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.
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.
- To see a unit plan that highlights investigation, check out Investigating the Building Blocks of Our Community’s Past, Present and Future.
- For help in guiding students through the investigative process, see Thinking Like a Historian and Teaching Inquiry with Primary Sources.
- You can find additional guidance from the three “follow-up activity ideas” at the bottom of each Teacher’s Guide.
Do you have a tip for helping make the connection between primary source analysis and further investigation? We’d love to hear your ideas.