Canadian Primary Sources in the Classroom   # of visitors
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101 Teaching Ideas
"History is the core of a people's culture. It is how they define who they are, what values they represent and the compass setting for their future."
                                                   Mark Starowicz, Globe and Mail , 20 September 2000

Teachers have known for years that students consistently rate Social Studies as one of their least liked subjects. Part of the problem is an overemphasis on content – the memorization and regurgitation of dates, places, events and people – and the use of the lecture method of teaching. University courses taught in this way provided a very poor model for classroom teachers. The textbook author or the lecture hall professor did the thinking for the students. In 1881 J. W. Bengough attacked this system of education in a poem and cartoon entitled "The Song of Cram".

With visage haggard and worn,
With eyes deep-sunken and red,
A child sat cramming scholastic bosh
Who ought to have been in his bed.

No sleep for the urchin to-night–
He fears the “bad mark” of the Ma’am–
He’ll toss on his bed till ’tis light
And then to his books and his cram!

No laughter of rollicking youth
But an air of old age that’s a sham–
A trembling, cringing, prison-house air,
The result of the system of cram!
Cram, cram, cram,
Algebra, Euclid and Roots,
Cram, cram, cram,
Cram it down into his boots!

Cram! cram! cram!
A school-full of galley slave mutes;
Cram, cram, cram,
Botany, Spelling and Roots!

O, when will they mix common sense
With their boasted common school plan,
And learn that a boy was not meant for a guy–
But a wide-awake, every-day man?

History taught properly should include a mix of content and process. It is important for students to be introduced to the most important events in Canadian history, but it is equally important that they have an opportunity to practice the historical method. The analytical skills students use when applying the historical method are the skills they need to process information when they read newspapers, watch television, use the internet or even when they interact with other people. A brief summary of the historical method is found in the following pages.

Over the years teachers have experimented with a wide variety of ways to make Social Studies more interesting. One way frequently tried was to use primary source documents to supplement the curriculum. This approach often failed because the documents used were too long or complex, and the biases too subtle for students to detect. The documents were often carefully selected to reinforce the interpretation found in the textbook, rather than to challenge it or to allow students to develop and support their own interpretations.

Many documents focused on constitutional history or other dry issues of little interest to students. There was very little variety in the types of primary sources used, with the emphasis nearly always on written documents. Compilers of the primary sources tended to avoid using the types of sources encountered by people in their everyday lives. Documents with strong points of view or which lacked credibility or reliability were not used, and their use was discouraged by ministry of education officials and publishers.

In an attempt to enliven history, engage students in the historical method, and give them an opportunity to practice critical thinking skills, the Begbie Canadian History Contest uses primary sources which meet the following criteria: they are varied, often visual, encountered in everyday life, reflecting multiple points of view on an issue, often controversial or less reliable, often challenging the textbook interpretation of events, as short as possible, and above all as inherently interesting as possible.

The Begbie Canadian History Contest: Years 1 to 20 data base contains a large number of carefully selected primary sources which enable students to practise the skills historians (and citizens) need when processing information. A detailed index to the data base enables teachers to quickly find a variety of materials dealing with both major and minor events in Canadian history. Strategies for using these materials are grouped according to the different stages of the historical method outlined in the following section.

101 Ideas for Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

The following ideas use primary sources contained in The Begbie Canadian History Contest. Many of the ideas came from my thirty-four years of teaching Canadian History, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate European History courses. Most would work equally well for other collections.

Points to consider when selecting a teaching strategy:

Primary sources should be used to supplement a unit of study and should not be used in isolation. Historians and students can use primary sources only if they know the context surrounding the source. The activities used will depend on the grade level and abilities of students, the time of year, the students’ experience in using primary sources, the time available, and if the activity is for:
- class work or homework
- individual students, groups of students or the whole class
- assignments, presentations, class discussions or a combination of these
- an assigned set of documents or documents found in a variety of locations
- the beginning, middle or end of a lesson or unit of study.

Questions to use when analyzing any primary source:

What kind of source is it?
What is the source about (people, places, ideas, time or events)?
What point is the source trying to make?
How complete is the source?

When was the source created: during the event, soon after or much later?
What do we know about the time period in which it was created (the social, political and economic context)?

Where was the source created and under what conditions?
Was the creator of the source close in location to an actual event or in a position to get good secondhand evidence?

