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Observation in Primary Source Analysis: The Sticky Notes Solution

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Teachers add their observations to a printed map from the Library's online collections using sticky notes

Close observation is crucial to working with primary sources, but fortunately better observation skills can be just a few sticky notes away.

During this year’s Library of Congress summer teacher institutes, teachers of all grade and ability levels discussed ways to engage students in close observation of primary sources.

One easy technique emerged: sticky notes. Students can press them directly onto a primary source to mark which details they’re looking at and responding to. They can easily annotate the primary source. Over time, students can add to–or respond to–the observations that they or others have made.

Teachers use sticky notes to annotate a projected image

Begin by selecting a visual item – a map, photograph, or print. Ready-made primary source sets offer many quick options. Prepare to print or display the item. Allow time to let students notice and build on each others’ observations: “Wow! I didn’t notice that!”

The teachers came up with many ideas to use with this technique:

  • Use the wall space in your classroom to develop an ongoing display.
  • Display a picture of the week that students can add notes to every day.
  • Introduce a lesson or topic with a related visual item.
  • Display only a portion of the item to encourage close observation. Add to it over time until the whole item is displayed. (The maps in the primary source sets print in pieces, making it very easy to implement this.)

Previous entries on this blog have also discussed ways to help students develop their observation skills:

What activities or strategies will you use this year to support your students’ close observation?

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