Back to School Night: Parents and Primary Sources

Whether you call it “open house” or “back to school night,” an evening for teachers to meet and greet parents is a fall ritual. This year, consider “flipping” the event: distribute rules and policies in writing, allow time for parents to see examples of student learning, and include an activity or two to help parents better understand the learning processes their children will experience.

Taking a closer look at a picture

Recently Anne Savage blogged about back to school tips, describing many classroom activities that would provide visual evidence of student learning. Seeing the box of tools for primary source analysis, a mini-museum, or pieces of a map to be analyzed and assembled will help parents understand what students will be learning and doing in the class. To deepen their understanding, invite parents to participate in one or two activities. Depending on the time available, you might:

  • Select an image or a map from a primary source set and post it prominently. Have stacks of sticky notes readily available around the room, and invite parents to jot an observation on a sticky note and add it to the primary source.

    A Washington, D.C., classroom, possibly 1899

  • After posting an observation, parents might fill in the blanks in the sentence frame “I think __ because __” on a second sticky note.
  • Invite parents to browse a pre-printed stack of primary sources on various topics or themes, choose one, and leave it on their child’s desk with a note explaining why they chose it.

Many of these can be implemented in only a few minutes and can provide an opportunity for meaningful conversation. Parents can leave feeling engaged and involved, with a better sense of what their children will be experiencing and learning. Plus, students will enjoy seeing their parents’ responses!

Many of these ideas came from conversations with teachers during workshops. Take a minute and leave a comment describing how you help parents understand how you use primary sources in your teaching.


  1. Paula Lusk
    August 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Love the idea of Parents and Primary Sources for Open House. Since we have already collaborated with our Media Specialist to introduce Primary Sources to our students, it would be a great classroom connection for our parents to experience.

  2. Linda Aston
    September 3, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I had hoped to do something similar at our school, but were only given 7 minutes per class. I now plan to create a “Night at the Museum’, to showcase and involve students and parents in the Primary Source process.

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