A recent post to teachinghistory offers a four step process for teachers to use with middle school students in their analysis of primary documents. It offers an approach that highlights the more complex historical thinking skills found at the middle school level.
In the illustration provided, students analyze the texts of four speeches given by President Jackson around the time of the Indian Removal Act. Each text, along with its accompanying key questions, is included.
Students begin by focusing only on the top and bottom sections of the document and the source information that appears there to establish perspective and setting. During the second read, students focus on the main body of the text to identify the main idea and underline the phrase that best supports that idea. The third read involves students identifying supporting details (assertions, evidence, or examples) for the main argument. As students read the fourth time, they refer back to the sourcing information that they identified in the first step and write responses to the key questions in the document margins.
The process can be applied as students investigate various topics and primary documents during the school year, giving them opportunities to practice and build on historical thinking skills.