Primary Source Analysis Tool: Forming Meaningful Questions

Do your students love to ask questions?  Or would they rather just have the answers?

Primary Source Analysis Tool

Primary Source Analysis Tool

The ability to form meaningful questions is important to critical thinking and a foundation of an inquiry-based classroom, but it’s a skill that can get lost.  Using the Primary Source Analysis Tool is one way to help your students refine this skill – or, in the case of reluctant questioners, get them started.  It may also help you address standards, as students learn to extend their understanding of key details and explore the historical context and significance of an item through questioning.

What belongs in the “Question” column?  Basically, what you’d expect – it’s the part of the analysis process where students share any questions they have as they observe and reflect on a primary source.  Once they’ve begun asking questions, you can guide them towards deeper questions that will lead to more observations and reflections, using questions selected from the Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Primary Sources.

Tips for using the “Question” column:

  • As students observe and reflect on a primary source, ask, “What do you wonder about?”
  • If needed, model by asking your own question related to the primary source.
  • Display sentence starters (Who, what, when, where, why, how…?).
  • Help students see that the analysis process is circular:
    • Encourage students to look back at the primary source by asking, “Do you see any clues in the primary source that would help address that question?”
    • Encourage students to consider using prior knowledge by asking, “Does anyone already know anything related to that question?”

Learning to ask clear and appropriate questions is part of critical thinking, but as importantly, helps students be more fully engaged in the learning process.  Do you have a tip for encouraging students to ask questions?  We’ll talk more about encouraging and responding to student questions in a future blog post, and we’d love to share some of your ideas.

3 Comments

  1. MaryJane
    March 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    I have been using the Primary Source Analysis Tool with American History classes, when teaching research skills. The tips for using the question section are great. I have found that students really need the Anaylsis Tool to be modeled for them before they can use it effectively.

  2. Janna Conoway
    February 7, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    I think coming up with good questions is sometimes hard for students when studying and analyzing things. The primary source analysis tool seems like it would be helpful to get students to understand how to develop questions about the primary source they are looking at. It also gives me tips for guiding students through analyzing primary sources by asking meaningful critical thinking questions.

  3. Marybeth Reilly
    July 26, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    Like the reflection portion, using this three-step process leads to more meaningful questions when we give the students time to really examine sources.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.