Tip of the Week


Every week I'll post a new Social Studies tip, teaching strategy, or handy web site for you to try out with your kids. You can also receive the Tip of the Week via email by hitting the signup link directly to the left. We'll add you to our Tip of the Week mailing list and presto! Once a week in your inbox.

If you missed a few Tips or want to go back and review previous Tips, hand on over to the handy, dandy Tip Archive.


February 27: Source Overlay Strategy

First things first. If you haven’t hung out at Russell Tarr’s Toolbox, you need to head over there when we’re finished here. Russell has been creating and sharing cool stuff for social studies teachers forever and it’s all incredibly handy stuff. (You might know his stuff as Active History or ClassTools.net.)

About a month ago, I was on his site and ran across something that I thought was very cool. I’d been searching for ideas on how to help elementary kids source evidence. You know – author, date created, audience, intent, the sort of questions that are the foundation of historical thinking.

My goto strategy was one shared by the Library of Congress that helped kids down to kindergarten start the process of historical thinking – by training them to ask questions about primary sources. The LOC example focused on the idea ofThen and Now by having kids examine images of turn of the century vs current mail delivery.

loc railcar

loc kindergarten

The teacher works whole group and then small group, asking kids to source the image by circling items they see in the image. And I loved the idea of slipping hard copy images into a plastic sleeve that kids could draw on, preserving the original image for reuse but also allowing kids to erase and redo.

For non-readers, this sort of guided practice is perfect. But what might it look like in upper elementary or even in middle or high school? Why can’t we use this same type of activity with older kids? The answer, of course, is that we can. And many of you do – using digital projection or actual hard copies of photographs and text.

But I like the idea of the plastic sleeve.

And that’s where we circle back to Tarr’s Toolbox. Using an idea he saw on Twitter, Russell developed a Source Evaluation Overlay template that includes sourcing questions along two sides.

Source overlay pic

How cool is that? A reusable source scaffold that encourages critical thinking and helps kids focus on asking great questions. Once you head over and download the template, cut out the middle and laminate for long term use.

Russell has a few suggestions for using the overlay:

  • Ask students to focus on the issues highlighted in the left-hand column first and make annotations as appropriate. Then they swap with a partner, read the work done so far, and focus on the issues covered in the top row. Display the work when it’s finished.
  • Ensure each student has a different source. When the work is finished, remove the sources from the templates. Different students have to match the overlay to the source it was originally evaluating.

All very cool stuff. And it got me thinking. So I quickly slapped together a Source Overlay template based on questions from a chart put together from the Stanford History Education Group.

sheg overlay

I know it’s pretty basic but feel free to download it and adapt so that it works for you. (It’s on you to cut out the middle area and laminate it.) I’m sure you’ll think of all sorts of ways this might look in your own classroom.

Have fun!