Classroom Lesson Series

Ways to Use Primary Source Documents:
Suggestions for Teachers


Here are some classroom ideas for having students analyze primary sources.
First have them read the material, or explore it together as a class. Questions and/or activities you can then ask include:

What did you learn?

  • After reading the source, describe in your own words what it says.
  • Write a sentence or phrase stating the main idea(s) in the account.
  • What was the basic (underlying) intent of the document? (What interests did it represent?)
  • What is the tone of the quote? the reliability of the quote?

Student Point of View analysis:

  • What do you think the author of this piece was like? What adjectives would you use to describe her? Give examples to support your descriptive choices.
  • What else would you like to know about the historic figure? About events she is writing about? About how other people perceived her or the event she mentioned?
  • Find quotes from the account you felt to be the most powerful or most inspirational. Why did you select them?
  • What image came to your mind when you were reading this account?
  • Can you identify a specific attitude (viewpoint, expectation) about women in that period that in your opinion holds true today? If so, name it and tell why you think so.

Write responses:

  • Pretend you also live in the time this account was written. Create a dialog in which you speak to the woman.
  • Find descriptive words in the piece to create a free write poem or narrative about the character. (illustrations might accompany this).
  • Change the gender of the account to male. Does this work?
  • Create a profile:
    Pretend you are a writer whose task it is to create a profile on ...for a popular magazine. What adjectives would you use to describe her? How did she act? Did she reveal any emotions? Can you use a quote from the account? What aspects of her accomplishment and personality should be emphasized? What events might your readers most like to learn about?

What can poems, songs, and legends tell us?

  • After reading the source aloud in class, discuss the meaning and mood it expresses.
  • Write a phrase from the source which describes its mood and theme.
  • Find words that reveal emotions (such as feelings of sadness, longing, rejection, anger, joy, sense of freedom).
  • What images does the writer use? Do they work in getting its point across?


Find out about the condition of women in the culture and historic period. Does this account support your research, or reflect a different view?

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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