Exploring the author’s mindset

Make inferences about an author’s personal qualities, feelings, beliefs and values.


  • Introductory analysis: To help students learn draw inferences about an author’s personal qualities, feeling’s, beliefs and values based on clues in historical documents.
  • Bridging activity: To help students make judgments about an author’s inner thoughts in anticipation of involving them in other activities requiring deeper analysis of historical sources.


Explore the idea of an author’s mindset: Present students with the following pair of fictional report card comments to illustrate how closely reading a document can help us get inside the author’s head. Ask students to imagine that Jimmy’s behaviour was identical in Teacher A’s and Teacher B’s classrooms but that each teacher offered different end-of-term comments:

  • Teacher A: Jimmy is a polite and attentive student, but he must finally learn to be more punctual in submitting his assignments. It is not just Jimmy’s first class standing that may be lost if he persists in being late, but also his ability to succeed in later life.
  • Teacher B: Jimmy is a thoughtful and imaginative individual, but it would help if he could manage his time more efficiently. Not only will this help Jimmy in school but it is a useful life skill.

Individually or with a partner, ask students to find clues about the teachers [problem with discussing “individually” or with a partner] from the comments each wrote about Jimmy. Invite students to make inferences about the author’s personal qualities, feelings, values and beliefs. Arrange for students to share their responses with the rest of the class. Discuss the clues that students used to get a glimpse inside the author’s head (e.g., choice of word, tone, what is emphasized and not emphasized).

Introduce the strategy: Explain to students that historical individuals often reveal more about themselves than they may realize through the documents they write. In trying to explore an author’s mindset the goal is learn about the author’s personality and worldview. Distribute a copy of #1 Getting Inside the Author’s Head and explain the structure of the data chart, define important terms.

Practice getting inside the author’s mindset: Distribute the sample activity #2 What Is He Thinking. Read the fictional personal advertisement and the hints about where to look for clues about the author. Invite students to complete data chart #1 Getting Inside the Author’s Head by identifying relevant clues and making plausible judgments about the author’s thoughts. When students have completed the data chart, invite them to share their responses and, if desired, distribute #3 Assessing Clues and Conclusions for students to use in peer- or self-assessing their work.

Introduce a historical example: When students understand how to get inside the author’s mindset, invite them to apply their knowledge to historical documents. Distribute document, #4 Douglas’ Report to Pakington, to students individually or in pairs. Before students identify clues and draw conclusions, invite them to read the document closely and underline any words they do not understand, or that reveal clues about the author’s thinking. Encourage students to look up difficult words in the dictionary. Invite students to record the relevant clues and conclusions on activity sheet #1 Getting Inside the Author’s Head.

Share findings and seek corroboration: After completing the data chart, invite students to share their work with other students in order to confirm the accuracy and relevancy of their clues and the plausibility and imaginativeness of their conclusions.

Assess evidence and inferences: Encourage students to provide feedback on other students’ completed data charts by using the assessment rubric in #3 Assessing Clues and Conclusions. Display copies of #5 Sample Answer: Inside Douglas’ Head and invite students to compare their completed chart with the suggested answers. Encourage students to discuss their findings and they strategies they used to identify clues with the rest of the class.

horizontal divider