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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Primary Sources: Perfect for Focus Activities

I've written about teaching with primary sources before, for example in this 2012 article cleverly named "Teaching with Primary Sources," and in this post, which recognizes that exposure to primary sources is not enough. But I believe the topic bears revisiting.

Primary sources can help promote empathy, curiosity, and engagement; make students feel like “real historians”; provide an opportunity to practice close reading (images are great for this!); and teach students how to evaluate the evidence and the quality of a source.

With so many sources now available, through the Library of Congress, National Archives, Montana Memory, and other websites, finding primary sources is no longer the main barrier to integrating them into the classroom. The barrier is figuring out how to use them effectively.

One of the easiest ways to effectively integrate primary sources into your classroom is to use them for focus activities--to introduce a unit or refocus students' attention at a midpoint.

For focus activities, I especially like primary sources that

There are lots of different focus activity techniques:
  • Visual Thinking StrategiesCrop It and Zoom-In (for images)
  • Class or pair/share discussion based on one or two well-crafted questions, especially after giving students a few minutes to "write their way in" (3 minutes of non-stop writing to get thoughts down on paper--without worrying about spelling, punctuation, etc.)
  • After reviewing source, have small groups of students generate a list of questions about the upcoming topic of instruction. 
Do you have a favorite strategy for working with primary sources that I've missed or a favorite primary source that you use with your class? Share it with me and I'll share it out.

P.S. The deadline to apply to become a Middle School Montana History Teacher Leader is fast approaching. If this interests you, make sure to submit your application before April 30. If you have questions about the program, don't hesitate to contact me.

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