Monday, May 28, 2012

Inquiring into a Primary Source

What can primary sources tell us about how Vermont (and other states in the North) raised an army during the Civil War?  Local sources such as town meeting records, rosters, and pay records can help students to understand how communities responded to the call for men.

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:

Descriptive 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 
Interpretive Questions 
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 
 Analytical Questions 
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 
 If students are just beginning to use primary sources, begin with just one or jigsaw several groups of students with just one document per group.  Later when they are more experienced, students can begin to collect information from a series of primary sources and write an analytical response.

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