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Traveling Around Nebraska

Lesson Plans

Grade: 9-12

Time: Two 50-minute sessions or one 90-minute session

Lesson Introduction: The Western Trails Project has digitized photographs from Nebraska History. Using black and white photographs from the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer collection, students will analyze a variety of types of transportation.

Nebraska Social Studies:

12.1.11 Students will demonstrate historical research and geographical skills by:

  • Identifying, analyzing, and interpreting primary and secondary sources and artifacts.
  • Constructing various time lines of key events, periods, and personalities since the 10th century. 

12.3.17 Students will develop skills for historical analysis, such as the ability to:

  • Analyze documents, records, and data, such as artifacts, diaries, letters, photographs, journals, newspapers, and historical accounts.
  • Formulate historical questions and defend findings based on inquiry and interpretation.
  • Develop perspectives of time and place, such as the construction of various time lines of events, periods, and personalities in American history.
  • Communicate findings orally, in brief analytical essays, and in a comprehensive paper.

AASL/AECT Information Literacy:

1. The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively
1.2 Formulate questions based on information needs
1.4 Develops and uses successful strategies for locating information
3. The student who is information literate uses information accurately and creatively.
3.1 Organizes information for practical application
3.2 Integrates new information into one's own knowledge
3.3 Produces and communicates information and ideas in appropriate formats


  • Examine historical photographs as primary sources
  •  Strengthen student inquiry and critical observation skills
  • Gather and analyze data from photos and maps and form generalizations
  • Describe particular events from history in detail
  • Develop writing skills


  • Photographic Analysis Form, from the American Memory Collection
  • Computer for each student, or show photographs to all class using an LCD projector


Before class, photocopy the Photographic Analysis Form and have one ready for each student

  1. Discuss the Photographic Analysis Form, using a current or historical photograph from their textbook as an example.

  2. Introduce the Western Trails Project to students, focusing on the transportation photographs from the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. Go to Western Trails Home, scroll down and click on Photo Galleries, scroll down and click on Transportation Photographs.

  3. Using the Photographic Analysis Form, students will locate and analyze two transportation photographs. Demonstrate to the students the difference between a subjective and objective evaluation. Students will first conduct an objective evaluation, documenting ONLY what they see, not what they think. Questions may be:

    • What do you see?
    • What items are in the picture?
    • Types of clothing?
    • Hair styles?
    • Type of vehicle?
    • Landscape?

  4. Student will next conduct a subjective evaluation. Questions may be:
    • What do you think they are doing?
    • How do you think they feel?
    • When do you think this might have taken place?
    • Where do you think this might have taken place?

    (Some photographs are dated, some are not)

  5. After analyzing the photographs, students will use other resources in the school library media center to determine the time period they are seeing in the photograph and complete the knowledge section of the photographic analysis form. Students will document major national events from that time period. Timelines, reference books and web sites on United States History may be used.

  6. The student will then fill out the deduction section of the analysis form by using the subjective, objective and knowledge sections to help determine what was actually happening in this photograph from Nebraska history. The student will write a short paragraph (5 sentences minimum) to tell the story of this photograph.

  7. Students will meet in groups of four and share their observations of the two photographs with the others in the group.


A Photographic Analysis Rubric will be used for the student and teacher to evaluate the process and product of this assignment.

Photographic Analysis Rubric

Achievement Level Analysis of Photograph Knowledge of Historical Context Resources Understands Task
4 Offers in-depth subjective and objective analysis and interpretation of the photograph  

Distinguishes between fact and opinion
Shows evidence of thorough knowledge of period in which photograph was taken

Relates primary sources to specific historical events
Uses many outside resources in addition to photograph to determine events of the time period Understands task requirements and rubric and is able to explain so others understand
3 Offers accurate analysis of the photograph Use previous general historical knowledge to examine photograph Uses 1-2 outside resources in addition to photograph to determine the events of the time period Understands most of the task requirements and rubric
2 Demonstrates only a minimal understanding of the photograph

Presents only a minimal analysis
Limited use of historical knowledge without complete accuracy Uses only one outside resource in addition to photograph to determine the events of the time period Somewhat confused about task requirements and rubric and does not ask for explanation
1 Reiterates one or two facts from the photograph but does not offer any analysis or interpretation of the photograph Barely indicates any historical knowledge Uses no outside resources to determine the events of the time period Randomly selects historical sources with no understanding of task requirements or rubric and does not ask for explanation

Citation Information Available through Search: 

On any Nebraska Western Trails page, click on "Search" in the banner to access the database search screen. The student should  use the drop-down to change the search to keyword then type a word that was used in the description of a photograph in the photo gallery (e.g. horse, buggy, motorcycle). Click on the Search button.  At the next screen the student should scan the resulting thumbnail images and click on the desired photo gallery photograph.  This brings up the image record, which includes citation and rights information.    

Please send comments to Mary Reiman.

Teacher Resources:

Optional photographic analysis forms:

For more information, contact Devra Dragos.