A&HE 4058 (2)
Meaning of Primary Sources through the Social Studies Lens
Approach 1: Text, Context, Subtext
- Issues Addressed: reading level range, background knowledge
- Optional Materials: multiple excerpts of the same document
Text: What is this document (letter, speech, newspaper article,
etc.)? Was it public or private? Who was the author? the audience?
Context: When and where was it created? What do you already know
about that place and time? What questions do you have about that place and time?
Subtext: What is the purpose of this document? What was the author's
intention? What did s/he say without saying it?
If you are excerpting from a lengthy source, consider making multiple
versions so that each level of readers works with a length that is manageable.
Group students by reading level and provide each group the source they can best
manage in the given amount of time. Even if you reduce a document to the most
important paragraph, the students are still working with the authentic text, not
a paraphrased version.
National Archives written source
analysis guide. They offer
Abolitionists were not part of a single unified movement. They endorsed
varied strategies and goals. Below are just two of the many people dedicated to
the cause of abolition. Use the analysis guide to make meaning of one of the
sources. When you are finished, identify the key excerpt which gets to the heart
of the document to share with someone who read the other document.
William Lloyd Garrison, "Sonnet
Frederick Douglas, "The
Meaning of July 4th for the Negro"
Notice that both documents include pictures which can help a
student access the text.
Approach 3: Partner (Dialectical) Reading
- Group students in pairs by common reading level.
- Have one partner in each pair copy the primary source into a Google Doc
or some other shared editing platform and invite their partner to
collaborate. Mac and Android tablets have apps for this approach.
- Both partners read and annotate the document simultaneously. MUSQ works
well for this exercise.
- As with the approach above, you can give different versions of the text
to different groups.
- As they annotate students will engage each other in a conversation about
the source which can be used as preparation for a whole class discussion or
an individual written reflection.
- Bobby and Josh on tax reform as an example; Grace and Lizzie on the
Your Turn: Practice with
Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural
- Choose one of the approaches above to practice and critique.
- Notice the document includes both pictures and questions to help a
student who is struggling find a route into the document.
- If you needed to excerpt this document, what parts could you omit? what
parts are essential to keep?
- Consider the question that links Lincoln's
speech to Douglass. This question could be used for a writing or discussion
Considering Going Forward:
My responses to your questions
Using Visual Texts:
- Paintings, propaganda posters, photographs, political cartoons all offer
students opportunities to read someone else's ideas and opinions of their
place in time and can be used to expand or supplement exploration of written
- This guide is used by my students to
guide painting analysis; I edit the bottom portion to be relevant to the
context in which they are examining the painting.
- I created this guide for analyzing
modeled after the National Archives guides.
- POSERS is handy for
Literary and Historical Text Pairings:
Blogs I Recommend: (I will continue to
compile resources here)