Tips for using Primary Documents Teach World History

Many high school teachers often use textbooks to help them teach various subjects, especially history. However, in some universities, primary documents are the main source of information for students when learning history. This is because primary documents offer first-hand experiences or accounts of historical events, and how could historical information get any better than that? Here are some tips that will help you use primary documents to teach World History. 

– You will need to encourage discussion of the text. It is difficult to read a text by one’s self and then to glean all of the information that you need from it. That is why when your students discuss the texts with one another, they can offer different ideas that they got when they read the texts. Socratic Seminars are supposed to allow many different ideas to come together, because it is rare for one person to get all of those ideas by himself or herself. 

– Try to categorize the documents so that they respond to one another. In other words, if you are working with Asian history at the moment, you will need primary documents that respond to a particular event. However, you will also need different kinds of documents that respond differently to that event. After all, you want to try to show your students the multifaceted characteristic of history. History is not one-sided.

– Students should also be encouraged to write papers or essays that make use of two or more primary documents. If the essays are longer, then the students should be allowed to use more than two primary documents. However, encourage your students to utilize their close reading skills. They should look for specific paragraphs that address the issues they want to write about. They should not be allowed to summarize the whole document without getting to the “meat” of the text.

– The primary documents should be listed on your class’s website or you can print out a list of the links to the documents. On the other hand, you can also write down the links for every week’s class, in order to save paper. Ask your students to try to find more pertinent documents and to send them to you for approval. 

As you can see, using primary documents to teach history is going to take a whole different course than when you use a textbook to teach history. However, your students will learn valuable skills such as comprehension and close reading skills, as well as the ability to peacefully discuss texts and write about events using those texts as evidence.