Library of Congress lesson plan: Childhood Poverty


Last week I attended a two-day Primary Source workshop from the Library of Congress sponsored by NCCE.  During the course of the workshop we looked through all the fabulous resources gathered by the Library of Congress.  There is so much information its a bit overwhelming at first – but once you dive into it you begin to understand the search features.

On the main LOC website you will see the main collections divided into 9 sections.  I especially found the Prints & Photographs, American Memory, Manuscripts and Veteran’s History sections to be helpful.  Make sure you check out the Teacher’s section because the LOC has already curated their collections into Primary Source sets and Themed Resources.

We use the analysis worksheets to help us review the primary sources – there is also a helpful Teacher’s Guide to assist you in using Primary Sources.

Each workshop attendee create a lesson plan using Primary Sources.  The focus of my lesson was using primary source photographs as a discussion around the theme of childhood poverty.  Our school’s theme next year is childhood poverty and this summer every student is choosing to read The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls or The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore.  My lesson is to look at primary source photographs and compare them to the characters in the novels and then create a VoiceThread narrative project emphasizing how economic, cultural and geographic condition factor into poverty.

Click here to download the Childhood Poverty Lesson plan

Activity Name Childhood Poverty
Activity Overview
Big Understanding: Poverty affects both children and adults
Essential Question(s): 

  • How does poverty affect children in terms of economics, culture and geography?
  • How has poverty changed throughout history?
  • How would my life been different if I grew up in poverty?

Standards (State or National) Oregon Grade 9 – Social Studies 3.6.1 

Analyze and evaluate the impact of economic, cultural or environmental factors that result in changes to population of cities, countries, or regions.

Oregon Grade 9 – Language Arts 2.5

Listen to and Read Informational and Narrative Text: Skill To Support the Standard: (For the purpose of noting key skills that support classroom instruction of the standards) Understand and draw upon a variety of comprehension strategies as needed–re-reading, self-correcting, summarizing, class and group discussions, generating and responding to essential questions, making predictions, and comparing information from several sources.

Oregon Grade 9 – Technology 3.A

Students select and apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, validate, and use information.

Time Required 3-5 class periods
Objectives Students will analyze primary documents to identify signs of childhood poverty. 

Students will propose scenarios of how the child in the images was affected by poverty in terms of economic, culture or geography.

Students will reflect how their life would have been different if they had been affected by extreme poverty.

Preparation Background lesson:  Students have chosen to read one of the novels:  The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls or The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore for their summer reading selection. 


Copy analyzing photographs and print worksheet

Copy VoiceThread graphic organizer

Set up VoiceThread accounts.

Gathering microphones for recording


Procedure Engage prior knowledge:  Discuss themes from novels.  What struck you about the experiences of the characters?  How did poverty affect their lives? 

Analyzing Prints from Library of Congress

Access the When They Were Young collection of prints from the Library of Congress.  Locate images that show children in poverty.

Use the Analyzing photographs worksheet to make observations, reflections and questions about the images.

Question Prompts:


Describe what you see.

What do you notice first about the children?

What is the physical setting?  What, if any, words do you see?

What other details can you see?


Why do you think this image was made?

What’s happening in the image?

How does this represent poverty?  How do you know?

When do you think it was made? Who do you think was the audience for this image?

What can you learn from examining this image?

What’s missing from this image?  If someone made this today, what would be different? What would be the same?


What do you wonder about… who? what? when? where?  why? how?

Compare the primary source images to the images you created in your mind to the novel you read for Summer Reading:  The Glass Castle or The Other Wes Moore.

Discuss:  How are they the same?  How are they different?


In pairs, students will choose an image related to poverty from the Library of Congress website to save.

Students will write up a scenario of how the child in the image was affected by poverty in terms of economic, culture or geography. Each pair of students will record a short 1 minute story about their chosen primary source using Audacity.

Students will upload their image and audio recording into one slide of the class VoiceThread project.

Classmates will be required to visit one slide of the class VoiceThread project and make a comment on the story by either asking a question about their story or adding their own comment.  Students could also add comments about the novels they read and relate it to the scenarios.

Hint:  Use the following sentence starters to shape your thoughts and comments while viewing or participating in the VoiceThread presentations. Comments based on these kinds of statements make VoiceThread project interactive and engaging.

  • This reminds me of…
  • This is similar to…
  • I wonder…
  • I realized…
  • I noticed…
  • You can relate this to…
  • I’d like to know…
  • I’m surprised that…
  • If I were ________, I would ______________
  • If __________ then ___________
  • Although it seems…
  • I’m not sure that…


Assessment/Reflection Use graphic organizer to respond to the class VoiceThread project.

The organizer includes questions such as:

  • Highlight a comment from our Voicethread conversation that closely matches your own thinking. Why does this comment resonate—or make sense to—you?
  • Highlight a comment from our Voicethread conversation that you respectfully disagree with. If you were to engage in a conversation with the commenter, what evidence/argument would you use to persuade them to change their point of view?
  • Highlight a comment from our Voicethread conversation that challenged your thinking in a good way and/or made you rethink one of your original ideas. What about the new comment was challenging? What are you going to do now that your original belief was challenged? Will you change yoru mind? Will you do more researching/thinking/talking with others?
  • Highlight the strand of conversation from our Voicethread conversation that was the most interesting or motivating to you. Which ideas would you like to have more time to talk about? Why? What new topics does this conversation make you want to study next?


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