About this classroom resource

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Teachers' notes

This collection of photographs from The National Archives’ image library has been collated to provide a resource for English Language GCSE. The images can be used as descriptive or narrative creative writing prompts, allowing students to consider a variety of historical scenes as inspiration for their writing.

Each image has been presented as a full-page-spread before key areas have been extracted for close detail description and prompts for the imagination. These pages can be used as a ready-made resource or adapted to suit your own classroom purposes. A generic question page has also been provided to allow students to focus on their own details within the photographs, rather than those pre-selected.

While the resources have been designed with the English Language GCSE in mind, they can be used for other age groups to develop imagination when considering character and description.

Each image has been provided with its original document reference and description to offer some context to the image if desired, such as time period and location. However, the descriptions are deliberately brief and there are no correct answers required in creative writing. The photographs are presented as prompts only and students are not required to write creatively about actual historical figures.


COPY1-420 Cottage at Itchen Abbas, 1895
A young boy stands alongside a lady with a mop outside a thatched cottage at Itchen Abbas

COPY1-417-500 S J Celestine Edwards 1894
S J Celestine Edwards poses for a professional photograph in 1894

COPY1-497 Irish spinning wheel, 1906
A lady sits at a spinning wheel in Ireland, 1906

INF2/44/2685 Children’s tea in post-war kitchen, 1945
Mrs Evelyn Findlow, who is shown with two children, one of whom is making toast with the new electric toaster

COPY1-522 (274) Ali Bin Hamoud, Sultan of Zanzibar 1908
Photograph of the Sultan of Zanzibar, 1908

COPY1-408 W Brand 1892
Photograph of Wm Brand Esq, of Glasgow

RAIL343-725 (14a) Female workers on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, machine shop, 1917
A lady works at the ‘Nut tapping machine’ in the machine shop of the railway

INF14-147 Carnaby Street, London, 1969
LONDON: Shopping: streets and shops: Teenagers in Carnaby Street

COPY 1/481 Five generations of the Fleckney family, 1905
Photograph of the Fleckney family of the village of Aldbury near Tring, Herts: five persons in a group representing five generations

COPY1/13 (300) Children dressed as soldiers, 1867
Photograph of young children playing with handmade toys

COPY1-475 (307) Motor fire engine outside Whitefriars Fire Station, London, 1904
Six firefighters standing on and around their engine.

COPY1/490 (384) Fraserburgh, 1905
Fishermen with their nets in Fraserburgh harbour

COPY1/552 Lady Mayor of Brecon G S F Morgan, 1910
Formal photograph of Miss G E F Morgan, Lady Mayor, Brecon, in robes.

COPY1/559 (66) Bathers, North Bay, Scarborough, 1911
Photograph of a group of bathers known as ‘Imps’ in the sea, taken from a boat.

Curriculum Links

  • AQA GCSE (9-1) English Language Paper 1: ‘Explorations in Creative Reading and Writing’, Section B – Writing
  • Edexcel GCSE (9-1) English Language Paper 1: ‘Fiction and Imaginative Writing’, Section B – Imaginative Writing
  • OCR GCSE (9-1) English Language Paper 2: ‘Exploring effects and impact’, Section B – Writing Imaginatively and Creatively
    • (Although this exam question is not based on an image as with the other exam boards, students may benefit from thinking of character and setting in this way before moving on to text based questions.)


These questions can be used for each of these photographs to begin thinking about the characters.

What can you see?

Who might the figure(s) be?

What kind of life do they have?

What happened just before the photograph was taken?

What happened just after the photograph was taken?

Further questions about each image can be found on the individual pages. These questions are accompanied by cropped sections of the images within our downloadable lesson pack found here.

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Places – GCSE English Language

Using images for descriptive and narrative writing