About the activities on Doing History

The primary source analysis activities on this website move students from lower- to higher-level critical thinking skills. The activities build from describing, to summarizing, to analyzing and creating historical context to asking questions.

Descriptive questions:

What is this document?
When was this document written?
Where was the document written?
How is the document organized?
Why was this document written and for whom?

In summarizing, students clearly state what the document is about. They need to figure out what is the most essential information being conveyed by the document. In the sample summarizing questions below, students have been directed toward two particularly important parts of a town meeting record that reveal important issues in early communities.

Summative questions:

Describe the duties of four town officers who were elected:
What issues are to be discussed at the town meeting?

Creating Context and Asking Questions (Interpretation and Analysis)

Asking more complicated questions than those used to gather evidence and summarize allows students to begin to think about historical context. Students can ask themselves what they already know about the topic of the primary source, why something might have happened, or what another perspective might be. They can also generate new questions for further research.

Contextual Questions:

Describe how this document tells you about life in the United States (or colonies) at the time it was written. Give examples from the text as evidence.

What connections can you draw between this document and what you have learned in your history class? What pieces of the document lead you to make those connections?