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12 Great Tools to Create Engaging Activities Around Primary Source Documents

September 8, 2017
DocsTeach is a great website that provides teachers and students access to thousands of primary sources that include things such as maps, videos, photographs, census records, draft cards, graphs, legislation letters, posters and several other document sources. We have already featured DocsTeach in several posts in the past. In today’s post we want to draw your attention to these excellent tools provided by DocsTeach that allows you to create your own document-based activities. The purpose is to help you engage your students in an active process of document reading. “Rather than passively receiving information from a teacher or textbook, students engage in the activities of historians — making sense of the stories, events and ideas of the past through document analysis.”


Before you start using any of these tools you need to read “Guide to Creating Your DocsTeach Activity”. Below are the links to the tools together with a brief description of what you can do with them:

1- Discussion Topic
"Showcase one document while posing a question or instructions to quickly engage students, focus classroom activity, and spark conversations."

2- Spotlight
'Display a document and highlight specific parts to quickly engage students and focus classroom activity.'

3- Zoom/Crop
'Shift the focus on a document from one part to another, from a part to the whole, or from the whole to a specific part. Guide students as they analyze and use context to form hypotheses.'

4- Compare and Contrast
'Display two to four documents to prompt students to observe, analyze, and point out similarities and differences.'

5- White Out/Black Out
'Obscure parts of a document, or reveal only select sections while obscuring the rest, so that students use context clues to hypothesize what is happening or being described.'

6- Finding a Sequence
'Challenge students to put primary sources in chronological, procedural, or other sequential order based on document analysis.'

7- Making Connections
'Present primary sources as a string of documents to convey historical progression and prompt students to make connections among events. Provide or ask students to fill in the connections between documents.'

8- Mapping History
'Plot primary sources, descriptive text, or boxes for student response on a historic map, outline map, or other document. Or ask students to position these elements on the map to demonstrate geographic understanding.'

9- Seeing the Big Picture

'Pair documents with descriptions, questions, or other documents. Ask students to make matches to reveal a larger historical image or document, representing the culmination of historical events or ideas from the activity.'

10- Weighing the Evidence
'Select documents for students to analyze and place on a scale according to how they support one historical interpretation or another. Or ask students to arrive at their own interpretations based on the evidence.'

11- Interpreting Data
'Introduce students to primary source documents that demonstrate the use of data as a means of communication or persuasion. Encourage them to analyze historical data and consider the source, presentation style, and intended impact of the material.'