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Primary Document Analysis

Social Studies Lessons for High School is designed for social studies teachers to use with their government and history courses. It was developed in response to a shift in education throughout our country: a move away from rote memorization and toward the critical thinking skills necessary for many of the new performance assessment programs.

Each lesson will enable teachers to teach seven specific critical thinking skills in a step-by-step process. The information has been adapted for old media and new media formats. Web sites will be provided that will allow teachers to choose the most appropriate resource for the selected activity. All selections can be copied for classroom use. Teachers may adapt activities to allow students to complete assignments via the web.

Bob Black is former Teachers Network web mentor. He is a social studies teacher at the Harbor City Learning Center, located across the street from the historic Edgar Allen Poe House  in Baltimore, MD.

Sample Student Template Response


Students will analyze historic documents to determine the basic principles of United States government and apply them to real-world situations.

Model for Analysis
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

Q. What is this document? 
A. Amendment 1, U.S. Constitution

Q. When was it created? 
A. The Bill of Rights - 1789

Q. Who wrote the document? Give the background of the author if known. 
A. James Madison, a delegate at the Constitutional Convention and member of the House of Representatives

Q. Who do you think was the intended audience?
A. The legislatures and people in the thirteen states

Q. What is the purpose of this document?
A. To satisfy the demands made by several states when ratifying the Constitution

Q. What words are not familiar to you? What do they mean? 
Amendment = a change or addition
Abridging = reducing, to shorten
Redress = set something right, to correct

Q. Is any part of the document unclear? Why?
A. The "run-on" sentence style makes it hard to understand all of the parts

Q. What is the most important information in this document?
A. It lists our rights: freedom of religion, free speech, free press, freedom to gather together, freedom to petition the government.

Q. Why is this document important?
A. Without it, who knows how we would have obtained these rights

Q. Describe how you were able to analyze this document.
A. I looked up words that I did not know and used the meanings to understand what freedoms this amendment gave us.


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