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In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 15

Lesson Fifteen
Student Essay: "Reading" Primary Sources
Guiding Questions


  • Read or look at each source carefully and closely before answering the questions.
  • Review your research question before your answer any questions. Remember that your goal is to see what the source can tell you that will help you answer your research question.
  • Write your answers and notes on a separate piece of paper or an index card.
  • Although you may not be able to answer every question, don't give up too soon. Sometimes the answers are not obvious at first.
  • You will probably discover some interesting and useful things about your sources that the questions don't ask. Write these things down on your answer sheet too.

If you have an object, draw a picture of it on a separate piece of paper and note any prominent features (i.e. has a handle, has a sharp point, is decorated with flowers, etc.)

If you have a picture or map, describe what you see. With a picture, note whether the scene is inside or out, what people are wearing and doing, facial expressions, and whether the picture seems posed or natural. With a map, note any places that you recognize, and any artwork. List the information that the map gives (i.e. streets, idea of local wildlife, geographical features, houses, etc.). Is the map complete? Are there blank spaces, or might the map have been torn?

If you have a document, note what you think it might be about, if you can read it. If not, jot down words that you can read.

How might your item have been made?

Note any clues that might help date the item.

If you have an object, imagine that it is yours. How might you use it?

If you have a picture, map or document, who might the intended audience have been? Why do you think the item was produced?

What information does this item provide that will help answer your research question?


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