This is a guest post from Cindy Rich, of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program at Eastern Illinois University.
When presenting a primary source for analysis, I don’t share bibliographic information right away. Analyzing a primary source to discern specifics such as date created and location from clues in the primary source develops crucial literacy skills. Students draw upon individual strengths, interests and previous experiences to observe, infer, predict, analyze, classify, and summarize. Who would simply hand them that information? Introducing it strategically and deliberately offers opportunities for ongoing practice of literacy skills, including gleaning information from titles.
This activity features three photographs taken by Lewis Hine as part of his work as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Hine had a specific objective when labeling his photos and the titles are ideal for this activity, but the strategies would work with many other primary sources.
|National Child Labor Committee. No. 435. Flashlight photo of children on night shift going to work at 6 P.M. on a cold, dark December night. They do not come out again until 6:00 A.M. When they went home the next morning they were all drenched by a heavy, cold rain and had few or no wraps. Two of the smaller girls with three other sisters work on night shift and support a big, lazy father who complains he is not well enough to work. He loafs around the country store. Location: Whitnel, North Carolina.|
|[Going back to work. Youngest boy is Richard Millsap. The family record in bible says he is 11 years old – born Jan 22, 1903 (doubtful), and father says 12 years old. He appears to be under 9. Works every day at spinning, and has been working for some weeks. Boss saw investigator photographing him and whistled to him to get out. This photograph was gotten as he went in to work. Then boss took him off his regular job and put him helping others. Mother was furious at boss for not giving Richard and sister (a little older) more steady work. “He keeps changin em around and helpin others. I’ll tell him that if he doesn’t give em plenty of work there is plenty of mills that will.” Father and mother both well and able to support family.] Location: Opelika, Alabama.|
|Mary and Minnie Gillim, fourteen and fifteen years old. They were commencing to attend the Mill School at Avondale, and had been to school but two weeks in their lives. Were in the low first grade in company with a child of six years. At that time (Nov. 30/10) their father was trying to take them out of school and put them back into the cotton mill. He has no obvious occupation. Location: Birmingham, Tennessee.||
Part One: Present the titles, but not the images, to students. Ask them to apply close reading skills to the paragraphs. For example:
- What is the main idea of this paragraph?
- Highlight three phrases or words that support your main idea. Circle words that you feel are important words – such as names of people or places.
- What information did you infer that helped you choose a main idea?
- Look at the words you circled. Note any connections
- Did the author use adjectives or words that show emotion, bias or personal feelings? Highlight those words in another color.
- Read the last sentence. How does that sentence relate to the rest of the paragraph.
- How do you think the author feels about the main idea of this paragraph? Why?
Part Two: Display or distribute the photographs. Ask students to analyze the photographs while using the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Tool to record observations, reflections, and any questions the photograph prompts.
Part Three: Ask students to match the photograph with the title. Provide full bibliographic information for each photo and ask students to consider:
- Look at the title and image together. Were your assumptions about them separately correct? What points are clearer now? What items in the image support the words in the title?
- Does the image support or contradict the title? How?
What is the common theme of these photos?
In addition to photos from the National Child Labor Committee Collection, you may consider images by Dorothea Lange or Ansel Adams, or include primary sources in other formats. What examples of interesting primary source titles have you found?
Part one of this series is available here.