Skip to content

Using Photographs to Explore Differing Political Perspectives

December 9, 2016

Alicia L. Moore, Ph.D., Ph.D. and Angela Davis Johnson


Students with vote buttons in kindergarten class

Intended Audience: Upper Elementary (3rd-5th) School Students

Overview: Every four years, teachers are poised to conduct examples of classroom mock-elections that symbolize the US presidential election process and explore democracy. Accordingly, “classroom teachers integrate lessons into their curriculum that help students understand their privileges, responsibilities, and rights as good citizens” [Social Studies and the Young Learner September 2012] through seemingly pleasant discussions, writing assignments and other cooperative strategies. Yet, the most recent classroom election-related climate was decidedly different, and oft times contentious. The 2016 political season of presidential candidacies showcased a myriad of emotions, sentiments and, subsequently, actions – from those of resistance to racism, misogyny and bullying to those of intolerance and violence. Per the nearly 10,000 educators who responded to Teaching for Tolerance election surveys (one during and one after the election), “the campaign and its results: elicited fear and anxiety among children of color, immigrants and Muslims; emboldened students to mimic the words and tones of candidates and pundits; and disrupted opportunities to teach effectively about political campaigns and civic engagement.”[]

Scope and Sequence: The lesson uses photographs to explore and interpret the differing sentiments and perspectives conveyed (e.g., through political signs, t-shirts, etc.) during the 2016 presidential election. Students will examine a series of photos that capture the 2016 political context. With this context in mind, students will engage in activities that ask them to interpret the images with the intent of identifying the point of view of those in the photographs and their differing realities. The lesson is to be used as a precursor for lessons that ask students to think about nonviolent movements, as well as ways in which differing perspectives can be held, shared and respected within our schools and society without name-calling and/or violence.

National Standards for History:[i]

Topic 3, K-4: Standard 4B: Demonstrate understanding of ordinary people who have exemplified values and principles of American democracy.

  • Identify ordinary people who have believed in the fundamental democratic values such as justice, truth, equality, the rights of the individual, and responsibility for the common good, and explain their significance.

Standard 2: Historical Thinking

  • Utilize visual and mathematical data presented in graphs, including charts, tables, pie and bar graphs, flow charts, Venn diagrams, and other graphic organizers to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.
  • Draw upon the visual, literary, and musical sources including: (a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; (b) novels, poetry, and plays; and, (c) folk, popular and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.

Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation

  • Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.
  • Consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past by demonstrating their differing motives, beliefs, interests, hopes and fears.
  • Hold interpretations of history as tentative, subject to changes as new information is uncovered, new voices heard, and new interpretations broached.

Common Core State Standards[ii]

English Language Arts Standards » Speaking & Listening » Grade 3

English Language Arts Standards » Speaking & Listening » Grade 4

 English Language Arts Standards » Speaking & Listening » Grade 5


The lesson objectives are to:

Annotate, analyze, and interpret the perspectives held in 8 photographs (see photo bank) in order to:

  • Interpret what people are thinking and feeling
  • understand why and how people share their political perspectives
  • recognize how experiences are shaped by membership in groups defined by race, gender, socioeconomic status, culture, ethnicity, ability[iii]
  • recognize how the historical moment and the social context shape experience[iv]
  • develop empathy for people whose experiences differ from their own.[v]

Students should also be encouraged to “read” photographs by instructing them to[vi]:

  • describe what they see in a photograph;
  • understand that photographs are reflections of reality and convey many meanings;
  • see that photographs have both denotative meanings (those that are literal) and connotative meanings (those that are constructed through individual and collective associations);
  • understand the importance of the context in which a photograph was taken, and determine how specific photographs fit into the context in which they were taken;
  • identify the mood of a photograph and determine what elements contribute to creating that mood;
  • compare and contrast selected photographs based upon interpreted meaning and/or mood;
  • identify a photograph’s point of view.
  • realize that photographs interpretations of meaning are subjective.

Essential Questions

  • How do photographs convey meaning? How does the viewer’s experience and identity contribute to constructing that meaning?
  • How are photographs able to tell a story? How is this “seeing” this story different from hearing it?
  • What role can photographs play in contributing to our emotions, and thus our actions?
  • What are ways in which we can interpret meaning from photographs (or other beliefs, social media, etc.) based upon our differing perspectives, and still respectfully agree to disagree.

Lesson Preparation

Review these guidelines to prepare for the following activities:

Teacher preparation: Given the current political climate on many school campuses, teachers must be prepared to tackle teaching about sensitive topics. Though this lesson focuses on being able to hold, discuss and respect differing political perspectives, teachers must always be prepared for differing student perspectives. Please review the 10 Tips for Facilitating the following discussion.

Student Preparation: Classroom Learning Community (team) member roles, responsibilities and guidelines are an integral component to any classroom activities in which students will work together to discuss topics that may prove to be sensitive. [vii]

  • Please assign the following roles and responsibilities (or use current classroom cooperative group roles) – some students may have more than one task (print out Group Task Descriptions and Role Cards):
  1. Group Leader
  2. Materials Manager
  3. Scribe/Data Collector
  4. Time Keeper
  5. Reporter
  6. Encourager
  • Please set forth the following learning community working guidelines for the activity (or use current classroom group work guidelines):
  1. I will show each member the same respect I would like to receive.
  2. I will respectfully listen to and consider new ideas and suggestions.
  3. Even when I am the leader, I am also one of the learners in my learning community.
  4. I will explain any ideas I have to the team and have patience if there are questions.
  5. We, as a learning community, will find ways to work together to complete the assignment.
  6. If my learning community does not find ways to respect and value the input of each member, we have not efficiently completed the assignment.

