Teaching with Photographs

Teaching with Photographs



The discipline of history is grounded in reading, and one of the challenges teachers face is trying to teach history to students who for one reason or another have a difficult time reading English. In addition, the Virginia Standards of Learning require that students, as early as the fourth grade, be able to "identify and interpret artifacts and primary and secondary source documents to understand events in history"—a task that often requires reading at a higher level.

"Teaching with Photographs" includes images from the Virginia Historical Society's collection that can be used to address themes in post–1865 Virginia and American history. These images address such historical themes as education, industrialization, urbanization, transportation, the changing roles of women, the development of Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement.

"Teaching with Photographs" is designed to be used by both teachers and students, but it is intended for you, the teacher, to direct student learning.

  • Resources for Teachers includes examples of photo analysis sheets as well as additional questions you may want to use to address Virginia SOLs. Other images related to each theme are accessible through our online catalog.
  • For Students contains the selected images for all seven themes, simple captions, and a series of six questions for each image. Questions are arranged according to Bloom's taxonomy; the first questions address observation and recall, while the final questions require more complex and abstract levels of thinking—analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Historical Themes

We have chosen to address these seven specific topic areas (listed below) for several reasons. First, we feel they reflect the most important themes in Virginia and American history over the last century. Also, our collections are rich in all these areas. Finally, these areas are ones that allow students to develop what history educators call "historical habits of mind" by evaluating continuity and change over time. Even if we do not ask the question directly, your students will look at the images and ask themselves how things today are different and how they are the same. We also hope they will see the overlap among the various themes. Is a picture depicting white women making cigars a picture about women, industrialization, or Jim Crow?

The themes students will explore include:


"Teaching with Photographs" was funded by a generous grant from Richmond's Memorial Foundation for Children.

We would like to acknowledge the following individuals and organizations that contributed to the project:

  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • Teaching with Primary Sources, Northern Virginia Partnership
  • Susan M. Orr, education specialist for social studies in Fairfax County Schools
  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • Middle Level Learning, a publication of National Council for the Social Studies (www.socialstudies.org)