Blog Round-Up: Primary Source Analysis Strategies

This is a guest post by Mary J. Johnson, an educational consultant to the Library of Congress.

The Teaching with the Library of Congress blog regularly offers suggestions for helping students practice primary source analysis techniques. Since the launch of the interactive Primary Source Analysis Tool a year ago, thousands of students have analyzed maps, texts, photographs, political cartoons, and more the high tech way. Today’s round-up of analysis strategies presents some of the past year’s low-tech ideas that will work in every classroom, no matter what the level of technology access.

Teachers add their thoughts with sticky notes on a projected image

In Observation in Primary Source Analysis: The Sticky Notes Solution, Cheryl Lederle lists ideas for recording observations on sticky notes and attaching them to a primary source. Students can easily annotate printed primary sources as part of an introductory lesson or in an expanding classroom display, learning from and building upon classmates’ observations.

In Maps: More Than Just a Tool for Navigation,  Danna Bell-Russel suggests ways to analyze maps first in pieces and next in map-to-map comparisons. Even if your school does not own a large format printer, you can print maps in sections to focus student observations. Students can look for illustrations, historical language, dates, and geographical features in each section. Following a focused analytical exercise, students can piece together the entire map while also connecting their early observations. Next, through the Library of Congress site’s “More maps like this” feature in the gallery view, teachers can identify additional maps to compare and contrast.

A mapp of Virginia discovered to ye hills

Moving on to more complicated historical events with no distinct beginning or end, how does a teacher guide a primary source analysis? How does a teacher go about selecting primary source examples when no single source represents an event in all its complexity?

Meg Steele considers this challenge in The Great Migration in Library of Congress Primary Sources. Based on two letters, students make inferences about the motivations that drove as many as two million African Americans from the South to northern cities by 1930. As students dig more deeply into the issues that prompted the Great Migration, they discover multiple perspectives in historic newspaper articles from Chronicling America. When students evaluate a variety of accounts from a range of viewpoints, they must think critically to integrate information and to form a thesis. This is primary source analysis at its best!

No matter the age of the student or the complexity of the issue under study, every primary source analysis begins with three simple steps: observe, reflect, question. You can find more detail about analysis strategies, as well as links to teacher’s guides matched to format, in Using Primary Sources.

What low-tech primary source analysis techniques have you used successfully?

How do you organize your activities to focus and differentiate primary source analyses?

2 Comments

  1. A.Prof.MOSSAYYEB SAMANIAN
    July 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    i think before the all student accessiable any document they had learend about method of information retrieval .
    please qouestion about method of finding information ? to teaching method of finding information about any subjects ,but first step what is my subject?please limited words about subject
    step2 what is my need?map.doc,book,journals etc
    step3 where is my to use?conference.research..
    step4 which one is very important for me (reference book articles,thesis,

  2. Rich Cairn EmergingAmerica.org
    July 24, 2013 at 9:27 am

    In a story on National Public Radio last night, teachers expressed their fears and frustrations about the coming Common Core. This post offers a vital set of resources for those frustrated teachers.

    Primary source analysis is simply one aspect of critical thinking, and critical thinking is what the new Common Core is all about. As part of its emphasis on literacy (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), the Common Core specifically calls for use of primary sources. The tools in this article offer teachers and students a variety of means to bulk up their capacity for critical thinking.

    Through the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program, teachers can participate in excellent, hands-on, no-cost professional development to learn and apply these and other tools and approaches to inquiry-based use of primary sources. (See “TPS Partners” on the Library’s Teacher page.)

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