What process will students use to closely read and investigate primary sources? What skills will you need to work on for them to be successful? How do students connect the primary source to the background text? In his article on Barriers to Historical Thinking, Jeffrey Nokes outlines barriers for students and proposes a variety of instructional supports. Below are some links to instructional supports connected to identified barriers.

Barriers for Students Instructional Support
High demands on student cognitive resources

Basic comprehension; Challenge of   synthesizing multiple texts

Transcriptions or transcribing; adapt texts; handwriting

Graphic organizers; analyze individual texts first, then compare

Limited or misapplied background knowledge Detail-rich historical fiction; texts that confront assumptions
Simplistic views of the world  

Include controversies; encourage evidence-based interpretations; Multiple points of View; model tentative interpretation

False sense of the discipline of history

View history as transmitted rather than actively constructed; accept official textbook

Conduct inquiry with one source

Conduct inquiries with multiple sources

Use many types of both primary and secondary sources

Here are three different ways to approach primary source analysis with students:

1. Close Read, Transcription, and Translation

The process for approaching a primary source is similar to the close read of any informational text. In the case of handwritten historical documents, transcription and translation are also needed.

2. Scaffolded Questioning

Scaffolded questioning leads students through the historian’s process of sourcing the document, interpreting it, placing it into historical context, and asking further questions.

3. Visual Thinking Strategies

A facilitated discussion process for finding meaning in imagery such as historical photographs, paintings, or cartoons.

Video of a 7th grade class analyzing a political cartoon with visual thinking strategies and inference.