User:Kevin Drown


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This mini-course will help middle and high school social studies teachers use historical inquiry to engage students in primary source analysis.

Teaching students how to investigate historical questions by employing reading strategies such as sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading brings history to life. Instead of memorizing historical facts, students evaluate the trustworthiness of multiple perspectives on historical issues. They learn to make historical claims backed by documentary evidence.

Primary sources provide a “window into the past”-access to the record of thought and achievement throughout history, produced by people who lived during that period.

Bringing students into close contact with these important, often profound, documents and objects can give them an unfiltered sense of significant events, ideas, and what it was like to be alive during various time periods throughout history.

Needs Assessment

The Instructional Issue

In social studies classrooms, teachers are urged more and more to work on skills rather than memorize content. The social studies classroom strives to be a place where students practice reading and writing, but also critical thinking. The social studies classroom is meant to teach students to think "like historians," being involved in inquiry and document analysis.

Especially with the introduction of the Common Core, teachers are increasingly urged to include primary documents in their teaching of history and social studies. Primary documents have clear advantages over textbook accounts. Historical documents such as diaries, photographs, letters, and even house-by-house census manuscripts provide personal points of access into history. They can offer eye-opening perspectives for students who believe that history is impersonal and therefore irrelevant to their lives. Criminal trials, period music, and newspapers offer a sense of closeness about the past, providing students with a window on history that is more interesting than textbook histories.

The usefulness of primary documents is not limited to their ability to entertain students. Initially engaged by the personal nature of primary documents, teachers can use primary sources as a “hook” to draw students into historical thinking.

In the process of thinking critically about these documents, students develop a deeper understanding of the content-the larger events, themes, and issues of history-in meaningful ways that are likely to be remembered beyond the final exam. Students who learn to use primary documents effectively learn how to “do” history like historians, interpreting evidence to piece together a historical narrative and make better sense of the everyday world around them.

Despite these advantages, their potential is not always realized for several reasons:

• difficulties in finding useful documents,

• challenges in using documents to advance an already crowded curriculum,

• uncertainty about how to teach students to analyze them critically.

What is to be Learned

In this mini-course, you will begin by explaining the usefulness of implementing historical inquiry and primary documents. Then, you will learn how to get students to analyze primary documents and use historical thinking skills. Lastly, you will learn effective lesson structures to use primary documents to have students answer central historical questions.

The Learners

This mini-course will be useful for any teacher wanting to use inquiry and primary documents in their class. Whether you are a high school social studies teacher, or an elementary school teacher, this mini-course is for you. This course will be particularly helpful to new teachers, but can help veteran teachers struggling to create lessons that hone the skills of the Common Core. The mini-course will be focused on social studies classes, but can easily be implemented at all levels of school and in most subject areas.

Context for Instruction

Learners will be engaging with the content in an asynchronous online environment. Information will be presented in various ways including readings, diagrams, videos, and samples. Teachers will create their own lesson with primary documents using this information.

Exploring the Instructional Issue and Solutions

This mini-unit will bring you through a step-by-step process of implementing historical inquiry lessons using primary documents in your lessons. You will have time to analyze the information and think of ways to incorporate what you learn from each unit in your own classroom.

Goals for this Mini-course

The most important goal of this course is for teachers to be able to create effective and engaging lessons on their own, that foster critical and historical thinking, so students develop a deeper understanding of the content in meaningful ways that are likely to be remembered beyond the final exam.

Performance Objectives

At the end of this unit, you will be able to…

· Explain the importance of using historical inquiry and primary sources in social studies classrooms (Bloom-Comprehension)

· Use historical inquiry and primary sources in a social studies classroom to develop students’ critical thinking skills and construct knowledge (Bloom-Application)

· Create social studies lessons where students answer a central historical question by analyzing primary sources (Bloom-Synthesis)

Task Analysis

Lesson 1: Importance of Using Primary Sources to Engage in Historical Inquiry

Why use historical inquiry and analyze primary sources?

1. The learner will brainstorm why it is important to use primary sources and use historical inquiry.

2. The learner will explain the reasons why analysis of primary sources and historical inquiry essential skills of social studies students.

3. The learner will choose one historical central question in the unit they teach and two to three primary sources to solve it.

Lesson 2: The Basics of Historical Inquiry & Primary Source Analysis

How do I use historical inquiry and get students to analyze primary sources effectively?

1. The learner will be able to explain the basics of historical inquiry.

2. The learner will able to explain the basics of primary source analysis.

3. The learner will describe how students will answer the central historical question and engage in the primary sources chosen in the previous lesson.

Lesson Three: Designing Inquiry Lessons Around Primary Sources

How do I design an inquiry lesson around primary sources?

1. The learner will examine lesson structures that promote historical inquiry and analysis of primary sources

2. The learner will observe full-length lessons that revolve around the analysis of primary sources.

3. The learner will choose a lesson format that can effectively implement their primary source(s) selected in the previous lesson and explain why they chose it.


The learner will develop an original lesson plan that uses analysis of primary sources at the core of the lesson.

Curriculum Map

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Kevin's Mini Course

Using Historical Inquiry to Engage in Primary Source Analysis

References and Resources

"Home | Stanford History Education Group." Home | Stanford History Education Group. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <>. "Teaching with Documents." National Council for the Social Studies. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <

"Library of Congress Home." Library of Congress Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <>.

Sandwell, Ruth W.. "Using Primary Documents in Social Studies and History."The Anthology of Social Studies 2.Issues and Strategies for Secondary Teachers (2010): 295-307. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

"Teaching with Documents." National Council for the Social Studies. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <