Picture This – With DocsTeach!

Connect students with historical photos to stimulate creative thinking and writing. Today’s post comes from Ang Reidell, education specialist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

Girls working on activities

DocsTeach is an amazingly versatile educational tool. I was reminded of that this summer when I had the opportunity to teach a “Girl Power” workshop series for Philadelphia’s Mighty Writers.

The goal of the sessions, for girls ages 8-12, was to tap into participants’ curiosity and imagination, and stimulate creative thinking and writing. I did this by connecting participants with historical photos of girls from the records of the National Archives. And thankfully, there are many photos to choose from, right on DocsTeach!

Each week I led the girls through close examination of the photos from different times and places. Together we would discover more information about the who, what, when, where, how and why of the image. I created writing prompts based on each photo and asked the girls to write in their own voices and imagined “voices of history.” We wrapped-up each session with a connected hands-on activity.

For those of you who are interested in using DocsTeach in this or a similar informal way, here are the historical photos, writing prompts and activities from each week, along with photos of participants from the workshop. (Talk about Girl Power!)

Here’s to remembering the best of Summer 2017!


Week 1

Historical Photo: Girl at March on Washington

Girl with pennant

Writing Prompts: 

  1. Your Voice: Write a letter to this girl, telling her what you thought when you saw her picture
  2. Voices of History: Write a diary entry (or Facebook post) that the girl might have written about her experience.

Activity: Make a pennant that shows something you believe in, like Edith had at the March on Washington.


Week 2

Historical Photo: Immigrant children at Ellis Island

Girl with welcome sign

Writing Prompts: 

  1. Your Voice: What might you want to carry/hold on to (like the girl did with the doll) if you had to move to a new country?
  2. Voices of History: Write a diary entry from the perspective of one of of the girls in the picture.

Activity: Make “welcome” signs in the languages of the immigrants to the United States at the time of the photo and now.


Week 3

Historical Photo: Girls Delivering Ice (World War I)

Girl creating a poster

Writing Prompts: 

  1. Voices of History: Imagine you are one of the girls in the picture. What might you be thinking about while the picture was being taken?
  2. Your Voice: Have you ever been told that you can’t do something simply because you are a girl? What was it? How did being told that make you feel? What happened next?

Activity: Create an inspirational poster for or about girls.


Week 4

Historical Photo: Girls (and others) watching a parade for African-American soldiers, World War I

Girls with bookmarks

Writing Prompts: 

  1. Your Voice: Make a list of words you think of when you look at the photo.
  2. Voices of History: Write a diary entry from the perspective of one of the girls in the picture, talking about how she felt being at the parade.

Activity: Create a bookmark using words we talked about in the discussion.


I’d love to hear your feedback, so I welcome comments at andrea.reidell@nara.gov or below!

This entry was posted in Partner Organizations, Programs, Teaching Activities & Lesson Plans and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Let us know your thoughts or questions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s