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The Stories Pictures Tell

Tell the story found in visuals that depict urban and rural life in Alberta's past.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

In this challenge, students learn about the urban and rural life of various groups in Alberta's past by uncovering stories found in historical images. In preparation for this challenge, assemble a collection of historical photographs, drawings and paintings that depict key groups, e.g., Francophone, First Nation, Métis, Inuit, European immigrants, in urban and rural settings. To successfully meet the curriculum outcomes, it is important to gather a representative collection of interesting images of these groups (see References). Numerous resources can be found, using the search term, Alberta History, in Google Images. If possible, locate sets of several visuals on different themes; e.g., early Francophone activity within rural Alberta. See Investigating Pictures (Modelling the Tools) for detailed instruction for teaching and assessing the tools for picture analysis.

Activity 1
Select one visual, with a clear focus, and distribute a copy to every third student. Ask each group of three to uncover the story found in the visual. You may want to review the core elements of a story–character, setting, and plot or action. Prompt students with questions, such as:


  • Who is in the picture?
  • Where is each person located? Are they standing or sitting?
  • What are their expressions?
  • What do you know about them? their clothing? their jobs? their relationships with others in the picture?


  • Where is the picture taken? buildings? landscape?
  • What is the geographical location in Alberta? plains? mountains?
  • Is it day or night? What time of the year is it?

Plot or Action

  • What is happening in the picture?
  • What is each person doing? Why?
  • What do you think happened just before the picture was taken? just after?

Ask students to analyze and record what they see in the image (e.g., a person is holding a pail), what conclusion or inference they might draw (e.g., the person is carrying water for washing) and what evidence they see that supports this conclusion (e.g., there is a clothes line in the background and someone else is scrubbing a shirt). Consider adapting the charts and strategies for Supporting Conclusions (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Activity 2
Direct the groups to create a story, based on their investigation. Explain that this story is not a make believe or fictional story, but a story that an historian might create, based on the evidence and details in the picture. In addition, the story should be as complete as possible and should explain the characters (i.e., who), the setting (i.e., where and when) and the plot/action (i.e., what and why).

Ask students to list what they know about the scene in the image and use the 5W questions (i.e., who, where, when, what, why) to identify other information that would be useful. Encourage students to conduct research in books and on appropriate online sites to find the answers to their questions. Consider adapting one of the charts and strategies for Recording Our Research (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Invite each group to share its story with the rest of the class. Discuss the different interpretations and ask groups to provide support for their conclusions.

Activity 3
Provide each group with a different set of historical images on a common theme from Alberta's past. Have each group analyze the images and then construct as complete a story as possible, based on evidence in the picture. Consider using one of the charts in Supporting Conclusions (Support Material) to structure and assess the activity.

Invite each group to present and explain its story to the rest of the class. You may post the images on a wall under two headings: Alberta's Rural Past and Alberta's Urban Past. As a class, discuss the contributions of the people shown in the images to the history of Alberta; e.g., creation of industries and trade, establishment of communities, cultural and linguistic legacies.

Invite students to read about the historic scenes or events in their textbook or selected electronic sources. Suggest that students add to their story, based on information from their research.

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