This lesson will begin by taking an action that many students and likely teachers take for granted; primary source analysis. Students will learn strategies to dig into and unpack photographs and other primary sources. Students will then make a decision about their most accurate description of the life of an American slave. They will gather primary sources that connect to that term and complete a blog post that justifies their choice of a descriptor. Lastly, students will examine each others’ posts and provide constructive comments on their material. You can adjust the lesson to be anywhere from a single class to a week, depending on how deep you go.
Rationale for the lesson
When students encounter pictures in a text, many times they simply skip the picture or use a very cursory glance when looking at it. There is rich knowledge contained in photographs, and this lesson will require students to closely examine pictures and other primary sources in order to make their own determination about American slavery. Forcing students to closely examine primary sources helps to deepen their level of understanding about the topic they are studying. Additionally, there are many forms of literacy. Students who struggle reading text can excel in this lesson since they could possess a tremendous skill set when examining photographs. This lesson helps to provide all students with confidence that they have the ability to unpack a source and contribute to a class discussion. On a side note, I frequently have lower readers not only perform well but at the higher levels of the class since they aren’t as focused on text in the traditional sense and instead can examine photographs.
Prerequisite knowledge and skills
Like many of my lessons, prerequisite knowledge depends on what you want to do with the lesson. You can use this lesson with students who have no background knowledge about slavery as they use the activities to learn about the institution. You can also use this lesson in a language arts class where you are teaching about primary sources and bias. If you want to use the lesson with a more advanced class, you can certainly do that as well...simply increase the number or depth of answers when examining the primary sources in order to accommodate a more advanced level. In short, learning about our country’s past with slavery is valuable at any level of education.