Right before the Natural Disasters unit each year (7th Grade), I go through a discussion of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary sources. Right before the 8th Grade History Documentary project, I try to recall that lesson, and it goes something like this:
Me: Remember last year when we talked about primary, secondary and tertiary sources?
This year I resolved to be more memorable …
I put the chairs in a large circle in the Library and in the center, I put a smaller circle outlined in yellow yarn. The circle represented the city limits of Panama City, Florida (this is the city we just looked at in the Banned Books unit, so they are familiar with it). I have a set of mini whiteboards, and on each of these I put the name of a source, which I then handed out to students as they entered.
In the center of the yarn circle was a hurricane. (Of course, I named it after the student who “became” the hurricane). Also in the circle with the hurricane was a Local News Reporter, Cameraman (or woman), Photographer, FEMA Volunteer, Resident (who decided to tough out the storm in the basement), and some expensive Weather Instruments. They all huddled there inside the city limits.
Outside the city limits was a FEMA Coordinator (in communication with the Volunteer), a NOAA Scientist who was monitoring and interpreting the Weather Instruments, a surfer from North Carolina (capitalizing on some great residual wave action), a Canadian Journalist, the Governor of Florida, etc., etc.
We also had a few authors writing a few years later – one working for Encyclopedia Britannica, one writing a Wikipedia article, and even a 2nd grade teacher from Minnesota. One source is a Journalist writing five years after the fact – we put him/her WAY outside the circle to show removal by time.
This gave us an opportunity to see the relationship between the sources and I’m delighted to report that they “got it” almost immediately. We got to talk about proximity to the event, experiencing vs. observing, looking back on an event with perspective, interpreting and changing information v. just reporting facts, etc. We even got into how some sources are primary for some research topics, but not for others. Very satisfying!
Now, will they remember this next year when I ask again? 🙂