Analyzing a Child Labor Photograph activitySee activities created with the Analyzing Documents tool.Teach students the process of document analysis, the foundation for working with primary sources:

Meet the document.
Observe its parts.
Try to make sense of it.
Use it as historical evidence.

Learning Objectives

  • Think through primary source documents (photos,
    written documents, artifacts, posters, maps, cartoons, videos, or
    sound recordings) for contextual understanding.
  • Extract information to make informed judgments.
  • Internalize the process of analyzing primary source documents.

To Create an Analyzing Documents Activity:

  1. Go to My Activities and create a new activity.
  2. Choose a document. Decide whether students will be able to access all of the details available for the document (including dates and descriptions), simply the document images and titles, or nothing beyond what they can see displayed in the activity. (They will need at least the document images to read a multi-page document.) You can also upload images to include documents, photographs, or other images from sources beyond the National Archives.
  3. Use the full image or crop it.
  4. Select a level — for "Novice or Younger Students, or Those Learning English" or "Intermediate or Secondary Students" — and document type (artifact, cartoon, map, photograph, poster, sound recording, video, or written document) to generate analysis questions.
  5. Write your own questions if you choose.
  6. Write instructions for your students, including an introduction and conclusion. You can include questions or a follow-up assignment in your conclusion. Students can email their responses to you if desired.
  7. Preview the student activity and create a snapshot.
  8. Lastly, describe your activity to other teachers by providing a summary. Tag it with the appropriate historical era, historical thinking skill, level of Bloom's Taxonomy, and grade level. You can also include detailed teaching instructions.

Teaching Tips

  • The first few times you ask students to work with primary sources, and whenever you have not worked with primary sources recently, model careful document analysis using this tool. Point out that the steps are the same each time, for every type of primary source:
Meet the document
Observe its parts.
Try to make sense of it.
Use it as historical evidence.
  • Once students have become familiar with Analyzing Documents activities, direct them to analyze documents as a class or in groups without the aid of an activity, vocalizing the four steps as they go.
  • Eventually, students will internalize the procedure and be able to go through these four steps on their own every time they encounter a primary source document. Remind students to practice this same careful analysis with every primary source they see.
  • Don’t stop at document analysis! Analysis is just the foundation for working with primary sources. Move on to other activity types (such as Making Connections, Finding a Sequence, Mapping History, Seeing the Big Picture, or Weighing the Evidence) in which students use primary sources as historical evidence.
  • Activities made using the questions for Novice or Younger Students can introduce primary sources to younger students and help them practice basic document analysis.

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