Who created the source? What credentials does the writer or artist have?
What can we infer about the author’s bias or point of view by studying the source?

Why was the source created? for whom?
Whose interests does the source serve?
Was it intended to inform, persuade or entertain?
What does the document omit?

How do I know this?
What clues are there?

Questions to use when analyzing specific types of primary sources:

1. Advertising
What information does the advertisement contain?
What can we learn about society at the time the source was created?
What is the advertisement trying to accomplish (persuade, stimulate, lobby)?
Cite some details from the advertisement that reveal the methods the person who created it used to make it appealing (words, colours, shapes, poses, settings, use of emotion).
Who is the target audience?

2. Artifacts
Describe the artifact in detail.
What was the artifact made from?
What tools and technologies were used in its construction?
Where was it made and where was it found?
When was it made?
Who made it?
What might it have been used for?
What does it tell us about the past?
Why should we preserve it?

3. Autobiographies
The author of an autobiography often puts the best possible light on his or her own role in events, and the passage of time dulls memory. Read the accompanying excerpt from an autobiography. To what extent does this statement about autobiographies hold true for the excerpt?

4. Book covers
Book covers are designed to be eye-catching and to sell books. Evaluate this cover with these two criteria in mind.

5. Debates (House of Commons)
Was the speech directed at constituents or colleagues?

6. Diagrams and charts
What important idea is summarized in the diagram or chart?
How do the individual parts of the diagram or chart support the point being made?
Why was the diagram or chart created?

7. Diaries
What events or ideas are included in the diary?
When and where was the diary written?
Why did the person keep a diary?
Was the diary meant to be personal or private?

8. Editorials and opinion columns
Editorials and opinion columns are subjective, unlike the rest of the newspaper, which is supposed to be objective. An editorial speaks on behalf of the newspaper as an institution and is often influenced by the owner or publisher of the newspaper. An opinion column expresses the personal opinion of the author.
When and where was the newspaper published?
What is the editor’s or author’s opinion?
Does the writer back up arguments with examples?

9. Graphs
Read the title and legend of the graph. The information on the X and Y (horizontal and vertical) axes tells you which sets of information were used to construct the graph. Study the rest of the graph. What can you learn about how these sets of information are related by studying the graph?
Why was this graph prepared?

10. Illustrations
Do a SOAPS analysis of the illustration (Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Speaker).

11. Leaflets and pamphlets
Leaflets and pamphlets, like political cartoons, are designed to promote one point of view as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead of using visual devices they use words to make their point. What verbal devices did the author of this leaflet or pamphlet use to communicate a message?

12. Letters
What information is contained in the letter?
When and where was it written?
Was the letter meant to be private or public?
Who wrote it, and to whom was it written?
What was the relationship between the two parties (formal or personal, between equals, between a subordinate and a superior)?
Analyze the point of view of the writer based on the time and events of the period (consider the larger context of local, provincial, country or world events).

13. Magazine covers
What is shown on the cover?
When and where was the magazine published?
Is the magazine cover realistic or romanticized?
What can you learn by studying the cover?
Which cover do you like the best and why do you like it?

14. Study the title, direction, scale and key or legend.
What is shown on the map?
When and where was the map drawn and published?
Why was the map produced?
Who was the intended audience?

15. Monuments, statues and plaques
Monuments, statues and plaques are erected by public and private groups.
Monuments and statues “are sermons in stone.” What was the item in question meant to communicate or commemorate?
What do you think motivated people to finance and create this monument, statue or plaque?

16. Participants and eyewitnesses may misunderstand events or distort their reports, deliberately or unconsciously, to enhance their own image or importance. Such effects increase over time. As Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Is there evidence of this in this source?

17. Music
Why was this song or piece of music composed?
Where and when was it published?
Why was it likely written?
What themes dominate a given era?

18. Newspaper headlines
What topic is addressed in these headlines?
Do the words chosen hint at the editor’s viewpoint or position on the topic?

19. Newspaper reports
When and where was the story written?
Who wrote it?
Why did they write it?
Is the reporter objective (does the reporter give a balanced view of the topic and use neutral language)?
Can you find evidence of the newspaper’s economic or political bias?
Do other sources on the same topic support or challenge the view presented?

