Document Activities

I really need a better name for these. But for now, they're called what they are. 

Document Activity Action ShotBelow are several ‘Document Activities’ I use in workshops and in class. I’m sharing PDFs of the docs themselves and the PowerPoint I use with each. The primary purpose of these 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. 

(If you came here looking for ideas on teaching basic document analysis or for easy access to some of my favorite historical documents, these aren't exactly either of those.)

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

First and foremost, I compiled and created large parts of each of these, but I borrowed heavily from existing sources online and in various books. In other words, I may kinda ‘own’ the product and idea, but I certainly don’t own the ‘real’ documents, the photos, the fonts, the simulated papers or textures, etc. I haven’t intentionally stolen anything proprietary, but if you discover an issue with anything used in one of these, let me know. 

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 tacky it would be for them to attempt to do so. Also, teacher hell. 

Second, many of the documents are ‘real’. 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. 

Third, many 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 keeping things readable and accessible to students in order to facilitate an APPROACH to document analysis and historical thinking, and maybe stir up some content interest along the way. I’m sure the compromise is flawed, but that was the goal. 

Fourth, and this is a biggie, the WAY I use these in class evolves and sometimes radically changes based on the moment and the way things unfold with each group. I’m giving you my Powerpoints and steps, but these are starting places based on doing this for a few years. If you feel the spirits stirring you to take it a different direction, it’s your class and thus your call. 

If you find something that works substantially better than the way I have things laid out, I’d love to know. I’ll add a note and take credit for it, but you don’t care because you love the children and the future.

Fifth, and finally, teachers and students sometimes want me to tell them the ‘real’ story once the activity is concluded. It’s difficult to know how to respond, since most history is our ‘best guess’ based on the information available anyway, 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 truth’, 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). 

It’s difficult for many of us to avoid ‘steering’ students too strongly if we have a preconceived idea where they need to go. 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, I probably won’t tell you up front what I think the 'real' solutions 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. 


i want to come play! When do you do this? Can I play the role of a student?


Add new comment