Examining Primary Sources

In Social Studies, primary sources are pretty much our bread and butter. Our primary task, however, is not to interpret them for students. Our job is to guide students in interpreting them. Take a look at the following suggestions about creating helpful guides for primary sources.

Primary Source:
  • Use a source appropriate for students' maturity, abilities, and interests.
  • Identify your objective for using the source. Your activity should revolve around this objective.
  • Create two types of guiding questions:
    • Questions that help students familiarize themselves with the source (who, what, where, when, and how)
    • Questions that help students interpret the source (why, opinions, meanings, conclusions)
  • Since all questions should revolve around the primary source, you don't need a lot of questions - five to ten is more than reasonable.
  • Make your questions direct and specific so that students know what to look for (without getting the answers in the question).

Source 1

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.

At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, and many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Source 2

Source 3