Identify clues around the “edges” of a historical document to learn about its author, audience, origin, purpose and type.
Demonstrate the importance of establishing context: Illustrate to students how useful it is when interpreting historical sources to have some idea of the context of the document. Write a statement such as the following on the board “I am going to beat you.” Post the following headings that outline different contexts for the statement and ask students to discuss how the meaning of the original statement differs depending on the context of the different headings:
Introduce the strategy: Explain to students that the strategy “reading around a document” helps them look around the edges of a document to identify important details about the author, audience, origin, purpose and type before reading the main body of the document. Distribute a copy of #1 Reading around a Document and explain the structure of the data chart, define important terms and outline expectations for completed sheets.
Check students’ ability to “read around the document”: Distribute #2 Example Document and invite students to complete the #1 Reading around a Document data chart as a check to see how well they are able to make observations and inferences about the context of the document. When students have completed the data charts invite them to share their responses, or if desired teachers can distribute #3 Assessing Observations and Inferences and invite students to peer or self-assess their ability to make accurate and relevant observations and plausible and imaginative inferences. If teachers are confident that students can successfully complete the read around a document activity, they are invited to complete the same activity for a historical document in the Introduce a historical example section below. If students had difficulty completing the #1 Reading around a Document data chart, teachers are invited to help students confirm the individual tools for reading around a document in the Confirm the tools section below.
Confirm the tools: In this section students are invited to confirm the tools necessary for reading around a document.
Introduce observation and inference: This section helps students understand how to make observations and inferences. Ask students to define the terms observation and inference. Inform students that whether they know how to define these terms or not, they frequently make observations and inferences in their daily life. For example, when walking down the street a student notices a man sleeping on the park bench (observation) and concludes that the man is homeless (inference). Explain to students that observations and inferences are closely connected—an observation is something that they see or notice, and an inference is the conclusion made from the observation.
Describe the following scenario to students: Mr. Peter Truong, a student-teacher, tells his friend about a number of observations and inferences that he made during the first social studies ten class that he taught in first period on Monday morning. He is not sure that if the lesson was successful or not so he is hoping his friend can help him decide. Distribute a copy of activity sheet #1 Categorizing Observations and Inferences and invite students to categorize each example as either an observation or an inference, and match each observation with the corresponding inference that can be drawn from it. When students have completed the activity sheet, discuss students’ categorization, display #2 Categorizing Observations and Inferences Sample, and ask students to compare their responses to the sample provided.
Judging the quality of observations and inferences: This section helps students understand how to use criteria to make judgements about the quality of observations and the quality of inferences. Invite each pair of students to list the characteristics of a quality observation, and share their responses with the rest of the class. After students have shared their responses, introduce them to the criteria for identifying a quality observation.
Invite each pair of students to list the characteristics of a quality inference and then share their responses with the rest of the class. After students have shared their responses, introduce them to the criteria for a quality inference.
Inform students that if they are unsure about the inferences they make, they can use more tentative qualifiers, such as “may be” “possibly,” and “perhaps.” For example: Students who fell asleep in class might indicate that students were bored by the lesson.
Invite students to return to the observations and inferences provided in #1 Categorizing Observations and Inferences and ask students to use the criteria provided to determine which of Mr. Truong’s observations were accurate and relevant, and which inferences were plausible and imaginative. Invite students to share their conclusions about how accurate and relevant the observations are, and how plausible and imaginative the inferences are.
Introduce a historical example: When students understand the various tasks included in reading around a document invite them to apply their knowledge to a historical document. Distribute #4 Historical Document Example (a transcribed version of an original Colonial Despatch) to students individually or in pairs. If teachers prefer to have students engage with the original Colonial Despatch instead of the transcript version, they can distribute #5 Historical Document Original. Before students begin making observations and inferences about the context of the document, invite them to “circle the clues” in the sample document. Instruct students to circle the clues without reading (or while covering up) the main body of the document (the section of the Despatch between the salutation and the signature). When students have completed circling the clues, display #6 Circle the Clues Historical Document Sample to provide them with an example of the potential clues to be circled.