To get the most out of a primary source, students need to ask a variety of questions. One way to guide them is by asking scaffolded questions that move from description to analysis. Here are some sample questions:
Questions that help students identify the primary source Who, What, When, Where?
- What do you see in this picture/map/document?
- Look more closely, what details help you know what is going on?
- Find, locate, tell, list, define, draw, label, record
Questions that help students formulate ideas based on existing evidence; questions that encourage them to probe more deeply
- Why do you think this document/map/picture was created?
- What are the most important things about this document?
- What do you think happened just before this picture was taken?
- Are there any clues about how life was different from life today?
- Who would have had a different point of view?
- Use a timeline to put the source into context
- What do you think the title means?
- Confirm, predict, match, relate, sort, categorize
Open-ended questions that provoke discussion
- What can you say about early settlement in this community?
- What does this document tell you about life in the US at the time it was created?
- What do you now understand about _______in our nation’s history?
- Compare/Contrast the source with one from a different place, perspective, or time
- Can you predict what might happen?
- What question would you like to ask this author?
- What questions do you have about this document?
- Where might you find the answers?
- Give your opinion about….
- What connections can you draw between this photograph and what you have learned in your history class?
- Design, invent, compose, hypothesize, compare, investigate, critique, criticize, assess, conclude, justify