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No Place Like Home:
Interpreting Photos in a Tech-Rich History Lesson


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Visual Arts
  • Social Studies
    ----U.S. History
    ----State History


  • 6-8

Brief Description

Students analyze photographs of high plains sod homes and read accompanying narratives. They then choose one photograph and, using the copy and paste features and simple drawing tools available in Microsoft Word, students identify characteristics, points, differences, and questions they find in that photograph.


Students will:

  • Select one photograph of sod homes that is significant to them.
  • Read the descriptions of life on the high plains from 1880 to1920.
  • Copy and paste the photograph into Word.
  • Use arrows, circles, text boxes, Word Art, and other drawing tools to interpret, question, and highlight what they see in the photograph.


photographs, American history, high plains, West, prairies, sod houses

Materials Needed

  • Internet access
  • Microsoft Word
  • Printer or ability to send student work to teacher electronically (e-mail, on school network, floppy disk, etc.)
  • Ability to display teacher computer to whole class (projector or TV monitor).

Lesson Plan

Many students understand how to read, take notes, and identify the main points of written text, but in a world where digital content -- photos, movies, music -- is increasingly prevalent, they also need to know how to "read" media as well. Help them learn with this technology-infused lesson for middle school American History classes. Because this lesson focuses on observations and questioning, it serves nicely as an introduction to life on the prairie in the late 1800s.

Prior to this lesson, students should have a basic understanding of Microsoft Word as well as the ability to juggle two open windows at the same time.

Begin the lesson by displaying on the projector or TV monitor the Thomas Jefferson biography from the White House.

Note: Most Internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, Foxfire) allow users to increase font size, which might help those in the back see better. Click View in the menu bar to find and change Text Size.

Ask students to read silently the first two paragraphs and then write the three or four most important facts from the text. Then invite a few students to share what they wrote. Display the responses on the projector/TV monitor or write them on the chalkboard.

Point out to students that not all information is in text form. Sometimes, facts appear in other formats, such as photographs.

Show students a sample photograph, such as the meeting of American and Mexican forces on International Bridge in 1915. Ask them to look at the photograph and write three facts they learned from the photo. If students appear to be struggling, ask them to look at the clothing, the ratio of men to women, facial expressions, where people are standing in relation to one another, and so on.

After a few minutes, invite students to share their responses, and record the results on a computer or chalkboard.

Explain to students that the day's assignment is to "read" a photograph from the Library of Congress's The Northern Great Plains: 1880-1920 project. Walk students through the following steps:

  • Go to Sod Homes in this collection.
  • Read the three paragraphs on that page; take notes if you need to. (You can return to this page later if you like.)
  • Click the Sod Houses link above the paragraphs and browse the photographs there. Choose one photo for your project.

    Note: You can open up the activity more by also allowing students to choose from the other links on this page -- Sod Buildings, Sod Barns, Sod Schools, and so on.
  • Select a photograph that moves you: Which photograph do you find most interesting? Unsettling? Sad? Confusing? Choose one whose subject you want to learn more about.
  • Click the photograph once to see a larger, page-size version. Then just sit for three minutes or so, looking and thinking about the photograph.
  • Right-click (or press CTRL and click on a Mac one-button mouse) and select Copy Image or a similar command (it varies by browser).
  • Open Microsoft Word.
  • Right-click (CTRL click) and choose paste to move the photograph into your Word document.
  • Enlarge or move the photograph as needed. (Hint: The Online Images techtorial has some great tips on working with images in Word.)
  • Your next task is to record your thoughts and questions about the photograph using Word's drawing tools (View > Toolbars > Drawing). For example, you might:
    1. Use the arrow tool to point to an odd-looking window, add a text box, and type why you think the window was made so small. Cost of glass? Harsh winter weather? Ease of construction?
    2. Use the circle tool to highlight the landscape, and then type in a text box how you would feel if you were standing beside that sod house. Happy? Cold? Lonely? Excited?
    3. Use the scribble tool to lasso several children near the house, and use a text box to describe how you think they feel about the house: Is it better than living in a wagon or out in the elements?
  • Save your work with a title and in the location specified.

Assessment Students will be assessed on their

  • Insertion of a photograph into a Word document.
  • Use of drawing tools to highlight 5-8 facts, questions, or comments related to the photograph.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Lorrie Jackson

National Standards

FINE ARTS: Visual Arts
GRADES 5 - 8
NA-VA.5-8.4 Understanding the Visual Arts In Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.5-8.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

GRADES 5 - 12
a href="/standards/national/soc_sci/us_history/5_12.shtml">NSS-USH.5-12.6 Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)
NSS-USH.5-12.7 Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
NSS-USH.5-12.8 Era