As a history teacher, images from the past are vital to my classes every single day. Kids need to see the past and make connections to it to fully understand, and hopefully appreciate, it. I almost always use images (whether real or political cartoons) to introduce and review topics, and always in between. I never like doing the same thing for very long though (especially since I have the same students their entire time in middle school), and since I had made a goal of trying something new as frequently as reasonably possible this past semester I took this opportunity to do just that.
When we reached the Great Depression in Texas History, I introduced the basic who/what/where/when/why of the era during which we had some lively discussions (much more so than any other time I’ve taught the Depression). The girls got REALLY into how hands-off Hoover was, that he did not authorize much federal relief, they shook their heads at how the abuse of buying on credit spiraled, and they became angry when they saw pictures of “Hoovervilles” and endless breadlines.
When they were able to academically refocus, we finished our overview of the Depression and it was time for them to work in pairs. They read and analyzed a brief primary source on a woman’s experience during the Depression and how New Deal programs tried helping people in her town. After we discussed their findings and their reactions to an average Texan’s experience, it was onto task #3: matching historical images to an appropriate caption.
I had already printed, labeled (A, B, C, D, etc), and laminated 20 images of life in Texas during the Great Depression. I gave the girls a short bathroom and water break (it’s already gotten REALLY hot here lately and our blocks are 90 minutes) and in those few minutes I taped the pictures in small groups around the room–on desks, on the white board, on the side of the bookcase, etc.
Each girl was given a piece of paper with 20 numbered historical captions that I wrote up ahead of time. They went around the room, looked at the pictures, and tried matching each image to the caption they thought was most appropriate for it. Some images and their captions were easy, some were harder, and some images were very similar so they really had to analyze people’s facial expressions and minute details to make their final decision.
One thing I found very interesting was that my lower level readers excelled at this activity. While most of the girls enjoyed this activity overall, a couple of my stronger readers got frustrated when they couldn’t correctly match the similar images to their captions, but my girls who struggle with reading comprehension LOVED this activity and were so proud of themselves for, in their words, “finally being the smart ones.”
When the girls finished, we went over the answers, discussed the images in more detail and in more historical context, then they went around the room and wrote their own caption/dialogue for each image. I only ended up having time to try this out with my 7th graders this year, but I will definitely test it out with my 6th and 8th graders during our first “real” units when we go back to school.
If you are interested, you can find this activity in my Texas During the Great Depression resource. If it works well with your students, you might be interested in some of my other strategies and activities, some of which are detailed in previous blog posts HERE, HERE, and in my Back to School Teacher Bundle HERE.
How do you use primary source images in your classroom? I’d love to read about it in the comments 🙂