Once they understand the difference between primary and secondary sources, helping students understand the context, meaning, and purpose of primary source documents is one of the things I enjoyed most when I read US history. To that end, I often used resources from the National Archives Daily Document RSS feed to start conversations in my classroom. The National Archives recently published a new guide to help students understand their primary source perspectives.
Understanding Perspectives on Early Sources (link opens a PDF) is a free guide that you can download and distribute to your students. The guide guides students through a series of questions designed to help them identify the type of primary source (writing, drawing, audio recording, etc.), who created it, and the context in which it was created (time, space).
Application for education
One of the most important aspects of the approach to understanding in the primary source guide is in the last section. Students in that section are asked, “What evidence does the Creator present that you should verify?” This is important because, in my experience, many students assume that being an old primary source is unreasonable as a source of information. The question I always asked my students to consider was, “Is what you are reading consistent with what you already know about this subject?”