Day 1

Learning Communities (small group of 3-4 students)

  1. Tell students that they are going to begin this activity by working in learning communities of 3 to 4 students to “read” several photographs using the Political Perspectives Note Page (HANDOUT 3). Use the following “thinking” guidelines (these thinking guidelines are listed in handout 3):
    1. Examine the photographs in the Photograph Bank (HANDOUT 1)
    2. Do you recognize anyone in photographs 1 and 2? If so, who and why? Discuss.
    3. Describe who you see in each of the photograph: 3-8. Use detailed descriptions.
    4. What are the people in photographs 3-8 doing?
    5. What is/are the mood(s) of the people in the photographs? Why do you think they are feeling the mood you described?
    6. Where were the photographs taken? What are your inferences?
    7. What is the “meaning” of each photograph based upon what you see?
    8. What do you think the people are thinking (photographs 1-8)? Make inferences.
  1. Tell the students that now that they have examined the photographs, as a group, using the Photograph Caption Sheet (HANDOUT 2), (1) decide on and (2) write a caption for each photo (2-8). The caption should take into consideration a consensus of what they discussed using their “thinking” guidelines.

Class discussion – Evaluating Inferences

  1. Once students are finished, have them briefly share their captions with the class and describe why they choose to describe the photographs in the ways they chose.
  2. Then, as a class ask each learning community to ask and discuss the answers to the following questions:
    1. What were our inferences?
    2. What “thinking” did we use to make our inferences?
    3. Were they different from other learning communities? If so, why?
    4. How good was our collective thinking? Did we have differing opinions initially?
    5. Do we need to change our thinking? Why or Why not?
  3. Discuss this fully with the learning community.
  4. Make changes to the Political Perspectives Note Page (HANDOUT 3).
  5. Share any decision for significant changes in thinking and why with the class.

Day 2 (Modified Think-Pair-Share Strategy)

  1. Ask the students to find a partner who was not in their learning community on Day 1.
  2. THINK: Then, individually, allow time for individual students to use the Internet to find more information about the signs they see in each of the photographs (3-8), President-Elect Trump (1-2), and any other information they believe will inform their interpretations (use selected primary-source sites with leveled reading materials such as NEWSLEA[viii], etc.)
  3. PAIR: Next, tell students to work with their partners to share the information that has been gathered via the internet search.

TEACHER NOTE: Assign the same two (2) photographs, from the photograph bank (HANDOUT 1), to the partners for the next step. These two photos should be determined by the teacher to be images of people who have differing perspectives (based upon a preponderance of the evidence shared in the class discussion on Day 1). Ex. A possible pairing of photographs might be Photograph 7 and Photograph 8.

  1. For the next activity, have students circle which photographs they have been assigned on their photograph banks handout (Handout 1)
  2. Next, pass out a copy of the Venn diagram (Handout 4)
    • Individually, students will compare and contrast two (2) Teacher-selected photographs representing differing perspectives (chosen from the photograph bank, photos 3-8) based upon previous interpreted meaning and/or moods from Day 1.

Tell students to:

    • THINK: Label each side of the Venn diagram (Ex. Photograph 3).
    • Using the Venn diagram, students will record their thinking about what is similar (compare) and different (contrast) in the two photographs based upon all of the information that has been gathered and discussed (write answers onto the diagram).
      • Write the things that they find to be different under the photo headings on their diagram. Then, in the shared space on the diagram, write what they find to be similar.
  1. PAIR: Tell students to share their diagram with their partners.

    Teacher: Use the following prompts to guide them:

    • What information did you find to be different about the two photographs?
    • What did you find to be the same about the two photos?
    • Is there anything that you would change in your diagram?

Class discussion

  1. Once students have finished, they will have an opportunity to share their Venn diagram information and add or any information that they feel would further their thinking while listening to their classmates.
  2. Teacher: Share your thoughts about the two photograph and their respective points of view (students should begin to realize that photograph’s interpretations of meaning are subjective).
  3. – SHARE: Then, as a class discuss the following questions:
    • Did you and your partner or learning community members share the same “thinking” about the photos initially?
    • Did you find that throughout the two days that many classmates had differing perspectives?
    • Were differing perspectives valued and respected?
    • Was everyone able to share their thinking, opinions and ideas?
    • What made this possible? (Guidelines and rules) How do we treat each other in our classroom?
    • What are ways in which we could replicate this respect, related to differing perspectives, in our school, community, and world?
  1. Conclude the lesson by reading the following poem with a brief discuss of its meaning and ways to use it as a guide for respecting differences of opinions, including political leanings.:

What We See©
by Alicia L. Moore – 2016

You must see what I see,
It is as plain as the nose on your face
You say you don’t see what I see?
That surely cannot be the case!

It’s right there – a giraffe so tall
With his neck so long and slender
You must see it; don’t you see it,
Standing tall in all its splendor?

You say you see an octopus?
You have got to be kidding me!
You surely can’t be looking in the same place
The giraffe is there for all to see!

I guess your eyes are broken
And a little out of whack.
‘Cause what you see, must clearly be
an animal cracker from your backpack!

Can’t you see it in the air up so high?
Formed in the sky by a cloud.
Am I the only sane one who sees it,
Or just the one who said it out loud?

But, you seem to be sure of what YOU see
And make a compelling case.
And the belief in your freedom to see something different
Is written all over your face.

So, I shall rethink my pushiness shown,
In the beginning of this inflexible rhyme.
And give you respect for your differing views
And value them just as you have mine.

We may not see the same things,
And I see now that this not wrong.
It matters not that you see what I see,
What matters is that we get along!

[i] Nation Center for History in the Schools.

[ii] Common Core State Standards.

[iii] Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice.

[vii] Cooperative Learning.

[viii] Free leveled news, primary sources, and more, with standards-aligned formative assessments.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: