Investigative Question

How are our lives different from those in the past? How are they same?

In Standard K.3, students learn about the different types of jobs and work performed by people in their school and local community. This standard may be integrated with Standard K.4; as students construct school and neighborhood maps and talk about neighborhood structures such as the fire station, supermarkets, houses, banks, and hospitals, the jobs and workers can be introduced as well.

As students learn about daily life in the past in Standard K.6, they may investigate ways in which work and jobs have changed or remained the same over time by answering the prompt How are our lives different from those who lived in the past? How are they the same? The teacher should provide prompting and support as students analyze multiple sources, including primary source photographs, picture books, and informational books for young readers such as Vicki Yates’s Life at Work (Then and Now).

Students should understand that one purpose of school is to develop their skills and knowledge and that this is as important as any job in the community. Working collaboratively to do tasks, students can practice problem solving, conflict resolution, and taking personal responsibility.

This lesson explores with kindergarten students the historical concept of continuity and change. It may be one of several lessons that address the large investigative question of how students’ lives are the same as and different from people’s lives in the past. This lesson focuses on the topic of work and jobs to illuminate change over time. Kindergartners have some direct experiential knowledge of jobs today, which can be leveraged to learn about the differences and similarities of jobs and work in the past. This lesson uses photographs from about 100 years ago (1922 1938) and provides multiple opportunities for students to engage in listening, speaking, and writing about meaningful content.
The teacher starts the lesson by letting the students know that as part of their ongoing study of the past (How are our lives different from those in the past? How are they same?), they will investigate work and jobs from about 100 years ago. As they are evaluating the images, the student will ask themselves if there are similarities and/or differences with the people and the labor pictured. The following directions guide teachers through analyzing primary sources with their students and practice with their development of spoken English. First, the teacher introduces the concept of work, of the types of jobs people do and the settings in which they are done. Then, with some background knowledge about jobs, students examine the primary sources to learn about people and labor from the past. They may make connections between canning, firefighting, farming, and office work from the 1920s and 1930s with the same jobs today. What’s the same? What is different? Finally, the teacher provides vocabulary support through a model writing exercise and oral discussion. Directions: 1. Before examining the past, background knowledge about jobs/work in the present should be activated or built. One or more of the following activities may be used.
  • Read a book on community helpers/jobs. There are many books on community helpers/workers and on individual jobs, including the following:
    • Helpers in My Community by Bobbie Kalman
    • Whose Hands Are These? A Community Helper Guessing Book by Miranda Paul and Luciana Powell
  • Create a homework assignment in which the child and an adult make a list of jobs in their community (teacher, police officer, cashier, waiter, etc.).
  • Take some photos of buildings in the local community, such as grocery stores, schools, restaurants, fire stations, office buildings, and gas stations. Ask students to brainstorm the jobs that people do in each of these buildings. You may start with your school and the jobs that people do (teacher, principal, custodian, lunch server, office manager).
2. Discuss the various jobs in the community, asking students to share out what the jobs are and some of the tools that are used to do the job. The teacher should chart the students’ responses. If possible, a photo or key symbol of each job can be drawn next to the job to support students’ understanding.

Jobs Today


Photo or Drawing

What They Do




Teaches children

Books, computer, markers



Checks items out, sells items

Cash register

Bus driver


Drives bus — takes people from one place to another

Bus, intercom



Helps keep people well, helps heal those who are sick




Takes care of plants and yards

Lawn mower, clippers

3. Photo analysis: The teacher begins by telling students that the class will examine photographs (primary sources) from the past to answer the investigative question. If possible, give students magnifying glasses and one copy of each photo for each pair of students. Start with an open-ended analysis of each photo by asking students to describe what they see in the photo and what they wonder about (see sample questions below). Students may first share with a partner and then share and discuss with the group. The teacher should chart the students’ observations and questions — label the chart Source #1 and put a copy of the photograph next to the chart.

