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February 21 Tip of the Week – Visual Learners and the Boston Massacre

(All Tips of the Week can also be found on the Social Studies Central site.)

We all know that many of our kids are visual learners. How can we engage those types of learners with content at deep levels? The problem is that most of us are not visual learners so it becomes difficult to think in ways that are best for students.

There are lots of ways to start using visuals with your kids to suck them into high-level cognitive activity. Here’s a simple example.

Many standards and assessments are being organized around the idea of the Three Story House – the concept of three levels of cognitive activity. Start thinking about a house with . . . well . . . three stories.

In the first story, kids do things like listing and reciting. At the second level, they infer and categorize. And in the attic, kids assign value and evaluate. So . . . can we get kids to do those things with images? Yes! The National Archives and Records Administration put together something that I call a Three Story Media Analysis.

bostonmassacre.jpgWe’ll use the Boston Massacre as our example. Use a copy of Paul Revere’s depiction of the event and a copy of the event by Alonzo Chappel.

The basic idea is to train your kids to evaluate the credibility of primary sources using the concept of the Three Story House.

First step – have kids look for and record specific details in each of the images.
Second step – students should look for similarities and differences between the two images.
Finally – have kids ask basic questions based on the Five W’s:

  • Who? When? What? (format) Where (was the artist when the event occurred) Why? (who was the intended artist)

Other questions to ask:

  • Why are there differences?
  • Which artist had the most to gain?
  • What can the details tell us?
  • In the two images, who is holding their arm up in an attempt to stop the firing?

As you begin to incorporate the idea of the Three Story House into your teaching, you will be able to develop your questions depending on your content and grade level.
A few suggestions:

  • Divide the image into four parts – upper left, upper right and so on. The point is to get kids to really dig into specific details and see what’s there. For example, kids often fail to see the moon and clock in the upper right of Revere’s image.
  • The best method to display the images is to use a LCD projector, your computer and presentation software. This lets you manipulate the image and show the large versions of different sections of the image. But you can also use an overhead projector and a transparency. Simply cover the image with construction paper and lift off pieces of the paper to reveal different parts.
  • Check out NARA’s Document Analysis worksheets for some ideas about possible questions.
  • A similar Boston Massacre activity can be found at the Center for History and New Media.

Give the Three Story Media Analysis activity a try. Be sure to have fun!

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