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Monday, December 5, 2011

Want kids to think historically? Go to the Source!

   When trying to get students to think critically about historical events, what better place to start than primary sources?  As the new Common Core Standards call for increased reading of challenging informational texts in a range of subject areas, teachers will be looking for easy access to primary documents and strategies to help our student’s comprehension of this type of reading.   Simple strategies that ask questions of our students help to guide and document their thinking.
The Library of Congress ( provides sets of primary sources.   They also provide a “Teacher’s Guide and student worksheet ( with a strategy for helping our students think critically while using the documents.  The strategy is based on questions that will have students observe, reflect, and question.  
Thanks to Jennifer Hanson, Marcy Prager, and Ann Marie Gleeson from for sharing a number of wonderful links to primary documents, resource guides, articles and teaching strategies at their workshop at the recent NCSS Annual Conference.  PrimarySource also provides a series of questions and a student worksheet to guide critical thinking on informational texts. Their Primary Source Analysis worksheet provides questions to determine the what, when, who, why, and questions students may have.   They also provide classroom-ready activities for students on their site as well as great links to sites that provide primary sources.
TregoED provides a critical thinking strategy and online discussion tool that takes student thinking one step further.  The SCAN online discussion tool at allows teachers to link primary sources to lessons help students learn and appreciate point of view.  Students determine the issues that are important to each point of view represented, collaborate and analyze the actions that were taken and discuss possible alternatives to gain a deeper understanding of the event.  Students begin to think historically as they work through the questions from the SCAN critical thinking strategy (See the issues, Clarify the Issues, Ask What’s Important, and Now, what’s next?) on such events as the Boston Tea Party, Manifest Destiny, or the Patriot Act. 
Primary documents are a great way to increase student reading and comprehension of informational texts.  For links to more resources for primary documents, check out the resource tab in this livebinder.

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