ELT: Using Primary Sources for Background Building


Education Connections Tuesday’s Tip

Erik Halvorson  Education Connections

What strategies and techniques do you use in your classroom to help all students develop their background knowledge and interact with primary source documents?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) recommend that students be able to work with a diverse background of complex texts, both primary and secondary, in order to engage with curriculum through a variety of viewpoints, as well as to practice using text-based evidence to develop and support ideas and claims. The CCSS specifically require that lessons in History/Social Studies, Science, and technical subjects introduce students to the outside voices and views of primary source documents.

While finding primary source documents can seem overwhelming, the Library of Congress offers a great primary source analysis tool specifically to help instructors search and gather primary sources for their classroom instruction. The primary source database comes with sheets and guides for how to analyze different types of media, as well as sets and pre-grouped samples of primary sources by subject matter.

For EL students, primary sources can be extremely beneficial in in providing background knowledge that might not be available through textbooks or secondary source texts. Primary sources that are not text-based—for example, photos, films, paintings, music, maps, and cartoons—can help EL students across all English levels to access engaging non-linguistic insights and strengthen background knowledge.

For more ideas on how to include and incorporate primary sources in your classroom to help all students engage with lessons, take a look at this sample lesson plan.

Or, for another look at how to use primary sources with your EL students, try this short activity from TeachingHistory.org.

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