This guest post comes to us from Sherry Levitt of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources – Northern Virginia Program.
Teachers agree that ease and fluency in writing come with frequent practice for a variety of purposes, whether making personal connections, analyzing information or constructing an answer to a document-based question.
One way to incorporate more writing in the classroom is to create assignments using high-impact primary source images from the Library of Congress. Their real-world authenticity can rivet students’ attention, spark inquiry and draw them into a writing topic or task.
To begin, find images that relate to the particular lesson, skill or curricular objective. Whatever the assignment, millions of images are readily available from the Library’s digital collections and from the Teachers Page. For prompts and questions to focus and guide students, use the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints. (Other versions are specifically adapted for maps, manuscripts, political cartoons, and sheet music.)
Even very young students can talk through the basic steps of inquiry: observing and questioning before writing down their ideas.
- Without looking at the bibliographic information for this 1917 photograph, what would your students write when asked to observe, connect with and question?
- What hypotheses or predictions would they make?
- What new thoughts and questions would they have when presented with more information?
Consider the purpose of the writing task. Do you want students to inform, persuade, describe or tell a story? Free-write to capture random thoughts? Do you want them to develop an argument, categorize, evaluate, discuss, research, explore, compare/contrast, or formulate a hypothesis? Perhaps you want to discover the extent of their background knowledge or present them with a formative or summative assessment?
Primary source-based writing prompts can stimulate creative and critical thinking while also helping students master content. By offering a choice of images and a variety of questions and outcomes, you can differentiate for ability levels and learning styles. For more complex writing tasks such as a document-based question or analysis, choose several images that represent different viewpoints and have students evaluate the primary sources, formulate a question and construct an argument.
How have you used images to help students build writing fluency?