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Using Primary Sources as a Teaching Strategy

I love primary sources. I love history. I love

And if you’ve ever heard of Michael Yell or read any of his stuff, then you know why I love Michael Yell too. Michael’s a middle school teacher and former National Council for the Social Studies president. He introduced me to Discrepant Event Inquiry. He does sweet problem-based instruction. He’s awesome.

So when I can find a place where primary sources, TeachingHistory, and Michael all meet in the same place, it’s a good day.

Today is a good day.

Michael posted a great article at TeachingHistory describing the use of primary sources with his kids that is practical and easy to put into practice.

He agrees with Sam Wineburg who said

we must strive to provide all students with access to the rich voices of the past.

He’s a strong believer in the ability of primary sources to motivate and engage students in learning. But he also warns that we need to be careful about how we use them.

As history teachers, we know the importance of having our students wrestle intellectually with primary sources, i.e., learn to investigate history using the words and ideas of people of the past. However, it is essential that we keep in mind that the use of primary sources must be part of larger investigations in the history classroom, just as it is with historians. In an interview for Social Education, Professor Keith Barton told me “[primary sources] are not meaningful in their own right; they’re just a means to an end—they’re evidence in a broader investigation.”

Even if you use regularly use primary sources as part of your instruction, Michael’s got some stuff for you. And if you’re still feeling a bit uncomfortable with the whole idea of primary docs, this is a great place to start.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike Yell #

    WOW Glenn!! You have made my millenium!!!! Thanks so much for the nice comments.

    BTW, here is another sweet place for Sam Winburg and primary sources: Check out the curriculum section for some incredible lessons using primary sources.

    Mike Yell

    May 14, 2012
    • glennw #

      I do love Sam’s stuff and often spend time at his Reading Like a Historian site. He’s a history stud! And I use your Discrepant Event Inquiry, both textually and in visual format, all the time when I’m working with teachers.

      Thanks for the comment and have a great week!


      May 14, 2012

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