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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.”

Here are suggestions for teaching based on a lesson I gave using the three phase plan. (And further down, you’ll find additional photos and prompts you can use in other lessons.)

Phase 1 Introduce the Photograph

Post a photo worthy of discussion and prompt small groups to discuss: “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 may 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

Phase 2 Meet the Strategy

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 this 2nd conversation, I used an orange marker (see image below) to write additional words defining the words “reveal” and “acquire knowledge.” (See image below.) 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 promptsĀ  include “Say more about that” and “What in the picture makes you think so?”

photo lesson- prompt for discussion

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

photo lesson- prompt for discussion

Phase 3 Write a Response

Engage in shared and/or independent writing of a response. Provide a main idea statement about the photograph 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 & Prompts

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.

S

UPDATED 2/17/2021

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