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Using Primary Source Documents Teacher's Guide Contents

Using primary sources can be a powerful and evocative way to engage students in history. However, students can sometimes have trouble understanding or analyzing primary sources. The following questions* will help students feel more comfortable using such sources. Students may find it helpful to underline the answers within each document.

Descriptive Questions: What does it say?

  • Who produced the document? When?
  • Who was supposed to read, see, or hear it?
  • What does it say? What story does it tell?
Analytical Questions: What does it mean?
  • Why was it produced? What purpose or purposes was it intended to serve?
  • What does it tell us about the values, beliefs, institutions, and problems of the individual, group, or society that produced it?
"So What" Questions: Why do we care?
  • Why is what we learn about the past from this document important?
  • What importance does it have for our own world?

Many of the books and Web sites listed in the General Resources section contain rich primary sources, as does the Resource Bank Index of the Africans in America Web site.

* Adapted from Christine Michelmore, used by permission.

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