Open-ended Questions to Ask the Students

Corresponding Sentence Frames

What do you see in the photograph?

  •  Are there any people or objects? What do you notice about them? Describe them.

  • What other details do you see?

I see….

There is… .

I see ____ and ______.


What questions do you have?

  • What do you wonder about?

One question I have is….

I wonder why….

4. After the open-ended exploration, focus more explicitly on the work/job that the photograph details. Tell the students the known information about the photograph (title, place, date). If there is detailed information, paraphrase in student-friendly words. Then use the questions below as well as the suggestions included after each source to discuss the work/job in the photograph. The teacher should continue to chart the students’ responses.

Questions for the Graphic Organizer

Corresponding Sentence Frames

  • What kind of work is being done in the photograph? What do you notice?

  •  What other details do you see?

  • Does this seem the same as a job or work today?

  • What is different?

  •  What are some things we have today that we don’t see in the photograph?

  • What questions do you have?

I see….

I notice….

One thing that is the same is….

I notice that ___ is the same as ____.

Something that is different is ….

Today we have ______.

 One question I have is….

I wonder….

5. Continue the investigation with the additional photographs. 6. Discussion: After all of the photographs have been examined, the teacher should return to the investigative question. Teachers will ask the students to talk to a partner about each of the following questions. After each question, the students are asked to share and discuss with the class while the teacher adds to the ongoing charts:
  • What are some jobs that people did in the past?
  • What did we learn about jobs in the past?
  • How are jobs the same? How are jobs different?
  • What did we learn about life in the past?
The teacher may want to bring out the chart created at the beginning about jobs today so that students can compare. 7. Writing (Language Experience Approach): Language Experience Approach (LEA) is a technique to help emergent readers and writers develop reading and writing skills. The words of the child, written down by the teacher, become the text that can be read together while concepts about print are being reinforced (what can be said orally can be written down, that we start a sentence with a capital letter, a space separates words, etc.).
  • The teacher passes out paper with lines at the bottom and a place for a picture at the top and asks the students to think about part of the larger inquiry question: What are some jobs that people did in the past? The students begin to draw as the teacher circulates, asking each student to respond to the question. Teacher assistants, parents, and older students may also be trained to help with this process. As the student answers the question, the teacher writes down the student’s answer at the bottom of the page. The teacher should “think aloud” to share insights into the writing process or concepts about print. For example, “This is the first word of the sentence so I need a capital letter” or “New word, I need to leave a space between the words.”
  • In the past, experts advocated that the teacher write down the exact words of the student, but many believe that helping students expand or elaborate on their sentences is beneficial, particularly for English learners. The teacher may have a brief discussion with the child before writing down the sentence. If a child says, “Ladies packing fish,” the teacher may say, “Yes, the ladies are packing the fish for cans — the cans are made out of tin metal.” If the child points to something in a photo, the teacher might say, “Yes, the women are wearing hair nets. Why do you think they are wearing them? Do you eat fruits, vegetables, or other food from a can? How do you think it’s made now?”
Related Resources/ Materials CSU Japanese American Digitization Project
  • California Revealed. California Revealed has created Curated Themes to mirror and supplement the existing Teaching California Inquiry Sets. California Revealed partners with hundreds of libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other nonprofit organizations across California to provide free digital preservation and online access services for primary source materials documenting the state's histories, arts, and cultures. The resulting collection spans diverse formats, regions, time periods, and cultural perspectives. We hope these Curated Themes will prove valuable to K-12 teachers looking to go deeper with Teaching California's classroom-ready Inquiry Sets and more generally to California educators interested in teaching with primary sources.
  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.
It is important to value and honor all jobs and workers in our society, no matter the position or the setting, whether in an office, a school, a factory, fields, a hospital, or elsewhere. Most students will be able to draw from their understanding of or direct experience with work (chores, assisting with cleanup in class, or jobs in their community, for example). The vocabulary and students’ conceptual background knowledge can be drawn from to make comparisons between work and laborers of today with those from the past.