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Teaching with Primary Resources

Page history last edited by Lauren Magnuson 4 years, 2 months ago

Teaching with Primary Sources


Why primary sources are essential to inquiry:


1.    They are not interpreted by someone else.

2.    Historical inquiry (Study of humans) allows you to see the people behind the “story” and you are more likely to get to the human side of inquiry.

3.    They are authentic and connect learning to the real world.


When choosing a source, ask yourself the question: "How is the primary source critical/essential to my instruction?"


Thinking Routines from Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) provides a good framework for incorporating what we do with primary sources into a way of thinking about everything. The short video below provides an explanation and context for the strategies.





Teacher Discussion Techniques: One of the easiest strategies to use when having students analyze primary sources is to remember to ask questions, especially ones that encourage further explanation. "What makes you think that?"  "What else do you see?"  "Tell me more about that." "What do you see that makes you think that?" "What questions do you have?" "What other questions do you have?" "What are you still wondering about?" "Did anyone else wonder about that?" "What else do you want to know about?" "How would we find out more about this image/document/etc.?" Use non-verbal encouragement for the student to continue/further explain.  Rephrase their questions in a way that helps them connect to an inference.  Wait. Give students think time. Don't rush the process. (Depth is better than breadth!) 



Circle of Viewpoints from Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) allows students to explore multiple perspectives. When used with primary sources, have students analyze the image, document, etc.. Have the primary source in the middle of a large sheet of paper. Draw lines out (like a sun) and have students name all the people who would have a stake (Sample: male voters, taxpayers, state officials, advocates of immigration, unemployed, law enforcement, immigrants, law makers, etc.). After viewpoints have been exhausted, have students take on the persona of one of the viewpoints and make a statement that would reflect that viewpoint. This strategy can be a good way to open the door to an inquiry project.


Creative Comparisons from Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) helps students understand new ideas by making comparisons to things they already know. 


Headlines from Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) helps students identify and clarify large ideas contained in a primary source or set of sources.


I used to think...now I think.... from Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) is a good tool to help students reflect on their learning and how it has influenced their opinions and beliefs. Adding "because...." to the prompt requires students to provide evidence to support their thinking.


Connect, Extend, Challenge from Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) helps students make connections between new ideas and prior knowledge. 


Thinking Like a Historian This article introduces the strategy of teaching students how to think like historians do. There are several practical ideas in the article. If you search the phrase, you will find many resources, lesson plans, etc. 



While the primary source analysis form is always used initially, you can change the way you implement the process. Here are some ideas:

  • Have students work in pairs or small groups and do a group share out with all groups required to share.

  • Project the primary source and have students place post it notes on what evidence they used to make their reflections. Have them verbalize their reasoning.

  • Divide a map into several parts and have small groups analyze different parts (don't tell them!). Have them write a brief statement as to what they think the source is. Then send groups to a table with students who the other pieces to form the whole and then use the "I used to think...now I think....because...." strategy and come up with a headline for the map.



VoiceThread (in BCPSOne) could be used as a collaborative way to ask questions and analyze primary sources: here is a sample.



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