Teaching Main Idea and Details with Photos: Sample Lesson

A simple way to start talking with students about “main ideas” and “supporting details” is to use a photo as a “text.” When you use a photo as a text, you take away the cognitive load of reading and provide more mental space for students to grapple with concepts like “main idea” and “supporting details.”  Below are artifacts from a  lesson I gave as well as sample photos and prompts.

Procedures I used in the lesson:

1) Post a photo worthy of discussion and prompt small groups or partners to discuss by asking, “What do you notice?” For this lesson, the students were studying astronomy. I chose a photo of astronomers engaged in their practice. I provided an additional sentence starter for conversation–“I noticed that…” As the students talked, I leaned in to one conversation and coached students to elaborate on their thinking. BEWARE: You need to coach students to rely on details in the text to support their thinking. So they can say, “The astronomers use telescopes” but they can’t say, “They are looking at Mars.”

astronomers learning

Photo lesson - photo projected

2) For the next discussion, with the same photo, post a content related prompt that includes rigorous vocabulary. The prompt I posted was: What does this picture reveal about what astronomers do to acquire knowledge? This prompt gets at a possible main idea for this photo or a message the photographer wanted to convey. As I read aloud the prompt for the 2nd conversation, I used an orange marker (see image below) to write additional words defining the words “reveal” and “acquire knowledge.” Again, as the partners discussed the details in the photo (which could be details they noticed in the previous discussion), I coached for elaboration and supporting their partner’s ideas. Helpful prompts might include “Say more about that” and “What in the picture makes you think so?”

photo lesson- prompt for discussion

3) Engage in shared writing of details or notes in response to the prompt. See the image below. As students shared the details they thought revealed what the astronomers do to learn, I wrote notes on the chart paper under the prompt.

photo lesson- prompt for discussion

4) Engage in shared and independent writing of a response. Provide a main idea statement and elicit a supporting idea from the students. (Eventually, you want students to work on identifying a main idea conveyed in the photo–in small groups or on their own.) Then ask them to talk with a partner about a supporting detail they will use in their own sentence. Close by asking each student to compose a supporting sentence on sticky note and post at the bottom of the shared writing. See below!

Photo lesson - shared writing

SAMPLE PHOTOS AND QUESTIONS:

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 6.06.40 AM

Making a Difference Unit: What does this picture reveal or tell us about the disposition (or attitude) of these volunteers? What are they willing to do to make a difference?

american-pioneers

American West Unit: What does this picture reveal or tell us about how arduous or difficult life was in the American West in the 19th century?

spartans-pottery-picture

Ancient Civilization Unit: What does this painting (on a piece of ancient Greek pottery) reveal or tell us about the proficiency (or skill or expertise) required of soldiers during this period?

Hope this helps.

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Main Idea and Details with Photos: Sample Lesson

    1. sundaycummins Post author

      Yes! Notice I used a primary source for the ancient civilization example which is typically a sixth grade social studies topic. I think this procedure could be used with all sorts of sources in the content areas.

      Reply

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