Analyzing Primary Sources in Social Studies

Analyzing primary sources is one of the key skills in Social Studies instruction. Do you have the tools it takes to actually teach it? There are many different graphic organizers and strategies to analyze primary sources – but my favorite has to be those that are used on images.  I have created a list of questions to ask when students are analyzing an image. These questions can be used on any image – try them out for yourself with the pictures below!



Image Analysis Guiding Questions


OBSERVE: Identify and note details

• What type of image is this (photo, painting, illustration, poster, etc.)?
• What do you notice first? Describe what else you see.
• What’s happening in the image?
• What people and objects are shown? How are they arranged? How do they relate to each other?
• What is the physical setting? Is place important?
• What, if any, words do you see?
• Are there details that suggest the time period this image relates to?
• What other details can you see?

REFLECT: Generate and test hypotheses

• Why do you think this image was made? What might have been the creator’s purpose? What evidence supports your theory?
• Why do you think the creator chose to include these particular details? What might have been left out of the frame?
• Who do you think was the audience for this image?
• What do you think the creator might have wanted the audience to think or feel?
• What do you feel when looking at this image?
• Does this image show clear bias? If so, towards what or whom? What evidence supports your conclusion?
• What was happening during the time period this image represents? If someone made this image today, what would be different/the same?
• What did you learn from examining this image? Does any new information you learned contradict or support your prior knowledge about the topic or theme of this image?

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