big book) and Flotsam by David Wiesner.  I start by explaining that illustrations in picture books fall in roughly three categories (1) decoration  (2) enhances and tells part of the same story as the text (3) tells a different story from the text.

Rosie's walk is a parallel story,  the illustrations tell a different story than the text.  My students love the book.  It is really exciting watching them discover the other story.  I facilitate their discovery by repeatedly asking three open ended questions.  
  • What's going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?
Once the kids have practice examining illustrations the next step is to look at photos using the same strategies.  Two great techniques to introduce is the "Magic Eye"  and "Crop It" .  

So where can you find pictures to use in the classroom?  I have been collecting interesting pictures from my local newspaper.  Another place for interesting contemporary pictures is National Geographic's Picture of the Day.  Our Class Reads wrote a post about how she uses "Picture of the Day" in her classroom.  

Here are some sources to get you started finding historical photographs.


  1. Ruth,
    Thanks for the sharing the links in this post.

    Thank you, also, for sharing about your OLW in the comments on Two Writing Teachers. Last year, 2012, proved to be a year of healing for me. I admire your bravery in choosing the word HEALING to live by this year. I do hope you will share about your journey.


  2. Terrific post to have all these links in one place. I love the book Rosie's Walk, but have never used it as a mentor text for teaching the visual thinking skills. Love the idea! I am a lit coach & newly working with primary teachers & will share this with them also. Thanks!

  3. Now I am going to have to look at that book again. Great links! I always loved the Jan Brett "other story" or "more story" pictures in the borders. Kids loved the detail and trying to determine what else was going on. Hoping for a good Healing year!

  4. This post is chock-full of excellent ideas! Thanks for the supportive questions, the links to all of the resources, etc.

  5. I love Flotsam and other image only texts. Thank you for the great resources in this post--they make me want to go and create Pinterest boards of themed images!

  6. Thanks for sharing your links and ideas about teaching with pictures! Also, hope your year of healing goes just how you see it!


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