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Strategies for investigating historical documents

The following lesson plans help students develop the tools to critically investigate documents in the History Docs collection.

Examine textual documents

The following lesson plans, found on The Governor's Letters: Uncovering Colonial British Columbia, provide strategies for critical reading of text documentst:

Tools for Thought

Tools for Thought (T4T) is an online collection of lesson plans and support materials that introduce students to a wide range of critical thinking tools. A subscription to the T4T collection is available for purchase from our Online shop.

Tools for examining historical documents and images:

  • Inference forming a new conclusion based solely on what is already known
  • Cause/consequence the factors or circumstances that cause something to happen and the consequent results or impact on future events
  • Evidence/reason/conclusion the elements of an argument or justification used to persuade someone to adopt a position
  • Assembling evidence organizing evidence to create an effective argument
  • Assessing the evidence judging the adequacy of evidence offered to support a conclusion
  • Relevant sources deciding whether or not an information source will be useful when researching a topic or question
  • Inside someone’s head using clues to figure out what someone is thinking, feeling or valuing
  • Explain the image using visual clues to develop informative exploration of images
  • Focus on the senses identify the sensory experiences represented in an image
  • Implicit messages in images interpreting the hidden or non obvious messages the artist may be trying to convey about the people, events, or objects in an image
  • Reflect on the image developing thoughtful reflections to extend or speculate on ideas raised by an image
  • Explore options generating new options to solve a problem
  • Rate the decision reaching a conclusion about the integrity of a decision, based on specified criteria
  • Analyze similarities and differences examining similarities and differences and identifying those that are significant
  • Point of view the settings, contexts, and values from which we look at or consider the world
  • Clarify a problem identifying the information necessary to clarify and define a problem
  • Research questions preparing effective questions to guide research
  • Compare versions finding similarities and differences between two versions of work about the same topic
  • Credibility of sources assessing whether or not sources of information are reliable
  • Relevance of details selecting the information or facts that are significant or useful for a specific research question and purpose
  • Inquiry-minded does not take everything at face value; is inclined to inquire into matters and to explore unanswered questions

Investigating Images

This resource contains nine featured activities for using photographs, drawings, and paintings as information sources. Four of the activities, highlighted below, are included with a subscription to the Source Docs collection. The complete set is available for purchase.

View Investigating Images
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Interpreting the explicit content

  • Assess the explanation judge whether a proposed explanation of the contents of an image is believable
  • Explain the image use visual clues to develop informative explanations of images
  • Explore daily life draw conclusions about the lifestyle, practices and conditions of a person or group
  • Focus on the senses Identify the sensory experiences represented in an image
  • Describe the inner thoughts infer the beliefs, fears and values of a group or individual featured in an image

Reading behind the image

  • Uncover the themes identify words that capture the underlying feeling or message of an image
  • Decipher the artist’s views interpret the artist’s impressions of people, events or objects as revealed in an image

Challenging an image

  • Reflect on the image develop thoughtful reflections to extend or speculate on ideas raised in an image
  • Look for distortions learn to anticipate and detect potential inaccuracies or misleading features in an image