Document Activities

Here are three “Document Activities” I use in workshops and in class. I’m sharing PDFs of the docs themselves and PowerPoint to guide the process. The primary purpose of these activities is twofold: it’s a way to introduce or tease content to students in a somewhat interesting way, and they tend to spur some fairly intense close reading and document-analysis-type behaviors – which are legit social studies things to do.

(There are also some ideas on introducing basic document analysis up a few steps with the pedagogy stuff if you’re interested.)

I really like these activities, but they do require a few disclaimers and clarifications before you decide whether or not to dive in.

One. I compiled and created these activities, but I borrowed heavily from existing sources online and in various books. In other words, I may “own” the completed product and the ideas tying them together, but each contain things I very much don’t own – real historical documents, photos, fonts, simulated papers and telegrams and textures and such. I haven’t intentionally stolen anything proprietary, but if you discover any issues regarding “fair use” or whatever, please let me know.

Conversely, I use these in class and workshops in hopes they’re good for kids, and you’re welcome to do the same. I don’t make any money from them, and assume anyone utilizing them understands how very tacky it would be for them to attempt to do so.

Two. Many of the documents utilized are “real” or based on read documents. Newspaper articles, excerpted speeches, photos, etc., are legit primary sources and generally attributed to their actual source. If the document says Booker T. Washington said such and such in Atlanta on this date, then as far as I know he said it in Atlanta on that date. On the other hand, I’ve taken great liberty with many of the visuals to make them fit the time and place I wanted. If you’re curious about something specific, feel free to ask. If I remember, I’ll let you know.

Three. Most of the documents aren’t “real.” Most of the major characters are fictional, although I’ve tried to stay true to TYPES of people active in their respective times and places. Each activity is a compromise between historical legitimacy and accessibility. The activities seek to facilitate an APPROACH to document analysis and historical thinking, and maybe stir up some content interest along the way. The compromise may be flawed, but the goals are legit.

Four. The ways these actually unfold in class tend to evolve over time, and sometimes radically change based on student choices, time limitations, or my own unpredictable whims. I’m giving you my Powerpoints and steps, but these are starting places. If you feel the spirits stirring you to take it a different direction, it’s your class and thus your call.

That being said, if you find something that works substantially better than the way I have things laid out, I’d love to know.

Five. Teachers and students sometimes want me to tell them the “real” story once an activity is concluded. It’s difficult to know how to respond, since so much history is woven from “best guesses” based on the available evidence, and subject to change based on new sources or new ways of looking at the old ones. The goal from the students’ point-of-view should not be to guess what you or I think is “the right answer,” but to formulate an explanation they can support with the documents and reasonable inferences, and maybe a bit of prior knowledge or limited outside research (as instructed within the activities).

I could tell you, educator-to-educator, the narratives behind each as I envision them, but I’d rather set you free to focus on the process and the quality of their effort and their arguments and to help them marinate in the historical setting and such.

In other words, no – I won’t tell you up front what I think the “right answers” are.

On the other hand, if you wanted to email me some of the hypotheses discussed in your class, and let me know what went well or what didn’t, etc., we’d practically be besties and I’d be more likely to show you mine once you’ve shown me yours.

Academically speaking, of course.

NOTE: Posted Powerpoints will show up as a page of garble if you merely click on them. You'll need to RIGHT CLICK and choose SAVE LINK AS in order to download it to your computer.

{If you're wondering where the actual document activities are, they're coming. Sorry to have gotten your hopes up and everything, but it won't be long. For realsies. Or you can simply go to the older version of this website and get them there.}

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