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Choose documents that relate to one another in pairs, or choose documents and write a text box with a question or description for each. Students match documents, or documents to text boxes. Each correct match reveals part of a larger historical image or document, representing the culmination of historical events or ideas from the activity.

Learning Objectives and Historical Thinking Skills

Create activities using the Seeing the Big Picture tool to help students recognize that numerous events, actions, and individuals have an impact on historical outcomes. Students discover that a culminating event or idea was caused by a number of smaller events, actions, and ideas.…more

Create activities using the Seeing the Big Picture tool to help students recognize that numerous events, actions, and individuals have an impact on historical outcomes. Students discover that a culminating event or idea was caused by a number of smaller events, actions, and ideas.

The Seeing the Big Picture tool helps students understand relationships as they match documents that relate to one another (or a document to its related text) and gradually see the larger payoff image that represents a particular historical outcome. Activities highlighting a diversity of documents and influences impress upon students just how varied factors leading to particular outcomes can be.

Students engaged in Seeing the Big Picture activities put pieces of evidence together to understand how interpretations formed about the past must be supported by sufficient historical evidence. This can help them to realize how the understanding of history is tentative: differing sets of evidence lead historians to form differing conclusions. To focus on this aspect of historical practice, ask students to do two Seeing the Big Picture activities. Each activity should display the same payoff image when students finish matching the pairs, but teachers may choose different sets of documents for students to match. For instance, to help students realize how some historians attribute the outbreak of the Civil War primarily to economic factors whereas other historians attribute this primarily to the issue of slavery, construct two Seeing the Big Picture activities — one featuring documents with an economic focus, the other with documents relating to the issue of slavery. At the conclusion of both activities, ask students to contrast the views that historians might have after looking at just the documents focusing on economic factors or just those pertaining to slavery. To help students understand that pieces of historical evidence carry different weight, create a Weighing the Evidence activity using the same set of documents you have used in your Seeing the Big Picture activity.

At the time of activity creation, a teacher must choose the correct match for each document and/or text box. Guide students by telling them what the focus of their matching should be. For example, remind them that each match consists of one text document showing a particular concept and one photograph illustrating that concept. Or, as another example, in an activity on civil liberties, guide students by telling them that for each document, they should consider the issue at hand and match the document to the text box with the amendment that pertains to that issue.

Teaching Tips

  • Consider the goals you have for your students before planning your activity. Choose documents and structure your activity based upon those goals.
  • Seeing the Big Picture activities can introduce primary sources to younger students and help them practice basic document analysis and understanding cause-and-effect relationships. Construct an activity with simple written documents or photographs, posters, drawings, or audiovisual media. Walk students through careful document analysis, instructing them to look at the document first as a whole and then pay close attention to the details. Students decipher what each particular document is, then match that document to the appropriate title. For example, students in early grades can practice document analysis and learn to understand symbolism through matching monuments and buildings to the U.S. President that each represents.…more
  • Consider the goals you have for your students before planning your activity. Choose documents and structure your activity based upon those goals.
  • Seeing the Big Picture activities can introduce primary sources to younger students and help them practice basic document analysis and understanding cause-and-effect relationships. Construct an activity with simple written documents or photographs, posters, drawings, or audiovisual media. Walk students through careful document analysis, instructing them to look at the document first as a whole and then pay close attention to the details. Students decipher what each particular document is, then match that document to the appropriate title. For example, students in early grades can practice document analysis and learn to understand symbolism through matching monuments and buildings to the U.S. President that each represents.
  • It is important to model careful document analysis and matching for students. Open a document from the grid before asking students to begin the activity. Ask the class to look at the document in a very general sense, asking about the type of document. Ask the class to point out unique physical characteristics of the document and to identify the date, creator(s), and content. Be sure to instruct students to do the same with each subsequent document before matching.
  • In many instances it is valuable to ask students to hypothesize which documents will match before formally beginning the activity. The exercise can act as a pre-assessment and can help to guide students' thinking. Once students begin to examine documents to determine their content, they have a purpose for viewing them and begin to contextualize them on first encounter.
  • In many instances, it is valuable to follow Seeing the Big Picture activities with class discussion or writing assignments to further contextualize the documents and ultimate historical outcome. Ensure that students understood the activity’s goals.
  • To open the activity up and allow students to show their creativity, lead a class discussion about matches made and ask students to explain other possible connections between documents. Use this as an opportunity to discuss how historians may view the same factors or sets of evidence in different ways. Or, ask students to suggest other documents, events, or ideas that could have been included. Encourage them to consider whether new evidence would change the historical narrative or their own conclusions.

Seeing the Big Picture

Pair documents concerning a historical event, concept, or figure with descriptions, questions, or other documents to impress upon students that the whole is derived of smaller parts.

Lessons Created Using this Template