How to Implement the Living Images: Bringing History to Life Teaching Strategy in Your Classroom


In a learning activity based on the living images method, learners work in groups to recreate historical photographs by performing a series of “freeze frames” that captures the moments depicted in the photos. Such an activity helps learners develop a deeper comprehension of a particular moment in history, while providing them with an opportunity to practice collaborating with their peers as they brainstorm, direct, and perform their scenes.


  1. Select Images: Find a compendium of photos that reveal valuable information about the time the class is studying. These pictures must have enough figures so that each member of the group is involved in each “living image.” Usually, instructors give groups of learners a set of four to six photos. This learning activity works best if groups receive different pictures. Through the performances, learners learn about the images that the other groups have been assigned. While this method is often used with pictures, you could also use paintings, political cartoons, or other photos for the activity, as long as the images contain people.
  2. Provide Learners with Directions: Here are directions you can put on the board or print out for learners to refer to as they engage with this activity.

Examine each image, separately, and answer the following queries:

  • What is the context of this image? When and where was it taken?
  • What do you see? In particular, what do you observe about the people in this image? Who are they? How are they feeling? What are they thinking?
  • What does this image reveal about the time?

After answering these questions for each image, create a “living image” for each one. A living image reimagines the scene from the picture in a real-life environment. Think of yourself as actors who must presume the physical positions, gestures, and facial expressions of the figures in the photo. Each image must have a director who helps to organize the scene. The image must be a freeze-frame, where actors hold their position for at least ten seconds.

After you have developed your living images, figure out which order you would like to display your creations. Next, work on transitioning from one image to the next so that your group can present these images seamlessly to their classmates.

Modify these instructions to fit your own classroom needs. To help groups work more autonomously through these steps, you may want to have them assign roles.

  1. Learners Perform: Next, groups share their work with the entire class. Groups must present their living images in silence. The class interprets the scenes as they see them. After each group presents, they must take questions from the class. Between performances, learners can record what they learned about the historical time from seeing these living images.
  2. Debrief: After each group has performed, you can facilitate a class discussion about what the living images reveal about the time. Learners may arrive at different interpretations of what they viewed. Encourage learners to utilize evidence to defend their interpretations and invite learners to change their interpretations as they hear their peers’ ideas.
  3. Learners Reflect: Allow learners to write in their journals about their experience with this activity.


  1. Abridged Version: Instead of having groups act out several images, you could assign one photograph to each group.
  2. Learners Find Their Images: Instead of selecting images for learners, you could add a research component to this exercise by having learners find and select their photographs. The assignment could include adequately citing sources and explaining the significance of the image or images they chose.
  3. Add Music: To highlight the feelings expressed by each image, you could have learners select music to accompany their performance.

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