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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?



Propaganda: name it!

Try this one-class session activity on propaganda techniques. 

Goal: students will understand techniques that media uses that appeal to different internal feelings. Students will be able to identify 7 propaganda and persuasive techniques used in media. 

Essential question: How does media influence my thinking?

1. give each student a 'cheat sheet' with the following:

Bandwagon: Jump in! Everyone's doing it?
Testimonial: An expert or celebrity is doing it - it must be good!
Name Calling: That product (or idea) is just no good - you don't want it.
Plain folks: Why, even an ordinary person will love this product (or idea)
Glittering generalities: Slogans or language that support your beliefs.
Loaded words: You'll love this product because it supports what you totally believe in: honor, love, family, etc. 
Transfer: All those things you love about yourself and your friends... our product is that too. 
Click bait: that phrase or image is just so cute, I have to click on it to find out more! 

2. Locate TV commercials from the past or present (mix it up) using Youtube or any of the print resources in this guide. 
3. Create a rubric with the following boxes: Title of Ad or commercial; What I saw; Target audience; Effectiveness (would I buy?); name of technique used. 
4. Fill out each rubric box after viewing the commercial. Then meet up in groups to discuss. Share out. 

Viewing vintage advertisements alongside current ads, can generate great discussion: how are/were persuasive techniques unique to - or not - different time periods? Have audiences changed for different products or ideas? 

How do election advertisements or speeches use these techniques effectively? 

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) has now become the Digital Inquiry Group.

Check here for many lessons that break down the thinking process of critical analysis, unpacking documents, checking source merit, and evaluating claims.  -

unlocks the vast digital archive of the Library of Congress to create History Assessments of Thinking (HATs). 

 provides free lessons and assessments that help you teach students to evaluate online information that affects them, their communities, and the world.


teaches students how to investigate historical questions by employing reading strategies such as sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating, and close reading.