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

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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!


Comments (4)

  1. I like this primary source for the simple fact that young students can see how Valentine’s Day was celebrated in the past. Students should notice the different clothing, different hairstyles, and what we call today, antique furniture. But they should also realize that many things are similar, such as, buying, sending, delivering, and reading Valentine cards.

    This image made me think of the times I opened and shared Valentine messages with my classmates. I loved Valentine’s Day because it was a break from the normal routine and I was able to deliver my own Valentine cards in person.

  2. By experience, I also can say that when students can make personal connections they are more likely to become more engaged. In this 21st century students are more interested in what touches their lives, what they can relate to, and what they are learning impact their lives or is relevant to their lives. So by asking to describe what they see, teachers give them opportunities to express their views/opinions which allows the teachers to see the potential embedded in each of the class members.

  3. An interesting follow up would be to have the young learners bring in a current Valentine card and compare and contrast with the primary source. I anticipate discussions on the period dress and Cupid and the sequence of events on the source document. I enjoyed the idea of buddy sharing their ideas and thoughts to include those who are reluctant to share with the entire group. Thanks once again for an inspiring article!

  4. I think that students will maybe make a connection on how in the past social media was not electronic, and not immediate, one had to wait for a response. Valentines day is a long enduring day not one just created by the modern day card companies as many of my friends suggest.

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