20. Paintings
Record everything you see in the painting.
What is happening?
When and where did it happen?
When and where was the painting completed?
What can you learn about the time period presented?
Why was it painted?
What doesn’t the painting show?
What happened before and after the scene depicted?
In what ways might this painting differ from a photograph of the same event?
Has the artist romanticized or dramatically portrayed the subject matter?
What feelings do you get from viewing this painting?
What title would you give this painting?
What reasonable inferences can you make from this painting?

21. In order to get students to focus on detail, show them a photograph, painting or poster for two minutes and then cover it. Have the students describe as much detail as they can remember. Show them the image again and have them add any details they missed to their list. Repeat using new images until the students’ ability to recall detail improves.

Why do organizations publish and distribute pamphlets?
Describe the topic addressed by this pamphlet.
Where and when was it published?
Who published it and why did they publish it?

How have humans modified this landscape?
What can we see, experience and learn about past events and people by visiting this site?
What primary sources are needed to provide historical context for the events or people associated with this site?

24. Petitions
Petitions are an effective way of educating people on an issue and lobbying governments between elections. What group of people likely prepared this petition?
Why do you think they prepared it?
Would you have signed the petition? Why or why not?

25. Photographs
What is happening in the photograph (list the details)?
When and where was the photograph taken?
What do you know about the time period and location?
Who is in the photograph and what are they doing?
Was the photograph candid or posed?
What was left out of the composition?
Is this image representative of an era?
Have any features been exaggerated or distorted?
Who do you think took the photograph?
Is there a title and caption? Are they appropriate? Write your own caption for the picture.
Suggest what happened after the photograph was taken.
Is this photograph more or less objective than a written document on the same subject?

26. Select an interesting photograph from Canada’s past. Carefully research the time period and context in which the photograph was taken and recreate the event in costume. Have each person explain what they were thinking when the photograph was taken.

27. Political cartoons
Select two or more cartoons on one topic and:
If the cartoons show the same person drawn by different cartoonists, ask the students to comment on the use of caricature and how the cartoonists have used it in the cartoons. Has the cartoonist exaggerated any physical features of the people in the cartoon?
Analyze the effectiveness of the wording used in each cartoon. Ask the students to describe how words are used to help convey a message.
Note the use of signing (facial expressions, body language, appearance). Can you think of different signing that might weaken the cartoons? strengthen the cartoons?
Identify objects, symbols and attire seen in the cartoon and explain their significance.
Compare the use of stereotypes. Are any of the stereotypes unfair?
Compare the analogies used by each cartoonist. What two things are being compared? Try to come up with a different analogy the cartoonist could have used for each cartoon.
Compare the use of size and/or shading. How does each artist use it to help make a point?
Compare the message of each cartoon. Describe the way in which each cartoonist makes a point. Is there a common theme?
Create your own cartoon on the theme illustrated by the cartoons.
Cartoonists often eliminate everything from their cartoons that is not useful. What is missing from each drawing? Can you find anything that does not have a purpose?
Remove the titles, labels and dialogue from each cartoon. Ask the students to make up their own titles, labels and dialogue.
Remove the citations, then ask the students to place the cartoons in chronological order and attempt to identify the region or country of origin and the political point of view of the artist.
Do the cartoons agree on anything?
Why are there differences in the cartoons?

28. Select and analyze five political cartoons dealing with one event, person or issue.
Which cartoon best exemplifies the features of good political cartooning? Explain.

29. See The Art of Decoding Political Cartoons: a Teacher’s Guide for additional ideas on using political cartoons in the classroom.

30. Polls and plebiscites
Why is it important to know who conducted or commissioned a poll or plebiscite and when, where and why they conducted it?
What conclusions can you draw from this poll or plebiscite?
What is depicted in this poster?
When and where was it created?
What does it tell us about society at the time?
Who published this poster?
Why was it produced: to convey information or to persuade the viewer to follow a particular course of action?
Who was the intended audience?
What was the message of the poster? How is this message communicated?

32. Good poster artists attempt to make their message simple, direct, clear, memorable and dramatic. Has this artist done any of these things? If so, how? Write a paragraph explaining whether or not you think this poster is effective. Support your position by referring to the poster. Create your own poster dealing with the unit of history you are currently studying.

33. Quotations
What are the key words in the quotation?
What do you know about the person making the statement?
What do you think is the main reason for the speaker’s statement?

