DE Summer School: SOS- Visual Walkabout

Welcome the DE Summer School special edition of SOS.  Our S.O.S series provides help, tips, and tricks for integrating DE media into your curriculum. During August, we’ll be featuring our STAR Community’s favorite strategies and how they have made them their own.

Visual Walkabout
original post
Visual Walkabout PDF
link to all PDFs in the SOS series


Special thanks to DEN STAR and Technology TOSA Sonja Fehlmann (@sfehlmann13)  from Magnolia School District  for sharing how she brought this SOS to her students.


The 4th grade students were getting ready to read the novel M.C. Higgins The Great. There is a lot of background information that our students have no familiarity with especially coal mining and the history behind coal mining and the settlements tied with it. The teachers asked me to put together a lesson to provide them with information on the topic. I immediately started looking through the SOS Strategies looking for one that would fit my needs. The Visual Walkabout strategy was a perfect fit. I would be able to build conceptual understanding through pictures, see what they already knew and clear up any misunderstandings the students may have regarding coal mining and the issues MC Higgins faces.

I looked through the Discovery Education image databank for pictures pertaining to coal mining. There were not many images, so I had to go to other websites to get many of my images.  I found images that showed the history of coal mining, the miners and towns from earlier times (many from West Virginia), as well as current mining images. I also pulled a few videos that explained mining in West Virginia today.  Use this link to go to a presentation containing all images and videos.  Coal Mining visuals

Before starting the “Walkabout” I had a short discussion with the students about the first chapter of the book, which they had already read. We discussed the problems MC was facing, the time period and the setting. I showed them a map of West Virginia and a map showing all the coal mines in the state. I then told them we were going to do a fun activity to look deeper into coal mining and get a better understanding of the issues MC was facing. I had put the pictures on the walls around the classroom (I had them in sheet protectors). Under each picture I placed a  page for them to write their observations on. The paper had a T chart with the sections “What I noticed” and “Questions I have”. (Click here for handout)  I explained that they were going to go on a Walkabout with a partner. I explained the term “walkabout” and explained the rules: They would have 2 minutes at each picture (about half way through I shortened it to 1.5 minutes) to look at, discuss and make an observation on a variety of pictures. I had my timer to keep me on track. They needed to log one observation and 1 question for each picture on the handout below each picture. They had to write an original observation, but if their question was the same as another group’s question they were allowed to put a star next to it. The teacher and I walked around and facilitated discussions by asking questions. When the timer went off they rotated clockwise.  It took about 3 rotations until they got the hang of what they were to do and began having some wonderful discussions on their own. after the groups had visited most of the pictures I pulled them back together. I collected the pictures and note pages from around the room. We went over each picture, their comments and questions. I used this time to clear up any misconceptions and answer and questions they had (if I was able to). If I did not have an answer we placed that picture and question in a “research later” pile. Students could select these questions to research later if they had extra time. The next day we reviewed our discussion and I showed them 2 videos about coal mining in West Virginia today, and we had a great discussion about the pros and cons of the types of mining and their environmental impact. (See short video of lesson)

After these 2 days they had a good understanding of the struggles and conflicts MC Higgins was facing and the setting and time period of the story. They were ready to read the novel with greater understanding.


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One Comment;

  1. Dana Johnston said:

    I used this strategy with a class of 2nd graders. They were working on a unit of farms and the differences between long ago farms and farms today. The students loved walking around and looking at the pictures I downloaded and printed off and deciding if they were from present day or long ago. They wrote their comments as teams, and then we discussed and they had to justify their opinions as a team to the rest of the class.

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