The Learning Page, part of American Memory at the Library of Congress suggests the use of primary sources as a focus activity to introduce a topic or re-engage students. This what what the Learning Page has to say about choosing focus activities. Choose activities that:
- present a puzzle;
- challenge a stereotype or conventional wisdom
- present a contradiction;
- offer an insight (or aha! experience);
- promote empathy (through a human interest story);
- present a generalization or explanation against which different generalizations or explanations can be compared later.
I've used a focus activity dozens of times with both adults and kids using the following images and questions:
General store interior, Moundville, Alabama What year is it? What could you buy in this store that you can't buy at Wal-mart? What could you buy at Wal-mart that you can't buy at this store?
A member of the Wilkins family…Tallyho, Granville County, North Carolina How does this woman's life differ from your mother's life? How does this woman's life differ from your grandmother's life? What do you notice about this woman's kitchen that is different from your kitchen? When I use this photo with adults I always get great responses; "I never wear a hat or apron when I cook", "Where's the carry-out?" "Does the scale mean she's on Weight Watchers?"
Why The American Child is Not Welcome in Apartment Buildings? What did President Roosevelt say about children living in apartments? Does the author of the article think that the fault lies with the child or with the apartment?
Japanese Internment Camps-- After introducing the topic, have students take a look at the picture. Students work with partners to come up with a list of questions they have about this family.
"Members of the Mochida family awaiting evacuation bus. Identification tags were used to aid in keeping a family unit intact during all phases of evacuation. Mochida operated a nursery and five greenhouses on a two-acre site in Eden Township." In 1942 Executive Order 9066 ordered the removal of 110,000 civilians of Japanese descent, including 71,000 American citizens, from the western United States, placing them in internment camps. By Dorothea Lange, Hayward, California, May 8, 1942 From National Archives
Hopefully, you can find uses for this great strategy using primary source documents as focus activities to intrigue and inspire kids.