Learning about Primary Sources


Hello! I am working with a group 8th grade students in a 90 minute Language Arts/Social Studies  block. Which is what I had in for this lesson study.

Content: Students will read a letter from the book Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam.                                                                                                                                                                         This lesson has the following elements:

  1. Examining and analyzing primary sources.
  2. Understanding the role of written letters in peoples’ lives
  3. Applying knowledge of the Vietnam war to primary sources
  4. Understanding the changing perspective of the war in Vietnam
  5. Learning how to work in groups and discuss

Process: In this lesson, students will choose a letter from a small selection of letters (3-4) from Dear America. After they have picked their letter they will read it and highlight what they believe to be important. Students will then share with each other and discuss what they learned from their letter (what was something new that they learned, or what surprised them about the letter). Then as a class we will discuss what the letters are about and how it reflects what we will have learned/read in class. The students will then do a short 1/2 page write up summarizing what they learned about soldiers’ lives during the Vietnam War.

Product: The end product will be a short write up that would include the letter they examined. The letter should show signs that they highlighted and some notes on what they felt to be important.

Evaluation: Learning will be assessed via a rubric, which will be used to grade their short paper and letter examination. This evaluation will show them how well they did at writing and understanding the process that we were going through. Some informal assessment will also come from student participation in both group and class discussion.

What kinds of thinking will students need to do to participate in the lesson?          The students will need to do higher order thinking through analysis and evaluation of primary sources. Students will have to do some kind of reflection on what they think is important when learning about a complicated historical event like the Vietnam War

To what extent do students have options or choices regarding these lesson components?                                                                                                                                                         This activity allows for students to have a choice in the primary source that they analyze. It also allows them to draw their own connections to history.

Reflection: After having gone through the peer review process with this assignment, I made some changes that are reflected in this post. Before these changes, I don’t think my lesson would have worked very well with eighth graders. In my initial lesson study the activities would have been better done with high schoolers. I think with the changes that I have in this post, I would make this an engaging activity for middle schoolers.

Image Credit: Bruce Crandall’s UH-1D

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