NM Times
Military Experience
Pacific Theater

Reading Images: How do historians use images?

Images are windows into history, a snapshot of an event or a time. There is much to learn from images beyond the obvious stories they tell. For this activity, students examine a image looking first for the story it tells and second for the story that lies in the details.

Students will:

  • Demonstrate the ability to examine history from the perspectives of the participants (SS 5-8 Benchmark I-D: 7-2).
  • Understand and apply the problem-solving skills for historical research, to include the use of primary and secondary sources (SS 5-8 Benchmark I-D: 8-1).\
  • Describe primary and secondary sources and their uses in research (SS 9-12 Benchmark I-D: 3).
  • Explain how to use a variety of historical research methods and documents to interpret and understand social issues (SS 9-12 Benchmark I-D: 4).
  • Interpret events and issues based upon the historical, economic, political, social and geographic context of the participants (SS 9-12 Benchmark I-D: 6).

Students will:
  • Examine an image from the collection
  • Evaluate the image from a 'big picture' perspective
  • Search for historical clues in the image to add details to the 'big picture'
Artifact packet from Curriculum Resources, First Impression lesson
Reading Images Worksheet
Additional resources
National Archives (www.archives.gov/)
Library of Congress American Memory Project (http://memory.loc.gov/)

Online resources

National Archives (www.archives.gov/)
Library of Congress American Memory Project (http://memory.loc.gov/)
Other Web pages from Resources section of Curriculum Resources


  1. Print Reading Images worksheets, one for each group of students (2-4 students per group).
  2. Select one image from Battle for Bataan Artifact to use to demonstrate exercise.
  3. Display demonstration image via overhead projector or other projection method. Model the process of completing the worksheet, interacting with students.
  4. Divide students into groups and distribute worksheets and artifact packets.
  5. Have students examine image and describe the story it tells by completing Reading Images worksheet.
  6. Using the facts from step 5, have students storyboard a sequence of events that includes the scene in the image.

Use the group assessment rubric to evaluate student comprehension.


Invite each group to present their inferred facts and discuss how these deductions led to the sequence of events they storyboarded. Discuss as a class how much of these storyboards are historically accurate.

Who are you in the picture? Imagine you are one of the people in the picture. Write a letter, journal entry, or newspaper article from the point of view of that person. Describe what you see, feel, hear, and smell. What is your understanding of the situation? Include details from your life as pictured in the photo.

Who is looking on? Imagine you are outside the frame of the picture looking at the scene, perhaps as the photographer, prison guard, news reporter, or unseen spectator watching from a distance. Write about the scene from your point of view. How do you feel about what is going on in the picture? What is your role?

What is the big picture? Research the event depicted in the photo. Create a PowerPoint presentation about the event using maps, a timeline, and facts about the time and place to expand on the event photographed.