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Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

[Detail] Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

Unit 3: Gathering Information from Primary Sources

Students learn to discriminate between primary sources and secondary sources and how to use them to learn history. Students research family life during the Great Depression as a model for focused research. This unit can be used independently.

Information comes from many sources and different media such as written documents, visual images, audio recordings, and films. Sources are usually divided into two main types: primary and secondary. In researching a topic, primary sources provide original, firsthand information. A transcript of an interview is an example of a primary source. A written summary of that interview is a secondary source.

In these activities, students focus on learning how to use primary sources. The topic is family life during the years of the Great Depression. Have students take this opportunity to think about their family and how it compares and contrasts with the families of friends and neighbors. Consider housing, rituals, diets, attitudes, customs, dress, etc. and how they are indicative of present-day life. Using primary sources, students learn similar details and facts from the Great Depression era.

Gathering information about a topic from sources requires the use of certain skills:

  • observing;
  • posing of questions;
  • locating details and facts;
  • evaluating the reliability of a source;
  • learning new vocabulary;
  • using prior knowledge;
  • making associations;
  • making deductions; and
  • drawing conclusions.

Students investigate the topic, "Family Life during the Great Depression in America." They observe photo images, study a document, listen to a sound recording, and read secondary sources about the Great Depression. By the end of this investigation, they will have developed a core of information and will have useful research skills.

To learn more about primary sources and the ways to analyze them, consult Using Primary Sources.