This activity, adapted from Facing History and Ourselves (www.facinghistory.org) helps students consider what they already know about a topic or a text through visual media. Students examine relevant photographs and identify what they see, make inferences, and anticipate what they will learn.
Select one or more evocative and interesting photographs that represent the ideas or historical period to be covered in an upcoming text or unit of study. Prepare copies of the graphic organizers below.
- Teacher divides students into groups and gives each group a copy of a photograph.
This activity can also be performed as a whole class or individually, depending on students’ level of autonomy with the task, and the degree to which you want them to be processing through discussion, or through individual reflection. Each group could have the same photograph, or each could have a different photograph. It may make sense to choose a single photograph if there is one central image that is critical to the class, and to choose multiple images if you want students to appreciate a variety of relevant images.
- Students list all the things they see in the photograph, and record their observations in the first column of Handout A.
Help students to restrict themselves to what they objectively see, and not what they infer. Students may be most effective if they systematically study one section of the photo at a time, and then move on to a new section.
- Students list all the questions they have about what they see in the photograph, and record their questions in the second column of Handout A.
Direct students to ask questions that cannot be answered by looking at the photograph. Model good questioning.
- Students make speculations, predictions, and inferences about the photograph, organizing and recording their ideas in Handout B.
Model the sorts of ideas students could record in Handout B. Circulate among students as they are working and help them to push their thinking further.
- Each group shares their observations and thoughts back to the larger group.
Facilitate a group discussion of what the students noticed, what they wondered, and what they inferred. Help draw the explicit connection between this activity and the upcoming text or unit of study.