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Using Pictures to Read the Past

A Teaching Strategy for Use with the Images Canada Site

It is important that students learn about primary sources at an early age and use them in appropriate ways. Primary sources give students the opportunity to extract and interpret information, exercising higher thinking skills in the process. Images Canada provides a wealth of images that reveal details about life in Canada's past, and gives students an excellent opportunity to use primary sources and learn their first Web research skills at the same time.

In this project, students will use the Images Canada website to understand aspects of life in Canada in the late 19th and the early 20th century. They will use the information they find to make a thematic poster.

Copyright / Credit

Students need to properly Credit images used from the Images Canada website. For more information on copyright and reproduction of images, please see Copyright.


Social Studies (History) and Language Arts
Ages 13-15

Learning Outcomes (WCP)
Objectives (QC)
Learning Outcomes (APEF)
Expectations (ON)

Social Studies Outcomes (History):

In completing this project, students will:

  • Access and use appropriately information from primary and secondary sources, using the Internet and other media

  • Describe the everyday life of various groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Language Arts Outcomes:

(W) Writing

  • Produce pieces of writing using a variety of specific forms (e.g. journalistic-style captions, explanatory texts, poems or short stories), techniques and resources appropriate to the form and purpose, and materials from other media

(O/V) Oral and Visual Communication

  • Communicate ideas and information for a variety of purposes

These Language Arts Outcomes correspond to:

  • WCP GO - W: 3.3, O/V: 5.1
  • Quebec objectives -1 (Writing); 4, 1 (Oral)
  • APEF CGO - W: 9; O/V: 2.1

Student Demonstration of Learning

Students search for useful images on the Images Canada database from which to make reasoned generalizations about one or two aspects of life in Canada in the late 19th and the early 20th century. They use information gleaned from these images to make a thematic poster.

Materials/Resources Required

Computers with access to the Internet
Student Handout
Assessment Criteria

Web Links

Images Canada, hosted by Library and Archives Canada:

"Defining Primary and Secondary Sources

For a comparison with American experiences:
American Memory: Original Format: Photos & Prints:

Instructional Procedures

Enhancing Student Interest

This activity could be preceded by Library and Archives Canada's "Defining Primary and Secondary Sources" activity (see Web Links), which introduces students to different kinds of primary sources in everyday life.

Large Group Work

Make a table listing features of the students' lives today, using the following categories:

  • Homes
  • Transportation
  • Clothing
  • School
  • Work
  • Food
  • Leisure

Introduce students to the Images Canada website. Demonstrate how to brainstorm and use keywords to find images on a topic. Generally, each search topic will yield many results. Model the process of selecting appropriate and revealing images using the following criteria:

  • Is the picture clear?
  • Does it show what you are looking for?
  • What is the context? Is it a genuine depiction of an aspect of life at the time or a romantic or biased representation?
  • How much useful information is there in the image?

Small Group Work

Students should follow the following steps, as shown on their student handouts:

  • Choose a theme to study for a specific group in Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
    • Pioneers
    • City dwellers
    • First nations, Métis and/or Inuit
  • Brainstorm key words to help search for images
  • Select images (8 to 12)
  • Interpret images using questions (provided in student handout) and observation
  • Make generalizations about chosen aspect of life
  • Compare and contrast with life today
  • Prepare a thematic poster

Possible Extension

Students can select one image that strikes them as particularly interesting and write a story about it.

Notes on Enriching This Activity

Using Pictures to Read the Past | Student Handout | Assessment Criteria

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