Analyzing the Evidence
The Science and the Investigators
Who am I? A Genealogy Guide
Sharing Stories
For Educators
About the Series

For Educators
Intro Lesson Plan 1 Lesson Plan 2 Lesson Plan 3
  by Christopher W. Czajka
  • Overview
  • Procedures for Teachers


    1) Show your students the non-fiction history book you've brought to class. Explain to your students that the book details a specific historical event, and tell them what that event is. Ask your students how the author of the book may have gotten the information and historical facts found in the book. What types of research may the author have done, and what sources of information may the author have used? Write your students' responses on the board. (Student answers will vary, but should include reading or conducting interviews with people who participated in the event, looking at contemporary news coverage of the event if possible, reading other books about the event, etc. If appropriate, you may want to share items from the book's bibliography or works cited section with your students.) Point out to your students that historians examining the past have a variety of resources that can aid their investigations.

    2) Ask your students if they are familiar with the term "primary source document," which they may have heard before in social studies or history class. Ask your students if they can give you a definition of what a "primary source document" is. (Student answers will vary; guide students to realize that primary source documents are original records created at the time historical events occurred, or accounts of events created after they happened by the people who were directly involved.) Write your students' definition on the board. Ask your students if you were to write a book about the Underground Railroad, would it be a primary source document? (No.) Why? (You were not directly involved in the Underground Railroad. You might use some primary sources while writing your book, but since you weren't there when it was happening, you can't create a primary source.)

    3) Ask your students if they think primary sources always have to be documents (or written word). Why or why not? (Student answers will vary; accept all responses.) Ask your students if something like a photograph, a piece of clothing, or an audio recording could be considered a primary source. (Student answers will vary; accept all responses.)

    4) Tell your students to imagine that they are historians living 300 years from now. Explain to your students that in the year 2306, the site of your school is an archeological dig, and that a team of historians has discovered a variety of artifacts relating to life in your school in 2006. Show your students the selection of 3-5 "artifacts" related to your school, and explain what each item is. Ask your students to decide if the artifacts are "primary sources," and to defend their decision. (Guide your students to realize that the artifacts ARE primary sources. You may need to refer to the definition you developed as a class. The artifacts were records created at the time events occurred, by people who were directly involved in the events. All of the "artifacts" would provide historians in 2306 with first-hand insight into life at your school at the dawn of the 21st century.) What do the artifacts reveal about your school? (Answers will vary, depending on your artifacts.)

    5) Explain to your students that sometimes primary sources only provide clues and hints to the past, and not all of the details of a particular event. Use one of your "artifacts" as an example. Does the artifact tell the whole story about the people and events surrounding its creation? (No.) Historians may have to closely examine primary sources to understand what they are, and where they came from.

    6) Tell your students that you have some primary source photographs you would like them to examine. It will be their responsibility to examine these photographs and see what they can conclude about the photographs and the people presented in them.

    7) Distribute the "Analyze This!" handout to your students. Divide your students into five groups. Give each group one of the family photographs you've procured. Ask your students to examine the photographs and complete the questions on Part 1 of the handout. Give your students 15-20 minutes to complete this task.

    8) After your students have examined the photographs, ask each group to show their photograph to the rest of the class, and to share their predictions about the photograph and the people depicted in it. After each group has shared their predictions, share the information you know about the picture with the students. Ask your students if they were able to obtain historical information from these primary sources. How? (Student answers will vary.)

    9) Ask your students to select one person from the photograph they have examined as the basis for a "Character Study." What is this person thinking or feeling? What do the clues in the photograph and the additional information they know about the photograph reveal about the person? Ask your students to write a short (one or two paragraph) narrative from the point of view of their selected person. Students should write their first-person narratives in Part 2 of the "Analyze This!" handout. You may collect the handout from the students to assess progress and understanding.


    1) Explain to your students that they will be soon be examining more primary sources in an online interactivity. While they are discovering how historians used these primary sources to discover facts about family histories, they will also be learning how to preserve their own "primary sources" for future generations.

    2) Distribute the "Analyze That!" handout to your students. Divide your students into five groups, and number the groups 1-5 (the groups can be the same groups from the Introductory Activity if you like). Explain to your students that in preparation for a recent documentary, teams of historians, librarians, and researchers had to examine thousands of photographs, diaries, and legal documents to prepare family histories for a group of well-known African Americans. This type of historical research is called "genealogical research."

    3) Ask your students to log on to the AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES "Analyzing the Evidence" interactivity at Assign Group #1 to the primary source "A Gathering of Men." Assign Group #2 to the primary source "De Furst Work I Done." Assign Group #3 to the primary source "The Swift Current." Assign Group #4 to the primary source "Collared Men." Assign Group #5 to the primary source "The Schedule." Explain to your students that they will be asked a series of questions about the document; accompanying each question is a hint that will help them select the correct answer. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to examine their assigned primary sources and complete the information on Parts 1 and 2 of the "Analyze That!" handout. Students should be prepared to discuss their primary source, as well as the information they gathered about analyzing and preserving primary sources. Give your students 15-20 minutes to complete this task.

    4) After your students have completed the interactivity, ask each group to briefly report on their primary source, as well as the information they gathered about analyzing and preserving primary sources. Students should jot down tips and pointers for preserving their own personal artifacts and primary sources in Part 2 of the "Analyze That!" handout from each presentation.

    5) Explain to your students that often, a primary source document or artifact viewed in isolation may not include all of the information necessary to understand an event or person. Remind students of their own experiences with the artifacts from your school and the family photographs they examined. Tell students that they will now get some additional information on some of the documents they have examined.

