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May 26, 2017 Straight to the Source: A Primary Source Analysis Guide By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    I make the past come alive in my classroom by incorporating primary sources into my history lessons. Primary sources include documents, photographs, letters, and other accounts that provide firsthand evidence about a historical event or time period. Since they are created contemporaneously with the historical events we study, analyzing primary sources expands my students’ understanding of important events in history.

    Teaching history through primary sources connects students to the past in powerful ways.  For example, the effects of the Great Depression resonate more deeply with my students when we explore them through Dorothea Lange’s photography. Additionally, a textbook cannot convey to my students the same intense emotions that they hear in the voices of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust when they listen to oral histories from the USC Shoah Foundation.  Primary sources are truly indispensible tools in history classrooms.

    Primary sources are not only engaging, but they also promote the development of important literacy skills as students analyze and draw conclusions from these texts. Read on for ideas you can use to incorporate primary source analysis into your history lessons.

    Examples of Primary Sources

    Historical primary sources include materials that provide firsthand accounts of a person, place, or an event, and these sources come in many different forms. Examples of primary source material include:

    ·      Written materials: speeches, letters, diaries, autobiographies and memoirs, newspapers and magazines published at the time, government documents, maps, laws, advertisements

    ·      Images: photographs, films, fine art

    ·      Audio: oral histories, interviews, music recordings

    ·      Artifacts: clothing, tools, inventions, memorabilia

    Where to find primary sources? There are a number of different online collections of primary source documents. If you’re looking for historical primary sources, consider starting your search with these resources.

    ·      The National Archives and DocsTeach

    ·      The Gilder Lehrman Collection

    ·      Life magazine archive and photo archive

    ·      Smithsonian Source

    ·      The Library of Congress

     

    Primary Source Analysis Guide

    After selecting rich and meaningful primary sources, I teach students to analyze these texts in order for them to elicit meaning and draw thoughtful conclusions. The analysis of a primary source starts with content and context. Students first identify the author, audience, and historical context of the source. Since an author may have a particular bias or position, it is important to teach students to identify and acknowledge an author’s perspective or point of view as they begin to analyze a primary source.  

    After identifying the content and context of a primary source, students then work through a four-step analysis process. I guide the students’ thinking with prompts and questions for each step of the process. The four steps and questions are:

    ·      Observe: What do you observe? Consider the images, people, objects, activities, actions, words, phrases, facts, and numbers.

    ·      Explain: What is the meaning of the objects, words, symbols, etc.?

    ·      Infer: What sentiment (attitude or feeling) do you think the author is trying to convey through the source? What, based on the source, can you infer about the historical event or time period?

    ·      Wonder: What about the source makes you curious? What questions still remain? What additional information would you need to know in order to deepen your understanding of the ideas expressed in the source?

    As a final step, students summarize the central idea of the source by considering the author’s message and specific supporting details. To support students in this process, I provide them with fill-in-the-blank prompts to concisely state the central idea.

    Analyzing historical primary sources in this way tunes students’ ears and focuses their eyes to the stories of the past. Primary sources personalize history and provide students varying perspectives of an event or time period.

    Additional Primary Source Resources

    For additional ideas on using primary sources in the classroom, I recommend the following resources.  

    ·      The Underground Railroad: Escape from Slavery — This comprehensive activity includes photographs, illustrations, and news articles chronicling the people and events of the Civil War.

    ·      Primary Sources for the Interactive Whiteboard: Colonial America, Westward Movement, Civil War By Karen Baicker

    ·      15 Primary Source Activities: American History by Lorraine Hopping EganLouise Hopping

    I make the past come alive in my classroom by incorporating primary sources into my history lessons. Primary sources include documents, photographs, letters, and other accounts that provide firsthand evidence about a historical event or time period. Since they are created contemporaneously with the historical events we study, analyzing primary sources expands my students’ understanding of important events in history.

    Teaching history through primary sources connects students to the past in powerful ways.  For example, the effects of the Great Depression resonate more deeply with my students when we explore them through Dorothea Lange’s photography. Additionally, a textbook cannot convey to my students the same intense emotions that they hear in the voices of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust when they listen to oral histories from the USC Shoah Foundation.  Primary sources are truly indispensible tools in history classrooms.

    Primary sources are not only engaging, but they also promote the development of important literacy skills as students analyze and draw conclusions from these texts. Read on for ideas you can use to incorporate primary source analysis into your history lessons.

    Examples of Primary Sources

    Historical primary sources include materials that provide firsthand accounts of a person, place, or an event, and these sources come in many different forms. Examples of primary source material include:

    ·      Written materials: speeches, letters, diaries, autobiographies and memoirs, newspapers and magazines published at the time, government documents, maps, laws, advertisements

    ·      Images: photographs, films, fine art

    ·      Audio: oral histories, interviews, music recordings

    ·      Artifacts: clothing, tools, inventions, memorabilia

    Where to find primary sources? There are a number of different online collections of primary source documents. If you’re looking for historical primary sources, consider starting your search with these resources.

    ·      The National Archives and DocsTeach

    ·      The Gilder Lehrman Collection

    ·      Life magazine archive and photo archive

    ·      Smithsonian Source

    ·      The Library of Congress

     

    Primary Source Analysis Guide

    After selecting rich and meaningful primary sources, I teach students to analyze these texts in order for them to elicit meaning and draw thoughtful conclusions. The analysis of a primary source starts with content and context. Students first identify the author, audience, and historical context of the source. Since an author may have a particular bias or position, it is important to teach students to identify and acknowledge an author’s perspective or point of view as they begin to analyze a primary source.  

    After identifying the content and context of a primary source, students then work through a four-step analysis process. I guide the students’ thinking with prompts and questions for each step of the process. The four steps and questions are:

    ·      Observe: What do you observe? Consider the images, people, objects, activities, actions, words, phrases, facts, and numbers.

    ·      Explain: What is the meaning of the objects, words, symbols, etc.?

    ·      Infer: What sentiment (attitude or feeling) do you think the author is trying to convey through the source? What, based on the source, can you infer about the historical event or time period?

    ·      Wonder: What about the source makes you curious? What questions still remain? What additional information would you need to know in order to deepen your understanding of the ideas expressed in the source?

    As a final step, students summarize the central idea of the source by considering the author’s message and specific supporting details. To support students in this process, I provide them with fill-in-the-blank prompts to concisely state the central idea.

    Analyzing historical primary sources in this way tunes students’ ears and focuses their eyes to the stories of the past. Primary sources personalize history and provide students varying perspectives of an event or time period.

    Additional Primary Source Resources

    For additional ideas on using primary sources in the classroom, I recommend the following resources.  

    ·      The Underground Railroad: Escape from Slavery — This comprehensive activity includes photographs, illustrations, and news articles chronicling the people and events of the Civil War.

    ·      Primary Sources for the Interactive Whiteboard: Colonial America, Westward Movement, Civil War By Karen Baicker

    ·      15 Primary Source Activities: American History by Lorraine Hopping EganLouise Hopping

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