Primary Sources for the Primary Grades: Valentine’s Day Primary Sources

This post is by Teresa St. Angelo, the 2016-2017 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

Realizing that Valentine’s Day is steeped in tradition may surprise and intrigue young learners. This charming primary source from 1861 can be used to spark your students’ curiosity about how Valentine’s Day was celebrated more than a century ago.

Begin by providing each student with a copy of the Valentine’s Day primary source. Allow time for students to examine the primary source image and discover what is happening. Support students’ observations by posing guiding questions such as:

  • What do you see? Describe it.
  • What did you see first? Why?

Give all your students a chance to participate and be recognized. Building in time for them to turn and talk to a buddy will allow students who are uneasy speaking to a larger group to feel that they are a valuable part of the classroom.

St. Valentines Day. From Harpers Weekly, 1861

St. Valentines Day. From Harpers Weekly, 1861

Modeling how students can make personal connections would be appropriate and enriching to the learning experience. Ask the students to think about connections to their own experiences. When students make connections, they are thinking and therefore more engaged in their learning.

Continue by encouraging reflections. This is different from reporting observations and it is vital to a primary source analysis. Reflection requires students to make inferences and draw conclusions. Students can use their background knowledge to explain their thinking.  For example, if a student were to say, “I see a postman” encourage him or her to refer to details in the image or reveal prior knowledge that support that conclusion. This can be accomplished by asking, “What do you see that made you think that?” or “How do you know that?” Students feel a sense of accomplishment when they can explain their thinking and support their answer.

When students have finished making their observations and reflections, invite them to explain what they think is happening in this Valentine’s Day primary source. You can add to their learning by asking:

  • How are events in this image similar to things that happen today?
  • How are events in this image different from things that happen today?

Finish the analysis of the image by asking the students if they have any questions. You can model for them by writing on chart paper: What do you want to know about now? List their questions. Come back to this list at another time and see what further information students can contribute.

Is there a follow -up activity you would use with your students? Please reply in the comment section, and Happy Valentine’s Day!


Students and Presidential Speeches: Analyzing Past Speeches and Delivering Their Own

Abraham Lincoln on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, addressing an inaugural crowd at the end of a brutal war. Teddy Roosevelt leaning from the back of a railroad car to speak to an informal group gathered below him. Franklin Delano Roosevelt facing a row of radio microphones, addressing the nation—and the world—without leaving his home. […]

Primary Sources for the Primary Grades: A Apple Pie

A Apple Pie, created and published in 1900, traces the destiny of an apple pie, using the alphabet and charming illustrations.

This delightful primary source, more than an alphabet recognition book, is superb to use with any grade. Look carefully at every illustration and you will see toys, clothing, and activities that will enhance a student’s understanding of a past time. Each page offers opportunities to create a variety of questions for further investigation.