    6) Insert AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES, Episode 1, "Listening to Our Past" into your VCR. CUE the video to the point where you see black-and-white footage of the Civil Rights movement, and you hear music. The segment begins immediately before the narrator states, "Change did not come easily." Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify what life was like for African Americans a century ago. PLAY the video. PAUSE the video when you see the black-and-white photograph of a man sitting on a barrel with his head in his hands, and you hear the narrator say, "the consequences could be disastrous." PAUSE the video. Check for comprehension, and ask your students what life was like for African Americans a century ago. (African Americans a century ago could only dream of the days when segregation would end. They were not treated as equal citizens.) Ask your students what evidence they saw in the film illustrating that African Americans were not treated equally. (Evidence from the film includes a photograph of a segregated waiting room and drinking fountain, as well as thousands of African Americans marching for equal rights.) If necessary, REWIND the tape and replay the images. Ask your students why they think the consequences of "challenging the system" could be disastrous. (Accept all student answers.)

    7) Ask the students who reviewed the primary source "The Swift Current" to recount what their primary source was, and what it revealed. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to see if their classmates' assessment of what happened to T.D. Jakes' grandfather is in agreement with the film. PLAY the video from the previous pause point. PAUSE the tape when you hear Jakes say, "this is not the real story." Check for comprehension, and ask your students if the film is in agreement with their classmates. (Probably not.) Ask your students to predict what they think may have happened to Thomas D. Jake. (Accept all answers.) Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to check their predictions and see if any of them are correct. PLAY the video from the previous pause point. PAUSE the video when you see Bishop T.D. Jakes, and you hear him say, "And they set him up. . .they murdered him." Check for comprehension, and ask your students if any of their predictions were correct. (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students what exactly happened to Bishop T.D. Jakes' grandfather. (According to family history, the grandfather got into a fight with the white men with whom he worked. The grandfather used to swim to and from work everyday across a lake. The white men put some barbed wire in the lake, and the grandfather became entangled in it and drowned.)

    8) Ask your students why the death certificate does not reflect this information. (Student answers will vary; guide students to realize that if the story is true, there was some sort of cover-up.) Ask your students whose story they are more likely to believe: the story presented on the death certificate or the story presented to Bishop T.D. Jakes by his grandmother? (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students if BOTH the death certificate and the grandmother's story are primary sources? (Yes.) Do primary sources always present facts? (Not necessarily.) Ask your students if there would be any way to definitively determine what happened. How would they go about an investigation? What primary sources might they use? (Student answers will vary.)

    9) Ask your students what T.D. Jakes' ancestors could have done to preserve the story of his grandfather's death. How could they have left a more complete record behind for their descendants? (Student answers will vary.)


    1) Explain to your students that their assignment will now be to "curate" a primary source from their own lives. This primary source can be a photograph, a clipping from a school or local newspaper, a certificate of achievement, a report card, a family portrait, a trophy, or any other type of document or artifact that has relevance to the student's life. Their first task will be to select an appropriate primary sourced to use for the project.

    2) After selecting a primary source, students should determine what would be the most important details about the primary source to leave behind for their descendants. Students should refer to the information they gathered during the online activity (and recorded in Part 2 of the "Analyze That!" handout) for tips and pointers on how to best preserve a primary source. Students may opt to write letters to their descendants, to provide biographical information on the people depicted or mentioned in the primary source, to create a "key" or footnotes for their document, to digitally record a message for future generations, etc. The possibilities are endless and flexible. . .but the primary challenge for students will be to leave enough adequate information behind to provide a useful tool for researchers in the future. In addition to curating their primary sources, students should also leave information for future generations on how best to preserve the primary source for their descendants.

    3) After students have identified and curated their primary sources, ask students to present their projects to the rest of the class or in small groups. Collect student projects for an assessment of student learning.



    Create a fictionalized news story detailing Thomas D. Jake's drowning. Decide whether you will report the drowning as detailed on the death certificate, or as detailed in Jakes family history.


    Investigate the science used to preserve important historical artifacts. The Smithsonian Institution has an excellent Web site about the preservation of the original "Star Spangled Banner" at

    Investigate the history of photography, and how different types of photographs can provide clues about when and where they were made.


    Interview an older friend of family member about their lives and memories. Videotape or record the interview. Transcribe or condense the subject's recollections into a narrative document.

    Research clothing styles and fashions from 1865 to the present. How did fashions change over time, and can primary sources be dated using clues from people's clothing?


  • Invite an archivist from your local library, museum, or historical society to come to your class to discuss the preservation and cataloguing of primary sources.
  • Contact a local genealogical society, and ask a local genealogy enthusiast to speak to your class about the use of primary sources while researching family history.
  • Visit a local museum, library, or historical society to examine primary sources related to your community's history.


    American Memory

    The Library of Congress' American Memory site provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history. If you are in need of family photographs to use in the Introductory Activity, log on to the American Memory Web site, use the following search terms in the search box located on the upper-right hand corner of the screen: "family portraits," "family photographs," and "African American Family Portraits." Select and print out the photographs you would like to use with your students; be sure to record who is depicted in the photograph and when it was taken.

    AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES: Analyzing the Evidence Interactivity

    In this interactivity, users are presented with a gallery of photographs and documents that were instrumental in researching the ancestry of the featured guests in the PBS series AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES. By carefully examining these artifacts (and using online tips, hints, and pointers) users can unlock important clues about the past, as well as strategies for preserving their own family histories.

    Find more teaching aids at PBS TeacherSource.


    Christopher W. Czajka is a lesson plan writer for AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES. He has developed educational content for several previous PBS primetime series, including SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL, and COLONIAL HOUSE. He also served as both an Educational Consultant and a Historical Consultant for Thirteen/WNET's smash-hit production FRONTIER HOUSE. He is the Associate Director of the LAB@Thirteen, the station's Educational and Community Outreach department.

  • email this page
    print this page