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Primary Sources Starter Pack for Teachers: Teaching Strategies

Because every Subject has a History


inquiry asks a question. Research answers it.
These strategies are, when incorporated into your daily instruction make up a set of thinking routines that become second nature to students as they encounter their research needs.  Once the process is taught, it can be used throughout your day; from well-planned lessons to those "let's go find out more' spur of the moment questions that arise in the inquiry based classroom. 



Don't forget the RESEARCH JOURNAL

Keeping a journal every day allows students to ask questions, speculate on answers, locate patterns, and generally ponder the big questions.

Require students to keep a journal. Use entries as "exit passes" as they walk out the door at the end of class, use them as formative assessment, and most importantly let students use them as an on-going portfolio of their thoughts and questions.

Here's a sample - you can choose the categories for thought:


(from the Right Question Institute)

What did I learn?          How did I learn it?



Teach 'em how to ask questions

Best strategy. Ever. Use it every day.

Using an engaging artifact, image, short document or quote, create a Question Focus (Q-Focus) from which students generate questions. Once students identify the kinds of questions they've asked, prioritized them according to your goals and lesson plans, they can hone in to the big ideas that underlie your instructional goals. 

Also...check out Jamie McKenzie and his QUESTIONING TOOLKIT . Question starters, supporting questioning... 


It  is important to imagine the different  groups of people for whom any document you're working with might have had an impact. Using the Circle of Viewpoints allows students to look at their document / image / artifact from a particular point of view and then to consider other views as well.

PROJECT ZERO is the go-to place for this kind of strategy (among others!) 

should our town allow GMO products to be grown and sold within city limits?

Unpack the document. Create questions as if you were one of the stakeholders to your topic. What does perspective add to the kinds of questions asked?  Is there a point where "perspective" become "bias"? What is the difference?

Students can create a claim using the information they gain from their research - using the perspective of the stakeholder group they are in.  

OR: ask students on their own to choose four stakeholder points of view and using the same document; ask questions - are they the same for each group? Will answers yield different results based on the view of the stakeholder viewpoint?


The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) offers lessons that break down the thinking process of critical analysis, unpacking documents, checking source merit, and evaluating claims.

Try out the lessons with the materials provided here...then locate your own, for your chosen topic - science, math, art or mechanics all have historical documents that provide the backbone of its profession. 

Use this patent to unpack the science behind ice cream freezing. Maybe in science, agriculture, home ec. or elementary school:  what can we learn about science from this patent?  or: How did this discovery change culture?
Add in documents about Nancy Johnson to assist students in understanding invention, culture change, and the science of freezing things.   OR give students all the patent material and have them design it based on the information given. Then show them the image as it was made (below).   Better yet - make your own ice cream with the class!

Patent # US20190075816A1

Nancy Johnson, inventor of the first ice cream freezer