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Storytelling with Stuff: Material Research

In this lesson, students will work collaboratively to curate images of art and artifacts representing the period covered by Ruta Sepetys' The Fountains of Silence (Philomel Books 2019) and explain their import to the story.


Modern World History
English Language Arts




Social studies teacher
English teacher


Students will work in a collaborative group.

Students will determine effective search strategies.

Students will research cultural artifacts related a novel's setting.

Students will catalog and annotate their findings.


Class copies of The Fountains of Silence

Access to research materials (print and/or online); see some suggestions in Additional Resources below


Three to four class periods


AASL National School Library Standards

C.IV.2. Contributing to collaboratively constructed information sites by ethically using and reproducing others' work.

B.VI.1. Ethically using and reproducing others' work.

D.III.1. Actively contributing to group discussions.

Instructional Procedure

We often look to words to learn from the past, but investigating other forms of media can deepen our understandings, as well. The Fountains of Silence emphasizes the power of photographs to tell a story. In this project, students will look to these sources, as well as architecture and other cultural artifacts to reflect on the story and themes of The Fountains of Silence.

When students have completed the book, have them choose working groups of four to five students. Each group will research and create a short exhibition catalog that represents the period of time covered in the majority of the novel: Spain in the 1950s.

Direct a discussion around what types of artifacts would help us develop a fuller picture of the novel's historical setting. Once you have a list of ideas, discuss where students think they might find representations of these artifacts and what types of search terms will help them. Go through a practice search together, talking out loud about the decisions you make throughout the process.

Give students time to work with their groups to determine what direction they each want to go in their artifact research. You'll want to decide how many artifacts each student should be responsible for researching depending on the time you have available for the project.

Students can conduct their research individually, but should share resources with and help out their groupmates. Offer support to students as they conduct their research.

When students have the information they need, they can spend time annotating their findings in a way that explains what the artifact tells them about the time period and how it relates to the story of The Fountains of Silence.

Have groups collate their catalogs, intentionally ordering the information and using a uniform design.

Provide time for students to share and give feedback on other groups' catalogs.


During the brainstorming phase, you may need to provide some examples to jumpstart student thinking.


Ask students to set a research goal at the beginning and then self-assess how they did in meeting that goal at the end.

Give students structured time where they can respectfully share with their groupmates feedback on their working relationships.

Assess students' work according to research rubrics used in your library.

Additional Resources

The bibliography at the back of the novel provides source information that may be useful for students' research.

Library of Congress

Europeana Collections

Google Arts and Culture

Digial Public Library of America

International Center of Photography Archive on Robert Capa (taking note that some of the images are graphic)

More ideas for teaching with The Fountains of Silence

Jane Cullina

Select Citation Style:
Cullina, Jane. "Storytelling with Stuff: Material Research." School Library Connection, October 2019,
Cullina, Jane. "Storytelling with Stuff: Material Research." School Library Connection, October 2019.
Cullina, J. (2019, October). Storytelling with stuff: Material research. School Library Connection. Retrieved from

Entry ID: 2226855

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