The skills needed to analyze primary sources are the same types of skills emphasized by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Reading. When selecting primary sources to use with students, keep the criteria listed below in mind to ensure valuable learning experiences.
KNOW YOUR STUDENTS
- Will your students want to dig deep, ask questions, and learn more about the primary source?
- Is the source interesting?
- Is the source relevant to a current unit or theme?
- What primary source type(s) will best engage students?
- Is the content of the primary source suitable for your students?
- Is the source too simple or too complex?
- Will the length of the primary source affect student comprehension?
- Would an excerpt be more appropriate than the source in its entirety?
- Is the vocabulary used in the primary source at an appropriate level?
- Will your students be able to decode the text or decipher the audio?
- Will outdated terms need to be defined?
CONSIDER HISTORICAL CONTEXT
- Will students be familiar with any of the people or personal, social, cultural, or political events happening around the time the primary source was created?
- Will students need to be introduced to certain information in order to interact successfully with the source?
- Are there clues within the primary source (not the bibliographic record) that will help students place the source into historical context?
- Will students be able to identify clothing or technology from a certain time period?
Creator & creation date
- Are the creator’s name and creation date available on the primary source or in the bibliographic record?
- Would additional information about the creator be useful when analyzing this source?
- Was the source created close to the time that it represents?
Additional bibliographic information
- How detailed is the bibliographic record?
- Does the bibliographic record provide historical context?
- When and what bibliographic information should you reveal to students?
- Will Library catalog notes or other markings distract students or interfere with their ability to place the source into historical context?
- Do your students need a source with a more descriptive bibliographic record to help with further research?
THINK ABOUT PERSPECTIVE
Audience, purpose & bias
- Does the primary source provide enough clues to identify the intended audience and purpose (idea, agenda, etc.)?
- Is there evidence of a particular bias?
- Consider your own beliefs about a historical event or issue. By selecting a particular primary source, are you inadvertently presenting one point of view over another?
- If you plan to use an excerpt of a source, is the meaning of the entire source preserved?
- When using more than one primary source, have you selected items that present different perspectives?
- What types of sources will best help students construct knowledge?
EVALUATE SOURCE QUALITY & FORMAT
- Is text legible?
- Will handwriting impact your students’ understanding?
- Is the image sharp and bright enough?
- Is the audio loud and clear enough?
- Does background noise interfere with spoken words?
- Will students understand accents?
- Is there a transcript?
- Are you able to zoom into details on the digitized primary source?
- Can your print out these details or is the primary source best used in its digital format?
- Are you using the highest quality primary source available on the Library’s website?
- Is the source clear enough for students to locate important details and make reflections about what’s happening?
PLAN FOR IMPLEMENTATION
- What is the overall primary source activity or project goal?
- What questions are you trying to answer?
- What problem are students trying to solve or what product are they trying to create?
- How will the primary source(s) be used (as the basis for class discussion, written reports, in-class presentations, role playing, etc.)?
- Are the primary sources best used in individual, small group, or class activities?
- How much time must I allocate for this primary source activity or project?
- What output(s) will this primary source activity or project generate?
- Will the activity or project be assessed quantitatively, qualitatively, or both?