34. Slogans
Slogans are designed to make a point as clearly and as quickly as possible. In the process they usually reflect the biases or point of view of the group which uses them. Evaluate the effectiveness of these slogans.
What is the song about?
When and where was the song created?
What do we need to know about the historical context in which the song was produced in order to understand and interpret the song?
What does the song tell us about the society and culture in which it was produced?
Who created the song?
Why was it created?

36. Speeches
What is the speaker’s key message?
When was the speech given?
What is the speaker’s point of view?
Who was the audience?

37. Stamps
What topic or theme is illustrated in the stamps?
Why was this theme selected?

38. Statistics
Identify the title, source and date of the statistics. Read the title and column headings in order to get an idea of what is being shown. Look for patterns and trends in the data over time, increases and decreases, similarities and differences.
Who compiled the data?
Why did they compile it?
Is it a reliable source?
Write a paragraph summarizing the conclusions you can draw from the statistics.

Teaching Strategies Using the Historical Method:

The historian selects a subject for investigation

39. Start your class with an interesting primary source on the day’s topic written on the board or projected onto a screen. Students entering your class will know that you will start the lesson with an analysis of the source. This will give the students something to look forward to in your class, challenge them to think critically, and help them focus on the day’s topic.

40. We are the product of our past. Start or end a class with a thought-provoking document designed to trigger discussion on a current event.

41. Assign students a primary source on the next unit of study. Assign questions on the source designed to stimulate student interest and curiosity.

42. Introduce a lesson with one or two primary sources. Have students generate a list of questions about the upcoming topic of instruction suggested by the documents.

43. Use contemporary primary sources to focus attention on an historical period (for example, use an article on marijuana as a springboard into an exploration of Prohibition.

44. Prepare an analysis wall. Use masking tape to attach a few images on a new topic to the blackboard or whiteboard. Give the students some chalk or a marker and ask them to record their impressions of the documents. Allow time for the students to look at and think about the images. Use their comments as the basis for a class discussion of the documents.

The historian collects evidence

45. Have students search for visual documents on one topic (e.g. fashions, propaganda, Prohibition, free trade, role of women, war, personalities, technology, working class, native people, ethnic groups, injustice) and use them to prepare a timeline mural. Each illustration should be labeled with a key question.

46. Select a group of primary sources dealing with a common theme and create a gallery walk in your classroom. Have students circulate around the room until they have had a chance to study each of the sources. Lead a class discussion to find out what the students have learned about the topic. You could also create a stations approach in which groups of documents are placed on tables around the room and students circulate from table to table until they have seen all of the documents.

47. Ask students to select primary source documents to use for a history fair, bulletin board or museum display on an historical topic. Make sure the display has a common theme or thesis which highlights the most important point to be drawn from the primary sources. The title and subheadings should support the thesis and provoke interest in the topic.

48. Have students put together a collection of Canadian primary sources from 1900 to 1970 that focus on Britain and the United States. Ask the students to use the sources to create a collage depicting Canadian attitudes towards these two countries over time. Students should come up with a catchy title for their collection and include some questions to help the viewer focus on the changes over time.

49. Divide your class into two groups. Have one group prepare a display to support the Liberal position and one to support the Conservative position during the 1911 election, the December 1917 election, the Winnipeg General Strike, the flag debate, NAFTA etc.

Prepare captions to go under each source.

50. Have a group of five students select First World War or Second World War posters and memorabilia to use in creating a recruitment booth aimed at getting men and women to join the armed forces. The rest of the class should role play potential recruits. These students could role play an unemployed person, a high school graduate, a longtime resident of Canada, a newly married person, a veteran of the First World War, a married person with two young children, a recent immigrant from the United Kingdom, a Canadian of Jewish or Polish origin, a monarchist, a recent immigrant from Germany, a French Canadian, a native person, a farmer, a munitions plant worker, a Quaker, a peace activist etc. Have the students role play the drama between the people manning the booth and the potential recruits. The recruiters and the potential recruits may want to change roles.

The historian analyses evidence and makes inferences

51. Assign a set of different types of primary sources on the same event. To what extent do the sources agree on what happened? disagree? Suggest reasons for the differences. Divide the class into four groups. Have the students in each group discuss their answers to these questions. Ask each group to present their observations to the whole class.

