Teaching with Primary Source Materials


This video outlines the overall planning and scope of an inquiry unit using primary source materials. The ideas presented focus on how teachers and students work together to develop learning goals, success criteria and excellent inquiry questions.

Guiding Questions

What types of primary sources and resources can be used in your current inquiry unit? How can you integrate these with other subject areas? How can developing success criteria help students during the inquiry process?

The Concepts of Historical Thinking are introduced as students express their understanding of Continuity and Change. They present their research results, generated from their inquiry questions. Students describe how historical topics and themes are reflected as historical progression, or regression.

Guiding Questions

How does your overall guiding question support historical thinking? (Historical Significance, Cause and Consequence, Continuity and Change, Historical Perspective) Which teaching and learning strategies will allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the Concepts of Historical Thinking?

This video focuses on strategies teachers can use with students to enable them to analyze different types of evidence. Students analyze current images and maps in addition to historical images and maps. The focus is on reasoning using observations and inferences.

Guiding Questions

What approaches do you use to support interpreting and anlzying skills in your classes? How do the strategies in the video promote engagement and critical thinking? (making decision using criteria)


This video focuses on how integrated teaching and learning techniques can engage and promote student learning. See how classroom walls can promote key concepts that are reinforced during conference discussions (success criteria and key concepts).

Guiding Questions

How can the use of primary sources be successfully integrated into other subject areas?
How can you support students as they learn to use new terminology, key concepts and success criteria?
What opportunities can you provide for students to reflect on and practice using new terminology and concepts?

Through an integrated teaching/learning model, students investigate a current Canadian social issue. They gather background information from primary source materials, such as news articles and videos. Then they communicate their initial reactions, ideas and emotions through dance.

Guiding Questions

How does integrating the arts into social studies allow students to express their response to current issues? How this integration support concepts related to the citizenship education framework (collaboration and cooperation, decision making, respect, rights and responsibilities)?

Students participate in a school-wide social action letter writing campaign, inspired by letters from the Attawapiskat First Nation. Students conduct inquiries and discuss the results of their research (data and organization). Students reflect on the benefits of a whole school social action project and what they might do next.

Guiding Questions

How does your guiding question include the use of historical thinking? How can the use of primary sources be successfully integrated into other subject areas? Why is social action an important aspect of social studies teaching and learning? What opportunities can you provide for students to reflect on and explore different ways to have their voices hear?

Teachers discuss the use of photographs as primary source materials to develop historical thinking (cause and consequence) and they review the Citizenship Education Framework. Students ask questions about issues related to their guiding question and they use a RAN graphic organizer (Reading and Analysing Nonfiction chart) to record their thinking.

Guiding Questions

How important is the use of photographs in social studies inquiry? How can the use of photographs develop historical thinking and/or citizenship? What do you need to consider when choose photographs? How do photographs reflect the bias or perspective of the photographer?

Students use photographs to ask questions and analyse the relationship between environment and ways of life in communities around the world. Teachers discuss how to facilitate the development of students’ research skills through the use of various resources (i.e. technology).

Guiding Questions

How can you use photographs to help students explore various social studies thinking concepts (e.g. significance, interrelationships between people and environments)? What other types of primary source documents can you use in your classroom?

Exploring Democracy

These students are engaged in their learning as they use primary source documents (The Athenian, The Iroquois Nations and Canadian Constitutions) to prepare for a debate about democracy. They use the inquiry process to analyse the meaning and purpose of these documents. and they apply disciplinary thinking concepts (continuity and change).

Guiding Questions

How do you organize an inquiry project for a split grade class? Which graphic organizers would best suit an inquiry approach to learning?

Students’ inquiry questions become the “markers” along a historical timeline which is a visual representation of continuity and change in this classroom. Students post their questions and research findings about significant events. They begin to ask questions about the interactions between various groups at significant points in history.

Guiding Questions

How do visual representations help students understand the social studies historical thinking concepts? What other visual representations can you use to teach historical thinking in the classroom? How could you support your students as they co-create definitions, timelines, and other resource materials during the inquiry process?

In this video, these Grade 5 students focus on the concept of “rights”. Using a “decision-making matrix” to guide their thinking, they gather information and analyse a primary source document (Iroquois Nations Constitution). They conference with their teacher and ask questions to further clarify their thinking. Students present the results of their inquiry to their peers.

Guiding Questions

What conferencing techniques might you use to engage your students throughout the inquiry process? What teaching strategies and graphic organizers do you use to support and develop your students’ critical thinking skills during the analysis and evaluation stages of the inquiry process?

In the culminating activity for this inquiry, students engage in a debate process with their peers. They use co-created success criteria for debating and their co-created definition of democracy to formulate their arguments and communicate their conclusions.

Guiding Questions

How do you guide students to co-create success criteria for an inquiry? How can you guide students as they use success criteria to evaluating their work/performance?

Field Study (Primary)

Follow this three part series to see how you can lead an inquiry focusing on the land use and the local community.

Guiding Questions

What kinds of provocations do you use to spark an inquiry? How can the local community be used?

In part one students use books and other materials to begin building concepts.

Guiding Questions

How can you use images to support the develop of skills related to making observations and comparisons?

In this final part of the of the field study students are conducting a community walk collecting data from their local community. They utitlize their gathering and organizing skills and anaylze the results.

Guiding Questions

What kinds of field studies do you conduct with your class? How does this process reflect authentic learning?