Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Western Region @ Metropolitan State University of Denver

Creating a Narrative Around Primary Sources: Story Writer Activity

Above is a photo of an auto polo match from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress. Auto polo was popular in the U.S. and Europe from 1911 until the late 1920’s, but lost appeal mostly due to the high cost of replacing vehicles, injuries, and the very rare case of death sustained from participants.



Find a good primary source that has enough interesting visuals in it in order to solicit multiple perspectives. Ultimately, the best narrative you can get from a student is from a perspective that you didn’t expect.


Classroom Activity

Using the auto polo picture above as an example, there are plenty of explicit perspectives that students could write about, including 1 of the 4 individuals who are playing auto polo, the audience watching the match, or the photographer. Students who want to be more creative could also write about the more implicit things in the picture. For example, they could write a narrative about the basketball that is about to be hit or one of the cars, a nurse after the match who is putting a cast on the man who is flying through the air, an announcer, or a wife of a participant. You could also have them come up with a plan to introduce a new sport.

This activity can be done in a variety of writing mediums as well. Aside from writing in prose, students could write a poem or ballad, a love letter between two individuals, a sports writer for a newspaper, a journal entry from a participant after the match, a monologue, a comic strip, etc.

The possibilities are truly endless and giving students the option to engage in a medium that they can relate to will ensure that interesting connections are made between preconceived notions about history, the student’s own aspirations, and the contextual analysis of the primary source.


Key Questions

  • What was ordinary life like for the main character during that time period?
  • What sorts of obstacles did they have to overcome?
  • How can we relate this to questions about society during present time?
  • What are the overarching themes displayed in the primary source?



  • Have the students research aspects of the life of the main character they want to write about. But don’t do too much research. This activity is meant to be about the creative analysis of a primary source, not a research paper.
  • Encourage students to get creative and think outside of the box. Uncommon perspectives will allow for interesting questions and discussions about the topic.


Grade Level Recommendation

  • Depending on the primary source used, this could be a fun and enriching activity for all K-12 students.


Skills Used

  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Research
  • Writing in a variety of mediums
  • Contextual reasoning


Helpful Links

George Grantham Bain Collection

Bain News Service on Flickr

Auto Polo Search on Library of Congress

Auto Polo Wikipedia Entry


What story would you write about the auto polo picture above?

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