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Interpreting the Past

  • Interpret the pictures and determine their sequence.
  • What are the biggest differences between past- and present-day community life?

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

This two-part critical challenge invites students to explore changes in their (or a chosen) community using sets of historical and contemporary photographs. To prepare for the activity, assemble several sets of pictures of past and present community life, each focusing on a similar location (e.g., main street, farms, interior of houses, schools) or the same kind of activity (e.g., occupations, demographic changes, annual events, cultural practices). Wherever possible, include photographs depicting various cultural groups in the community's history. Ideally, each thematic set would include three or four pictures from different time periods (from earliest community beginnings to the present day). These might be available from family albums, the local historical society or online from the provincial archives or other Internet sources.

Introduce the challenge by explaining that the pictures show the past and present of the students' community (or a community very similar to their own). Through careful detective work, students will discover much about how their community has changed over time. Model the procedure for students to follow using one set of pictures: help students to describe what is going on in each picture, then look for clues about the sequence of the pictures and, finally, identify the changes in the community over time. Begin the first task by drawing attention to the general themes that appear in the set of pictures (e.g., methods of travel, housing, clothing). As suggested below, record particular features found in each picture related to a particular theme (e.g., picture #1, people drive in big cars; picture #2, they use horses).

Comparing information from the pictures  

Common things in the pictures

Picture #1

Picture #2

Picture #3

Picture #4

Type of travel

People drive in big cars

People use horses




After completing the chart, look for clues as to the historical sequence of the pictures. Discuss the concepts of "before" and "after," and "long ago," "some time ago," and "recently." Display one set of pictures. Ask students to put the pictures in order of when they happened, based on the clues as to which events come before and after each other. Clues to consider include how familiar the objects are, the size of human-built objects and the complexity of the objects. After sequencing the pictures in order of historical occurrence, look for the differences in the pictures for each theme.

Once students understand the process, arrange for them to work in small groups to examine their own set of photographs. You may want to adapt the chart and strategies for Collecting Information (Support Material) to structure and assess the gathering of information from the picture sets. You may want to assemble all of the information that students gather on a class chart. Explore with students the reasons why these changes might have occurred.

As an extension, ask students to consider which changes make the biggest differences in how people live and which make little or no difference. You may want to adapt the chart and strategies for Comparing Differences (Support Material) to structure and assess this part of the activity.

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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