What’s Going On in This Picture? | March 20, 2023

Look closely at this image, stripped of its caption, and join the moderated conversation about what you and other students see.

What’s going on in this picture? Look closely at the image above or view it in a <a href="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2023/03/16/learning/VTS03-20-23LN/VTS03-20-23LN-superJumbo.jpg">larger size</a>, then tell us what you see by posting a comment. On Thursday afternoon, we will reveal more about the image and its origins at the bottom of this post.
Credit...Robert Walker/The New York Times

1. After looking closely at the image above (or at the full-size image), think about these three questions:

  • What is going on in this picture?

  • What do you see that makes you say that?

  • What more can you find?

2. Next, join the conversation by clicking on the comment button and posting in the box that opens on the right. (Students 13 and older are invited to comment, although teachers of younger students are welcome to post what their students have to say.)

3. After you have posted, try reading back to see what others have said, then respond to someone else by posting another comment. Use the “Reply” button or the @ symbol to address that student directly.

Each Monday, our collaborator, Visual Thinking Strategies, will facilitate a discussion from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern time by paraphrasing comments and linking to responses to help students’ understanding go deeper. You might use their responses as models for your own.

4. On Thursday afternoons, we will reveal at the bottom of this post more information about the photo. How does reading the caption and learning its back story help you see the image differently?

This week’s image comes from the article “Once the World’s Largest, a Hotel Goes ‘Poof!’ Before Our Eyes,” published on March 2, 2023. The caption reads:

In 1963, a small mountain was erected in the ballroom for a skiing demonstration.

The article begins:

Bit by bit, floor by floor, the building that once rose 22 stories over Penn Station is shrinking before the city’s very eyes. The black netting draped over its ever-diminishing brick is like a magician’s handkerchief; once removed, it will reveal — nothing.

Behold: The Great Disappearing Act of the Hotel Pennsylvania.

This isn’t — or wasn’t — just any building. This was once the largest hotel on earth, with 2,200 rooms, shops, restaurants, its own newspaper, and a telephone number immortalized by the bandleader Glenn Miller with a 1940 song “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” for which the complete original lyrics are:

Pennsylvania Six Five Thousand

Pennsylvania Six Five Thousand

Pennsylvania Six Five Thousand

Pennsylvania Six Five Oh Oh Oh

That’s it.

The hotel figured prominently in Big Band-era lore and counted among its many millions of guests the consequential (Fidel Castro) and the canine (the Westminster Kennel Club). It offered an accessible urbanity, a kind of cosmopolitanism for the common folk. When a young soldier aged by combat returned home at the close of World War II, for example, he made good on a vow to spend his first night stateside at the hotel with the phone number he knew by heart.

Robert Walker was the photographer.


See all images in this series or slide shows of 40 of our favorite images — or 40 more.

Learn more about this feature in this video, and discover how and why other teachers are using it in their classrooms in our on-demand webinar.

Find out how teachers can be trained in the Visual Thinking Strategies facilitation method.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.