52. All people who leave a record of an event are unintentionally influenced by their life experiences (biases). A person’s age, sex, occupation, religion, culture, ethnic background, socioeconomic situation, location, influence of family and friends, education, beliefs, values, interests, concerns etc. all shape his or her point of view. Biases are revealed by such things as a person’s position or role in history, use of emotionally charged or loaded words, exaggeration, one-sidedness, and opinions stated as facts. Ask students to examine five different types of primary sources dealing with one topic for clues that help identify each creator’s point of view. Have them state the point of view for each source and support their interpretation with evidence from each document.

53. Select five or more political cartoons on one topic. Can you detect any biases in the cartoons (political, religious, economic, gender, vocational, national/regional/local, ethnic, age, historical influences etc.)? Whose interests are served by each of the cartoons? Support your conclusions by referring to the cartoon devices.

54. Ask students to apply the “time and place rule” and “bias rule” to a set of primary source documents and use them to assess the reliability of the documents. Have them rate the documents from the most reliable to the least reliable and be prepared to support their findings.

The time and place rule says that the closer in time and place a source and its creator were to an event in the past, the better the source will be. Based on the time and place rule, better primary sources (starting with the most reliable) might include:
- direct traces of an event
- accounts of the event, created at the time by firsthand observers and participants
- accounts of the event, created after the event by firsthand observers and participants
- accounts of the event, created after the event by people who did not participate in or
witness the event, but who used interviews or evidence from the time of the event.

The bias rule says that every source is biased in some way. Documents tell us only what the creator of the document thought happened, or perhaps wants us to think happened. As a result, historians follow these guidelines when they review evidence from the past:
- every piece of evidence and every source must be viewed skeptically and critically
- no piece of evidence should be taken at face value; consider the creator’s point of view
- each source and piece of evidence must be cross-checked with related data.

55. Provide students with ten different types of primary sources on a single topic. Using the BC History 12 test for reliability stated below, have them rank order the sources from the most reliable to the least reliable.

Test for reliability for primary sources (the truth and significance of the document)
Is it in accord with known facts?
Is it corroborated by other documents? Are they reliable?
When was the document made?
Who made it?
Was he/she in a position to know?
Was the information hearsay?
Had he/she the capability to form a judgment?
Was he/she a disinterested observer, or did he/she have an agenda?
Did he/she have any unconscious bias?

56. Select five primary sources exhibiting different points of view on a particular issue and have students arrange them in order, e.g.
- prohibition: favouring prohibition to opposing prohibition
- protective tariff: favouring the tariff to opposing the tariff
- First World War: favouring the war to opposing the war
- women’s suffrage: favouring women’s suffrage to opposing women’s suffrage
- conscription: least biased to most biased
- the Depression: left wing to right wing responses
- Canadian foreign policy: favouring isolationism to favouring imperialism.
Be prepared to support the reasons for your arrangement.

57. Select five primary sources dealing with the Riel Rebellion. Have students prepare a set of questions that prosecution lawyers would want to ask a witness at Riel’s trial. Have them prepare a separate list of questions that the defence lawyers would ask about each document when cross-examining the same witness. Better yet, have your students conduct a mock trial of Louis Riel. Have the prosecution and defence lawyers introduce at least one primary source per witness. See The Riel Rebellion: A Biographical Approach and The Riel Rebellion: A Biographical Approach. A Teacher’s Guide for details on how to conduct a mock trial.

58. Select five or more different types of primary sources from the time period you are studying. Remove the citations. Ask the students to analyze the sources, place them in chronological order and determine who created them. Students should be able to defend their conclusions using evidence from each of the documents.
(suggested by Larry O’Malley)

59. Give each student or group of students a different primary source dealing with the same topic. Have the students analyze the document (what, where, when, who, why and how?). Have the students report their findings to the whole class. Invite questions and comments from the class. Students could also make their presentations in the form of a skit, debate, PowerPoint presentation, display, pamphlet or video.

60. To introduce students to a Begbie Essay Question (BEQ), prepare key questions to go with each document in the set. These scaffolding questions should help the students answer the main question posed by the BEQ.

61. Ask students to prepare some scaffolding questions to go with a BEQ.

62. Have students assume the roles of the different historical figures found in a painting or photograph and act out what they think happened before, during and after the event portrayed. Have one member of the class interview the different figures.

