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Tim Bailey – Cool Beans Primary Source Summarizer

Tim Bailey is good.

He was the 2009 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year. He teaches at Northwest Middle School in Salt Lake City. He’s written several books for Scholastic that provide some great primary source teaching activities.

And the awesome thing is that he’s here in Hutchinson working with our Century of Progress teachers.

One of the participants put it quite nicely when she said:

Cool beans.


Today he’s sharing an activity that helps kids analyze and summarize primary source documents. I’m gonna try and explain how you can use it, because . . . well, it’s cool beans.

It’s a multi-step process that takes some time but the end result is a kid who can look at document and develop a summary in their own words.

Start with a short document and paste it into a graphic organizer like the one above. Put kids in groups of two or three and ask each kid to select ten words from passage. A couple of rules – no words they don’t understand, no more or less than 10. Pulling the keywords from the text is the crux of the exercise – it’s what the writer actually means.

Once each kid highlights their own ten words, each small  group must negotiate a set of ten for their group. You can then lead a discussion with the whole class to get a sense of what sorts of words the different groups selected. Give each group the chance to re-do their list if the choose.

Each group then uses these ten words to write their summary. To do this, they can use just the word bank of their 10 words. They are allowed to use “connecting” words but otherwise can’t go off the list. They also don’t have to use all of their 10 words. The goal is to create a summary that should be no more than 1/3 of the original text,

Kids share out their summary, including the number of words. The teacher should help guide kids to better understand this particular part of the project. The final step is to ask kids to re-write the summery in their own words – “in plain, old English.”

The first time you do this, the goal is not so much a clear document analysis but an understanding of the process. Doing this several times will solidify the process so that you can begin to hand kids documents and they’ll be able to do this themselves.

A couple of tips:

1. Model the steps for your kids. Literally do a think-aloud so that kids can hear you think through the process.

2. Use smaller documents or small chunks of documents the first few times through the process.

3. You may need to do some vocabulary work before you start this process to clarify specific words in the document.

4. Not a tip but a question. Could you do this somehow with maps? Photos?

As I watched Tim work through the process with project teachers this morning, I saw how powerful this summarizing tool could be for history students.

Cool beans, indeed.

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History humbles and affirms

It’s been a great week so far with our Century of Progress summer session. We’re deep into Tim Bailey and Dr. Stephen Aron today. Yesterday, Dr. Matthew Booker finished up his time with an incredibly interesting discussion of the impact of the bison on the American West.

But before he left, Dr. Booker shared his vision of history and history teachers. It’s a view that I’ve not heard articulated quite this way before and so I’m paraphrasing it here:

History is the most important thing we can study. It is the most important thing my students will study. History speaks directly to the central problems and solutions of human existence.  It teaches us that we are not the center of the universe. It humbles us.

It also affirms our existence.   Nothing in our lives tells us that we matter more than the fact that we are connected to this web of human relationships.

History places us in a community of human beings which is vast and ancient and will continue into the future. History makes us aware that we are never alone. You are never alone if you think about the past. We are merely the latest in a long line of human beings who will continue into the future. And no other habit of mind has that power to make us feel connected. We feel that sense of connection when we look backward.

History both humbles us and affirms us.

What a great way to look at both history and our responsibilities for teaching it.

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