Primary sources. Documents. Using evidence. Solving problems. Historical thinking. And that’s a good thing. But I know that it can be difficult sometimes trying to figure out how to use primary sources.
First piece of advice?
Don’t worry so much about primary vs. secondary sources. Start thinking about evidence, about data, instead of focusing just on one sort of document over another. Because if we’re asking great questions, kids will be using all sorts of documents and sources to solve the problem.
Second piece of advice?
Don’t re-invent the wheel. Have kids use the different tools already out there as they work to make sense of documents. As we train our kids to think historically, these sorts of analysis worksheets can be great scaffolding tools, especially with elementary and middle school students.
Some of the best document analysis worksheets are those generated by the National Archives and the Library of Congress. But there are others out there.
- Written Document (PDF) (HTML version)
- Photograph (PDF) (HTML version)
- Cartoon (PDF) (HTML version)
- Poster (PDF) (HTML version)
- Map (PDF) (HTML version)
- Artifact (PDF) (HTML version)
- Motion Picture (PDF) (HTML version)
- Sound Recording (PDF) (HTML version)
Library of Congress:
Analysis Tool for Students
- Analyzing Primary Sources (PDF, 56 KB)
- Analyzing Books and Other Printed Texts (PDF, 61 KB)
- Analyzing Manuscripts (PDF, 71 KB)
- Analyzing Maps (PDF, 55 KB)
- Analyzing Motion Pictures (PDF, 55 KB)
- Analyzing Oral Histories (PDF, 73 KB)
- Analyzing Photographs and Prints (PDF, 55 KB)
- Analyzing Political Cartoons (PDF, 83 KB)
- Analyzing Sheet Music and Song Sheets (PDF, 55 KB)
- Analyzing Sound Recordings (PDF, 55 KB)
The Wisconsin Historical Society has a few tools:
- Document Analysis Worksheet (PDF, 8KB)
- Image Analysis Worksheet (PDF, 8KB)
- Artifact Analysis Worksheet (PDF, 7KB)
- Map Analysis Worksheet (PDF, 8KB)
- History & Critical Thinking: A Handbook (PDF, 615KB)
The version from the University of California:
And if you’ve got a few hours, head over to History Tech for hundreds of primary source ideas, links, and graphic organizers.