Analyzing Primary Sources

Brandon T. Kowalski
Analyzing Primary Sources
presented by KB Tucker

Suitable for History Classes
Adaptable for Grades 7 - 8

Lesson Overview

Students will analyze the ads found at Freedom on the Move, Enslaved, and Gilder Lehrman to learn about those who self-liberated and answer broad questions in the context of global studies.


Primary source documents are incredibly helpful and effective for students of all ages. Using a standard form for each primary source throughout the year allows students to become accustomed to examining documents, photographs, speeches, and political cartoons with a critical eye. It also allows students to recognize the value of these sources and readies them to use them to answer compelling and complex questions that require historical records in addition to secondary source material.

Grade Levels & Standards

While these activities could be adapted to suit the needs of students from grades 5 to 12, my learners are grades 7 and 8. I identified standards based on the Connecticut Frameworks that would be applicable.

  • INQ 6–8.6 Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.
  • INQ 6–8.10 Construct arguments using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the arguments.
  • INQ 6.8.11 Construct explanations using reasoning, correct sequences, examples, and details with relevant information and data, while acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of the explanations.
  • HIST 8.6 Detect possible limitations in the historical record based on evidence collected from different kinds of historical sources.



DBQs should be used as part of an entire unit, either as a culminating project or assignment, or to teach concepts throughout. T.A.C.O.S. charts can be used as part of a larger unit or in isolation when analyzing single primary sources.

  • Analyzing a Primary Source Using a T.A.C.O.S. Chart: Use the ads found at Freedom on the Move to select advertisements to analyze. Students can also use the site to select advertisements they would like to investigate on their own as well.
  • Writing a Document Based Question: Students will be expected to compose an essay which responds to a particular question, usually using a minimum documents. Word count and other requirements may be set by the teacher according to student ability.

This lesson aligns to key concepts 4, 5, 6 and 10 of Teaching Tolerance’s Teaching Hard History Framework.