Knowledge to use sources as evidence

Recently we’ve been trying to shake up how we use sources in our History lessons. We decided that our Key Stage 3 students might be getting the impression that sources are just something History teachers use to get them curious about an enquiry question. There’s nothing at all wrong with using a fascinating picture, artefact or intriguing text to get students’ engaged. However, historians don’t usually turn to the source material until they have done some reading and have a sense of the period it comes from. That is, they are always seeking to understand sources in context. We took an honest look at our Key Stage 3 planning and decided that we were not doing enough to help students use sources as evidence by setting them in their historical context. The recent changes at GCSE and A Level have increased the emphasis on this.

We decided to take ourselves back through the last few decades of thinking about using sources in the classroom and we turned to the Historical Association’s ‘New, Novice and Nervous’ guide to point us to the articles that have influenced history teachers the most. You can read it here:

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One of the results of our reading was rediscovering the inference diagram. Inference diagrams help students to take the analysis of a source in stages. They can be put together in different ways and here are a few examples.

This is one to use at the start of an enquiry, but it deliberately separates observation from inference and then captures the questions students want answering:

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This one we saw demonstrated at a Schools History Project conference. We like the way it builds on some work we do with artefacts from the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy:

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Here is a version that we use in the first lesson and the last lesson of our enquiry into the transatlantic slave trade. The outer box is the one that is completed by the students at the end of the enquiry:

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And finally, a version that we use to help students capture what they have learnt in the course of an enquiry about women in Britain in the early 20th century:

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We found the process of reading back through some key Teaching History articles promoted great thought and discussion at a departmental meeting and we will be doing the same with other topics this year. Starting with the ‘New, Novice or Nervous’ guides at is a quick way to take advice from people who have been thinking about and teaching these concepts for many years. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but to stand on their shoulders and help our students to make the best progress. Do follow the HA on Twitter @histassoc for more updates, to send comments and to share ideas.


Thanks to Helen Snelson for this post. 


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