Using images for descriptive and narrative writing
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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 for 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 places, figures or events.
COPY1/461/577 Collapse of cliff by the Lord Nelson Public House at Lowestoft 1903
A man peers over the edge of a cliff which has eroded to the door of the Lord Nelson Public House
COPY1/463/199 Burning of Cleethorpes Pier, 1903
Photograph of the burning of Cleethorpes Pier, June 1903
COPY 1/460/87 Men descending by aerial railway at Beachy Head lighthouse, 1903
A group of men photographed as they take the aerial railway to the Beachy Head lighthouse
COPY 1/454/252 Market day, Taunton, 1902
Photograph of Market Day on the Parade, Taunton, taken from Market House
COPY 1/376/116 Whitby Abbey, 1886
A view of Whitby Abbey with pond and cattle across foreground, 1886.
DSIR4/3628 Damage to structures by flood and gales during winter 1952-53
A house showing substantial damage after the winter storms of 1952-53
COPY1/375(67) Boat with house and windmill in the background, Countryside scene, P H Emerson, 1886 surveys, 1953-1954
A couple boating on the river in front of a house and windmill.
INF9/706 St Ives, Cornwall, 1930s
A view of St Ives, Cornwall, from the water in the 1930s.
INF9/683 Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Big Dipper and Boating Pool, 1930s
A view of Blackpool’s rides and boating pool from the water in the 1930s
- 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 describing the places.
What can you see?
Where might this be?
Why might this photograph have been taken?
What happened just before the photograph was taken?
What happened just after the photograph was taken?
More 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.