Summarizing is a difficult academic skill that takes time to master. Ideally, we want students to step back and see the bigger picture when they are attempting to craft a summary of a primary source. It is critical for students to be able to effectively synthesize the information presented in the primary source. Teaching general summarizing techniques will help students connect different pieces of the primary source to create a coherent level of understanding. Encouraging students to focus on the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) will assist them in being concise, and help to avoid a verbatim re-creation of the source. Providing sentence frames or sentence starters will also help students who are struggling to write an accurate summary. Summary writing isn’t easy and will come with time and practice. Condensing the information presented in the primary source will assist students in building and developing their summary writing skills. Furthermore, if students are able to generate a succinct summary, they are prepared to move on to think more critically about the primary source.
Moving into the extension portion of analysis requires students to tap into higher levels of thinking. Among other domains, cognitively higher levels of thinking involve synthesis, inference, evaluation, and creativity. Examining the meaning, content, bias, purpose, and point of view presented in a primary source will help students to further develop their critical thinking skills as well as foster learner-led inquiry. Giving students time to think deeply about the content of the source has the potential to spill over into all areas of study. The practice of analyzing a primary source goes deeper than the source itself. Students will learn to develop skills for mastering necessary techniques for sustained attention and focus when presented with tasks that require cognitive rigor. Extension activities that support critical thinking, adaptation, and independent analysis will strengthen student resolve when completing cognitively rigorous tasks presented in the future.
Utilizing the five components mentioned above when studying primary sources will provide students with a rich understanding of the subject matter. In order to grow and develop into independent learners, students need to be equipped with the proper tools. Analyzing primary sources is one way to provide those tools. In doing so, you will be encouraging and fostering your students’ ability to think critically and solve problems.