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Primary Sources for the Primary Grades: There’s More to Ireland than Shamrocks!

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

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, some young students might immerse themselves in the eye-catching images often associated with the holiday in the U.S.: shamrocks, green clothing, and the occasional pot of gold. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce students to a corner of the actual country of Ireland through primary sources.

Start with the class as a whole group, and give each student a copy of this photochrom print of Glendalough. County Wicklow, Ireland.

Glendalough. County Wicklow, Ireland. Robert French
Glendalough. County Wicklow, Ireland. Robert French

Provide students time to look at the image and make their own observations. After a short period of personal observation, pair students to discuss all they saw in the image. While students are talking with their partners, the teacher can walk around the room, listen in, and pose questions to pairs of students.

What did you notice first? What did you notice that you didn’t expect?

Give students time with their partners, and then gather them as a whole group to share details or items they saw in the image. On large chart paper, the teacher or students can record responses.

Next, give students time to make reflections, using background knowledge or details from the image to support their answer. If the students are not familiar with making reflections, the teacher can model by offering examples, such as “I see a mountain.  I know that is a mountain because my family drove to the mountains and it looked just the way it did in the picture.” The teacher can guide them with questions such as, how do you know that is a house, a lake, a castle.

When students have completed making reflections, support them in comparing this image to their neighborhood. Asking questions and requiring students to supply details and background knowledge to support the answers will help them realize the image is not their neighborhood.

Where is it? Tell the students it is from County Wicklow, Ireland.

Memoir of a map of Ireland, 1797

Give students a copy of this map of Ireland. Allow time for students to interact with the map. Let them talk about all they see, and then direct them to try to find County Wicklow with a partner.

Once again the teacher can walk around the room and drive student inquiry by asking questions. Students can continue their conversations and observations together, using the map, until all partners have found Wicklow.

Once County Wicklow has been identified, gather students as a whole group and ask them to share items or details they saw on the map. Students or the teacher can record answers on large chart paper. Have students make reflections or think about why the map was made. You can use the Library’s analysis tool for analyzing maps for use with your class.

Finally, encourage students to wonder: What more do they want to know either about the image or the map?

Explore this gallery for more images of Ireland.

Leave a comment to let us know what your students discovered!

Comments (4)

  1. These lesson ideas are interesting, fun, and challenging as well as skill developing. At this point in the school year the students who have been exposed to all these activities involving primary sources should be demonstrating excellent evaluation and communication skills.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog. Encouraging students to consider what they “wonder” about a lesson, prior to and after discussion, really stimulates young learners to broaden their thought process. What an interesting lesson about Ireland, possibly combined with a book about the Irish Countryside. Another inspiring lesson utilizing a holiday theme, as suggested, beyond shamrocks and rainbows.

  3. What a beautiful image of the countryside! Here in America where St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated green is certainly the color that goes hand in hand with the holiday. I believe it is important for children to understand where the holiday originates and images of a “green” Ireland and a map will not only allow students to get an accurate understanding, but also allow them to interpret their own image of Ireland expanding their imagination beyond typical items associated with the holiday.

  4. I believe it is very important to teach beyond the ‘hallmark holiday’. I love this activity and would like to see it included in an overall discussion that may begin with “What do we already know about St Patrick’s Day and where was it originally celebrated?” It is important to understand why in the U.S. we celebrate so many holidays that originated all over the world. There is potential here for early conversations about the importance of immigration to U.S. culture. Thanks for sharing!

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