Learning Plans & Activities
Using Photographs to Show What You Know

In this lesson, which can be used as an assessment for a social studies unit, students select a primary source photograph related to their research, analyze it, and annotate it using Thinglink (http://www.thinglink.com), which is free to use with an educator account.


English language arts
Social studies
Research skills




English language arts teachers
Social studies teachers


Students will identify characteristics of a photography using primary source analysis strategies.

Students will annotate a photograph as a way to document their learning


Access to the Internet

Thinglink (http://www.thinglink.com). You will need to create a teacher account before teaching this lesson. If this is your first time using Thinklink, this article can help you become familiar with its features: http://www.ipadeducators.com/single-post/2017/05/26/FEATURE-Top-10-Tips-for-ThingLink.


Two class periods in library (they do not have to be sequential)


AASL National School Library Standards

I.B.3. Generating products that illustrate learning.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

C3 Framework

D2.His.5.9-12. Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people's perspectives.

Instructional Procedure

This lesson should occur toward the end of a research project.

Day 1: Selecting and Annotating an Image

Begin the lesson with a reminder mini-lesson about primary sources. Remind learners that these are "snippets of history" that can add a personal prospective or add another level of understanding to the person looking at the completed project. Tell students that they will be selecting a primary source photograph that relates to their research and use it to share information about their topic.

Direct learners to open their research materials in the library. Perhaps they already have an image from their research. Maybe they need to search for one related to their topic. They can use these guiding questions to help them select a photograph:

  • What aspect of this project is being enhanced with this photograph?
  • Is my topic being extended and clarified or does this confuse the issue?
  • Does my photograph add a humanizing touch to the project?

As they examine they're photographs, ask students to think about the following questions:

  • When was this image created? Where was it created? Who created it?
  • What is the historical context of this image?
  • What purpose was this image created for?
  • What is happening in the image?
  • How do you think the image's contemporary audience reacted to it? How do you react to it?
  • How does this image connect to other understandings you've gained during your research?

After learners have looked at their images and answered these questions, give them a brief introduction and how-to mini-lesson on using Thinklink. They can then use the software to annotate their images with at least four pieces of information based on their analysis of the photograph and their previous research.

Day 2: Sharing and Reflecting on Learning

Decide whether you would like learners to share their learning products with small groups or with the whole class and divide them accordingly. Learners share their Thinglinks and discuss the impact on their research.

Use these questions to help guide student discussion:

  • Why was this photo selected?
  • What where your reactions as the viewer?
  • Did it clarify your thinking or cause you to rethink your previous point of view?


Provide students with a worksheet to help guide their photo analysis.


During the discussion on day two of the lesson, invite students to share their ideas around two essential questions: how do primary sources help us interpret the past and how do primary sources demonstrate point of view?

About the Author

Liz Deskins, MA, currently serves as an instructor in the School of Information at Kent State University and has been a teacher-librarian for more than 25 years. She earned her master's degree from the Ohio State University and is coauthor of the books LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All (ALA Editions, 2018) and Linking Picture Book Biographies to National Content Standards: 200+ Lives to Explore (Libraries Unlimited, 2015). She has served in numerous leadership roles within both the Ohio Educational Library Media Association and the American Association of School Librarians.

MLA Citation Deskins, Liz. "Using Photographs to Show What You Know." School Library Connection, January 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2186195?childId=2186228&topicCenterId=1955265&tab=1.

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Entry ID: 2186228

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