History at key stages 1 and 2 (Year 3/4) Section 4

Section 4. What do pictures and photographs tell us about past life in our area?


Children should learn:

  • to find information about the area from studying pictures
  • to question pictures as interpretations of the past


Give the children pictures (paintings, sketches, photographs, postcards) showing how the area has changed.
Challenge the children, working in pairs, to ask each other questions about each picture.
Help them to ask open-ended questions, such as What does it tell us about the area and people in the past?
What has changed and what has stayed the same? – Compare the maps from the early 20th Century and now
Why might this be so?
Encourage the children to look closely at the details and compare them with a modern photograph. Ask pairs of children to look at different aspects,
eg buildings, transport and roads, street furniture and people.
Lead a discussion about why people have pictures made of the local area.
Questions on interpretation might include
Why and how do you think the picture was made?
Who might it have been made for?
Do you think it is natural or posed?
If there are people in the picture, discuss what may have been happening before the picture was made and what may have occurred afterwards.
This could lead to role-play or freeze framing as children recreate the story around a picture.
Ask the children to write the instructions that may have been given to the photographer or artist who created the picture, eg make it look grander, bigger, tidier.
Lead a discussion to sort the pictures into a chronological sequence and then make a visual time line for the classroom.



  • identify features of the area from pictures
  • record their ideas in a table using the categories as headings
  • suggest how, why and for whom a picture was made
  • demonstrate what they have learnt about the area through role play

Points to note

It is helpful to use two or more pictures of the same place from different periods, including the present, to show change over time.
Magnifying lenses would help children to focus on the details in the pictures.
Children’s questions are likely to be closed: teacher-directed questions should be more open ended to encourage greater deduction.
Pictures are not neutral, factual sources of information. They are people’s interpretations of the past. Using visual sources provides the opportunity to discuss this with the children.