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Primary Source Analysis Tool: What’s Next? Further Investigation

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So, your students have recorded their observations, reflections and questions using the Primary Source Analysis Tool from the Library of Congress. What’s next?  The Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Primary Sources offers guidance, and I spoke with the Library’s Teacher in Residence, Earnestine Sweeting, to find out what this next step might look like in the classroom.

Primary Source Analysis Tool
Primary Source Analysis Tool

At the bottom of the Primary Source Analysis Tool is a section labeled, “Further Investigation.” As the Teacher’s Guides explain, this is the section where you “help students identify questions appropriate for further investigation, and develop a research strategy for finding answers.”  In addition to asking your students, “What more do you want to know, and how can you find out?” what can you do to guide them forward after analyzing a primary source?

One strategy from Earnestine is to have students revisit the questions they previously generated in the Question column. In her classroom, Earnestine will immediately collect students’ completed Analysis Tools for evaluation, then hand them back at a later date for the review.  She then asks, “What questions intrigue you the most?” This discussion helps identify which questions interest students enough to engage them throughout the upcoming investigation.  Students then talk about where they can find out more, using both primary and secondary sources.

Earnestine says that sharing essential questions with students ahead of time is critical, to help guide students’ thinking so that they can explicitly link information from the analysis of the primary source to a topic or learning goal.

Other strategies include:

  • Provide additional primary sources from different points of view, for students to analyze and investigate for perspectives and bias.
  • Provide contemporary primary sources so that students can find out what has changed over time.
  • Have students generate a list of terms they don’t understand – perhaps using a word wall – to help them expand their vocabulary and develop richer questions.

Earnestine and I both agree on this: encouraging student choice in what to investigate gives them ownership in the learning process.  Planning ahead – through your selection of primary sources and framing of instructional goals – helps ensure that the questions students investigate further are related to your desired learning outcomes.

Additional Resources:

Do you have a tip for helping make the connection between primary source analysis and further investigation?  We’d love to hear your ideas.

Comments (4)

  1. Another way to have the kids ask deeper questions is to have them categorize the questions. Fact, Wonderings, Universal, are some caterogies I have used.

  2. Our Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) workshops use a Civil War portrait of an African American soldier as a model for Library of Congress analysis worksheets. A key question always arises: “What was the role of African American soldiers in the Civil War?” Clearly, no single photo can adequately answer the question. So the image becomes a jumping off point for “Further Investigation.” What sources would answer that larger question?

    See the photo and questions at “Featured Source” on our TPS page:

  3. I have done a similar version of this activity with both LOC primary source sets and sets of my own. For example, each student received a copy of a Depression-era letter addressed to Eleanor Roosevelt. For approximately 2 – 3 minutes, the student can write interpretations, questions, or connections on the document. At the end of the time, they pass the document on to another person. They not only get to read a new document, but they see each others questions and interpretations as well.

  4. Recently I had students read a story by Ernie Pyle. The students then used the PSA tool to analyze a photo of Ernie Pyle’s dead body that surfaced in 2008. The students had a lot of questions about how the photo was taken, why it was suppressed for so long, and whether the photographer posed the hands before he took the photo.

    In the “Further Investigation” box, I asked students to write out the research strategy they’d use to answer those questions; the students all gravitated towards the internet. Then they called out suggestions to me as I projected the results of their search terms. The point of this last part of the lesson was to reinforce search techniques we had been talking about all year. But it eventually led students to question whether the internet HAD the answer at all, a result that really pleased me.

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