Part II: Teaching with Primary Sources and Skills Based Assessment

This article is part II of a five part series.

After the teacher has decided on their topic and has chosen some sources, they must choose a method of inquiry for students to analyze. Methods of inquiry are ways in which social studies professionals look at a problem or question in order to find solutions. History Forge has organized skills under five methods of inquiry, which are (1) sourcing/summarizing, (2) corroboration, (3) monitoring/questioning, (4) contextualization, and (5) inferring/close reading; these methods of inquiry can be found at Social Studies Skills. Each method of inquiry has correlating skills. A skill is a specific action that can be done in order to provide evidence from a source. Skills can be used to focus analysis of sources. For example, sourcing/summarizing contains seven skills, which are:

Students analyzing sources together


The skills of sourcing/summarizing
  1. Identified the category of the skills.

  2. Identified the date and creator of source.

  3. Identified if the source is primary or secondary.

  4. Described the audience of the source.

  5. Described the purpose of the source.

  6. Described characteristics, bias, or perspectives of the source’s creator.

  7. Described the trustworthiness of the source.

I recommend teaching one skill at a time; however, some skills can be learned together. If you are concerned about teaching methods of inquiry and their skills, I suggest visiting History Forge’s Youtube playlists that go over each skill:


  1. Sourcing/Summarizing

  2. Corroboration

  3. Monitoring/Questioning

  4. Contextualization

  5. Inferring/Close Reading




The First History Lesson of Mr. Ramirez

Mr. Ramirez had chosen his topic and resources, but he still needed to choose how students will analyze the source. Mr. Ramirez did not want students to strictly memorize facts and recall them later; instead, he wanted students to focus on a specific analytical skill while examining a source. Fortunately, Mr. Ramirez knew his resource, the CK-12 Pocahontas materials, contained questions that are connected to methods of inquiry. For example, in both the CK-12 Pocahontas Basic and Pocahontas Advanced lesson plans, the first primary source was “A True Relation-John Smith.” Both the basic and advanced lessons had the same questions; (1) Who wrote this document? (2) According to a True Relation, did Pocahontas save John Smith’s life? The first question was a sourcing question and the second connects to close reading. Mr. Ramirez chose to only focus on the sourcing question because it is an easier question for students to answer, and the simple question will help introduce students to the idea of analyzing primary sources. The sourcing question in the article specifically addresses the second skill under sourcing/summarizing: “Identified the date and creator of source.” Mr. Ramirez will make sure to write this skill down on the white board for tomorrow’s lesson.

My suggestion is that students only learn about one or two skills at a time. As mentioned in the previous section, students would first be introduced to a topic and its context; they would also receive some primary sources. After the teacher introduces the topic to students, then they will show the skill that students will use to analyze a primary source. The teacher should check students’ understanding of the skill; for example, do the students understand what “audience” means under skill four of sourcing/summarizing?

The First History Lesson of Mr. Ramirez

The day that the lesson starts, Mr. Ramirez is in the hallway greeting students as they come in and making small talk. As the bell rings, Mr. Ramirez greets the class enthusiastically and asks them to direct their attention to the board. On the board is written:

  •  the date 

  • a book page number

  • “The Pocahontas Myth”

  • “Sourcing/Summarizing-Skill #2: Identified the date a creator of the source.” 

Mr. Ramirez encourages students to get out their notebooks, find the page number in the textbooks that are sitting on their desks, and write down the information on the board. Mr. Ramirez tells them that they will be analyzing the myth of Pocahontas. In his lesson, Mr. Ramirez has pictures from the Disney movie, short stories he tells each year, the paragraph from the textbook, and the context paragraph on the CK-12 site. Mr. Ramirez uses Google Classroom and makes all of the resources available for students; however, he could easily have everything available on paper. Mr. Ramirez begins the lecture with a picture of the Disney portrayal of Pocahontas and a historic image of Pocahontas. For about 10 minutes, Mr. Ramirez asks students questions about what they think they know, what they believe to be true and false, and gives information and definitions that he feels are important to the future analysis. Since its their first lesson, Mr. Ramirez brings up primary sources and if students know what they are. Definitions are tossed around until one interpretation rings true; Mr. Ramirez writes this on the board and encourages students to write down what they believe a primary source is. Next, Mr. Ramirez asks the students if they know how to find the date and creator of a source. Again, many ideas come out and Mr. Ramirez encourages students to write down ideas that they heard and liked. Mr. Ramirez tells the students that they are going to watch him analyze a primary source about Pocahontas, and he is going to show them how he determines who created the primary source and when. The students will need to do the same, but as long as they participate and give some type of answer, then they will receive a perfect score.

Students are introduced to the myth of Pocahontas and are given contextual information to help them place the story in history. Mr. Ramirez also introduced the method of inquiry to students and the specific skill they would focus on. The students understand how the assignment will be graded, and how the assignment can be used for their future assessments. Students receive a grade for taking notes and following along with Mr. Ramirez because it is the first step of understanding the skills that they are learning. These notes can be easily checked by a teacher at the end of a class period to ensure students are participating.

Final Thoughts

This lesson comes in five parts, the third part can be found at Part III: Teaching with Primary Sources and Skill Based Learning. This lesson is part of the Research Part I: How to “Do History”; Finding Student Strengths, Interests, and Desires; Understanding Historical Themes and Concepts. This curriculum map covers my first weeks and sets the stage for the big National History Day project and skill based learning that I teach.

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