I spent some time with a group of teachers last week talking about how best to integrate primary sources into social studies instruction. We were all are in agreement that using primary sources is a good thing and had some nice conversations about what that use should look like.

One of the results of the conversation was a great list of primary source web sites. I posted the list earlier.

Another result was the discussion of useful classroom strategies. One of my favorites is something the teachers called The Gallery.

The strategy is designed to hook kids into a particular topic or to help kids get a better sense of a particular time period or event.

Process:

Collect 8-10 different documents in a variety of formats. Your collection could include photos, text documents, charts, graphs or artifacts.

Arrange your tables or desks in a circle and place one document on each desk. Each desk will also need a piece of paper.

Have each student sit at a desk with a document. The idea is that each kid will not only get the chance to review a wide range of documents and document types but to also respond to each of the documents.
Instruct the kids that they will have 3-5 minutes to review the document in front of them. Provide a series of guiding questions (the document analysis worksheets at the NARA Educators site can provide you some good ideas.) Students should also be thinking about the impact the document may have had on the time period.

After students have had a chance to quickly interact with the document, ask that they record the findings on the sheet of paper. After each student has had the chance to reflect, they rotate to a new desk and document. Continue the same process until the students have had the chance to interact with all of the documents.

You can then have students reflect in a variety of ways; teacher-led discussion, a quick Think-Pair-Share, exit cards or perhaps an extended writing assignment.

I like the idea of letting kids mess with a large number of documents but I like the idea of students writing and reading about them even better.

Let me know how it works for you!