Education Lesson Plans
Visual Literacy: Images of Nurses and Nursing
- Grade level: 9–10
- Subject: History and social studies
Two 45-minute class periods
Students use six nursing postcards from the Pictures of Nursing online exhibition in order to develop and practice visual literacy skills. In Class 1, students conduct a warm-up visual analysis activity, taking a close look at a World War II US Army Nurses Corps recruitment image. They make observations, draw inferences from the image, and pose questions related to the image. Students move to learning about four critical lenses—class, gender/feminism, race/ethnicity, and history, for developing visual analysis and literacy. They use a set of guiding questions in re-examining the recruitment image. In Class 2, students review the concepts of visual literacy and critical lenses, and discuss their work re-analyzing the Army nurse recruitment image from previous class. Afterwards, students work in groups and individually analyzing five nursing postcard images. Group discussions allow students to share their individual analysis with the group, and the class discussion of the analysis summaries allows students to demonstrate how they now have critical lenses as tools for developing visual literacy.
Students will be able to:
- Describe how visual literacy aids in image analysis
- Name four types of critical lenses/approaches that examine historical and social factors shaping images.
- Analyze visual media; particularly, ponder meaning and message, intent, audience, gaze, and implications, and to put information gleaned into context.
- Develop literacy skills by demonstrating how they look at images critically and from multiple perspectives.
This lesson plan uses the text and images from the online exhibition, Pictures of Nursing, which examines views of nurses and the nursing profession over time, as represented in the postcard, a fleeting and widespread art form influenced by popular ideas about social and cultural life in addition to fashions in visual style. Nurses and nursing have been the frequent subjects of postcards for over one hundred years. These images of nurses and nursing are informed by cultural values; ideas about women, men, and work; and by attitudes toward class, race, and national differences. By documenting the relationship of nursing to significant forces in twentieth-century life, such as war and disease, these postcards reveal how nursing was seen during those times. Teachers are encouraged to preview all sections of the online exhibition.
The following terms may be introduced or incorporated during class discussions: analysis/analyses, critical lens, explicit, ideology, implicit, intellectual trends, legacy, visual literacy
- Print All Materials
- “More nurses are needed!” Postcard Image (PDF)
- Visual Literacy: Critical Lenses (PDF)
- Image Analysis Worksheet (PDF, MS Word)
- Teacher’s Image Analysis Worksheet-More nurses are needed (PDF)
- Postcard Images (PDF)
- Teacher’s Image Analysis Worksheet-Postcard Images (PDF)
Other materials and set-ups:
- A display set-up for class—e.g. interactive whiteboard, computer connected projector, or flip chart/whiteboard
- Internet access to the following websites or equivalent printed resources for Pictures of Nursing
- Nurses from the George A. Brewster Nurse Training School poses for a group portrait, Jacksonville, FL, ca. 1908
- His First Case, United States, ca. 1910
- A postcard reproduction of the cover of the Harlequin romance Surgeon’s Return, which features a nurse, United States, 1999
- A promotional postcard portraying an angelic nurse, 1916
- A reproduction of Army Nurse Corps recruitment poster for WWII, United States, 2001
- A nursing recruitment postcard, Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, MD, 1999
- Show class the front image of “More nurses are needed!” using its web page or handout. Read aloud the text on and about the image.
- Ask students to share observations and inferences that they make about the image, and any questions they may have. Record student responses while modeling how each response may be supported with textual or visual references to the image and any relevant prior knowledge.
- Tell students that this postcard is one of many in the “Pictures of Nursing” exhibition that explores visual representations of nurses and nursing on many postcards from 1893–2002. Introduce the exhibition and read aloud an excerpt from its introduction statement:
“...Nurses and nursing have been the frequent subjects of postcards for over one hundred years. In fact, no other art form has illustrated the nursing profession so profusely using such a variety of artistic styles and images. These images of nurses and nursing are informed by cultural values; ideas about women, men, and work; and by attitudes toward class, race, and national differences. By documenting the relationship of nursing to significant forces in 20th-century life, such as war and disease, these postcards reveal how nursing was seen during those times.”
- Summarize how postcards have pictured images of nurses and nursing that reflect cultural values about gender roles, class, race, and even patriotism at any given time. Tell students how they can use their visual literacy skills to see beyond an image, and decipher the cultural and historical perspectives that shape “how nursing was seen during those times.”
- Hand out to students copies of Visual Literacy: Critical Lenses, and allow students to read independently. Afterwards, as a class, review the four types of critical lenses and the list of guiding questions on the handout, and address any questions students may have.
- Distribute copies of Image Analysis Worksheet to students and have them work in pairs and turn in their completed worksheets at the end of the class.
- Class 1 Evaluation: Teachers may use class discussions and students’ completed Image Analysis Worksheet for evaluation.
- First review the Visual Literacy: Critical Lenses handout from class 1 and return students’ completed copies of Image Analysis Worksheet collected at the end of previous class.
- Display the front image of “More nurse are needed!” using its web page or handout. Then call on students to share their responses on their returned worksheets. See class discussion guide on Teacher’s Image Analysis Worksheet-More nurses are needed.
- Show students the initial observe/infer/question responses recorded from Class 2, Step. 2. Note any similarities and differences between students’ first and second analyses, and summarize how they already had, as well as further developed their visual literacy skills in interpreting images.
- Hand out 3 copies of Image Analysis Worksheet and a full set of Postcard Images to each student. Divide the class into 3 groups (or for smaller group size 6, or 9 groups) and assign each a number from 1 to 3.
- Review all 3 Postcard Images as a class and have each group conduct a visual analysis of the image on the page matching the group number. Instruct students to work individually, followed by a group check-in and discussion. See possible discussions that groups may have on Teacher’s Image Analysis Worksheet-Postcard Images.
- Create 3 different display boards/flip charts for each group to summarize their image analysis with their collective answers to the last question on the worksheet: “What ideas about nurses or nursing does the image communicate? What can you conclude about the social rules, norms, and power structure that shaped this image?”
- Review the summary statements along with their respective images as a class. Clarify as needed, using the discussion guide notes to the last question on Teacher’s Image Analysis Worksheet-Postcard Images.
- Allow students to complete worksheets for all three images, and turn them in at the end of the class.
- Class 2 Evaluation: Teachers may evaluate student progress through individual and group works and discussions, as well as with students’ completed worksheets for all five images.
- Students select a fiction that includes one or more nurse characters, and write a report on the character analysis. They incorporate into the final report, at least one of the critical lenses in their analysis as well as select minimum three images from the Pictures of Nursing digital gallery site.
- Students access the Nurses: Pictures of Service and Pride on the Pictures of Nursing website. They take a critical look at the postcard images of nurses and nursing in the activity, then create a collage that reflects the changes nurses and nursing profession have affected in greater society over time.
- Students view the movie, A Farewell to Arms, then write a paper or give a presentation that gives an analysis of the movie using one or more of the critical lenses. Students’ work should acknowledge things like plot and sound, which are generally absent from postcard images.
Literacy in History/Social Studies
- Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information and connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
- Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text; and provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas
- Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science
- Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade appropriate topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.