Common Core State Standards, and many state content standards, emphasize reading informational text. Explore primary sources from the Library of Congress to discover informational text in many formats–including some formats that might surprise you.
The more complex the issue, the more varied the perspectives on it, and those perspectives are expressed in sometimes unexpected documents, like political cartoons and popular songs. Inviting students to engage with these raw materials of history requires them to evaluate as well as comprehend complex texts.
Primary source sets offer a great starting place. Skim the titles for a topic related to your teaching goals and select primary sources for use in your classroom.
For example, you might select documents about immigration to the United States in the early 20th century from the primary source set Immigration Challenges for New Americans and ask students to study them to learn about attitudes toward immigration in the US in the early 20thcentury.
A sequence that we have used effectively with teachers starts with Immigration figures for 1903. Looking carefully at the audience and purpose for this document is crucial to evaluating it. Students must understand the point of view or purpose and determine how that shapes the document. Direct students as needed with questions selected from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Books & Other Printed Texts. (Be sure they consider the organization name on the front page, and read the description on the back.)
Questions to consider: What is the song’s message about immigration? Is the cartoon in favor of Congressman Burnett’s “wall” or opposed? What evidence do they see to support their hypothesis?
Finally, play the recording and ask the students: How is it different to listen than to read the lyrics? Did the melody sound like they expected after reading the lyrics? How does each have a different impact?
Students might learn more about what Congressman Burnett proposed by reading newspapers of the day.
What can be learned from comparing multiple documents? What other unusual formats can be studied as informational texts?