I am sharing an activity from the Library of Congress that I think is a great way to introduce a unit, grab students' attention, and help them generate their own questions to research.
Show students a few photographs related to the theme of your unit, but don't tell them what the unit is about. They are going to be photo detectives and determine everything they can about that photograph. As teams, they can pick the photograph that is most interesting to them. (I've tried this activity in workshops, and usually every team picks a different photograph - so there's good variety and lots of discussion. I've never had every team pick the same one). It's interesting to hear why they chose a particular photo.
Ex. Pretend you are beginning a unit on the Great Depression. Show your students several pictures, such as this one from the Library of Congress website (www.loc.gov).
Each team has to complete a photograph analysis worksheet (see attached), which requires them to analyze the photo, draw conclusions about it, and generate a list of questions about the photograph. Allow teams to share their observations as a whole class. If you have an interactive whiteboard, students can use a pen or highlighter to mark the details on the photograph that stood out. The questions the teams generate can become some of your content questions for your unit. Or, the whole class might be able to create a unit question (ex. How can we prevent another great depression?). You'll find that teams often have similar questions or similar themes - even though their pictures might be different. And, they feel comfortable sharing their questions because they've discussed them as a group first.
If you have another way to introduce a unit or help students generate their own questions, please share your ideas.