Learning from Pictures

Educators have a great opportunity to teach with pictures now that working with digital imagery has become so easy. And you do not need a camera! There are many Internet sites offering collections of images that your students can use for critical thinking skills – even before they capture their own pictures.

Go to Trek Earth, whose Mission Statement claims the site is "dedicated to fostering a global community interested in photography from around the world. TrekEarth members strive to provide engaging photographs and useful critiques for each other and the entire internet community." Here you will find pictures taken around the world showing how a particular part of the world seems to that photographer. Just imagine the discussions about this picture from an Arab bazaar.

Go to American Memories' Learning Page for Teachers which offers lesson plans, activities, and an index to 100 collections of downloadable photographs. For example, the photograph below came from the site's "Brief Timeline of the National Woman's Party 1912 – 1997".

Using visual literacy skills, your students can "read" pictures.

Here are some of the questions you can ask about this or any picture:

  • What does the photo say?
  • Who are the people in the photo?
  • What do they look like?
  • What are their lives like?
  • How did they get into the situation of the photo?

Look beyond the photo to specific areas of the picture. Divide the picture into nine parts visually and examine each section.

  • What artifacts do you see?
  • Are there things you don't recognize? Why?
  • What's the purpose of the picture?
  • What is the "plot" or "story" of the photograph?

Any text accompanying the picture can provide information about the photo or the person who took the pictures. But students can learn to draw inferences from the picture itself without referring to the related text or invent a story from the picture without the text. They can do research about the people, time, and place referred to in the pictures and come up with their own characters, plot, and setting to tell their own story.

Next Tip: Project-Based Learning