63. For a set of BEQs have the students research and prepare a timeline of relevant historical events that took place before, during or after the issue addressed in the documents. The events should be designed to help place the documents in their historical context. It is said that all primary sources show traces of their own times. Ask students to find evidence from each source to support this statement.

64. Select five or more political cartoons on one topic. Describe your emotional reaction to each of the cartoons. How did the cartoonist trigger your emotional reaction?

65. Have students prepare a bulletin board, collage or web site contrasting “The Good Old Days” of the 1920s and 1930s, for example, with “Nowadays.” You can search the section “Questions Using Primary Sources” by decades using the search terms *1920s,*1930s etc. to find suitable primary sources.

66. Select a group of primary sources on one topic. Select the sources so that an equal number come from different regions of Canada; or represent different time periods; or represent different political parties; or represent different economic interests (labour and business; lower, middle or upper class); or represent different national interests etc. (multiple perspectives). Ask the class to sort the sources into different regions, chronological order, political affiliations, economic interests etc. and be prepared to justify their categorization.

67. Select one poster. Explain how the artist used colour, words, images, symbols and the arrangement of items to produce a specific reaction in the viewer.

68. Study one photograph of an historical event. What was the creator’s purpose in taking this photograph? (Look at the subject, colour, gestures, perspective, framing, distance, space and symbolism for clues.)

69. War posters usually appeal to national values, domestic unity or the nobility of the allies, or intimidate though direct threat. Study the posters shown in the Begbie contests. Categorize them according to these criteria, giving the reasons for each of your decisions. Are there any that do not fit into these categories? If so, make up a new category for these posters.

70. Study a Begbie Essay Question. Rate the primary sources in terms of their reliability and usefulness in writing about a topic. Which sources were the most useful? the least? Explain.

The historian selects evidence

71. Prepare a Remembrance Day display case of primary sources to recognize those who served in the Canadian armed forces in peacekeeping and in war.

72. Have students study the primary sources contained in one year of the Begbie Canadian History Contest. Ask them to select three primary sources they think the authors of their textbook should include in the next edition of the book, and give reasons for their selection. Discuss with students why different people chose different points of view.

73. Study a painting, political cartoon and illustration all dealing with the same topic. Write a paragraph on the similarities and differences between the three records. If you were able to use only one of the three to include in a book, which one would you select? Explain.

74. Ask students to decide on five major turning points in the 19th or 20th century and find an appropriate primary source dealing with the event. Students should be prepared to defend their choice of turning points and primary sources. You could also ask students to select the five most important people, major achievements or major disappointments in the last two centuries.

75. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group twenty primary sources on one topic. Tell them that they are on an editorial board which has to choose five sources to illustrate an upcoming textbook on the topic. The students should be prepared to justify their selection. Have each group present and defend their choices to the rest of the class.

76. All history is selective. Historians cannot tell you everything that happened. For example, a historian preparing a book of political cartoons can select from literally millions of cartoons but ends up using a few hundred or less. Find a book of political cartoons in the library, such as Great Canadian Political Cartoons 1915 to 1945. What criteria did the author(s) use in selecting political cartoons for inclusion in the book?

77. Ask students to prepare a slide show of primary sources to illustrate music from a specific time period. Teachers may want to do this themselves to introduce a new unit.

78. Ask students to prepare a desktop documentary on an historical topic and post it on YouTube. Have the students write a paragraph on what they learned about about history, and especially the selection process, from making their desktop documentary. Have the rest of the class view and critique the documentary.

79. “Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” (Ladker, 1995) Have the authors of your textbook done a good, reasonable, or poor job of including such groups as women, native people, ethnic minorities or members of the working class?

The historian organizes and interprets evidence

80. Prepare a set of primary sources which illustrate the importance of interpretation in writing history. Give each pair of students a primary source dealing with an important election issue. Have one student interpret the document from a Conservative point of view, and the other from a Liberal point of view (or NDP, Bloc Québécois, or Green). Then have each interpret the document from the opposing point of view. Do the same for sources reflecting other points of view, e.g. male/female, Western Canada/Central Canada, business/working class, Protestant/Catholic, native/non-native, old/young etc.

81. Use the Begbie short answer question that accompanies two or more primary sources to spark a class discussion. You can use the Begbie essay question to do the same thing.

82. Pick five or more different types of primary sources from the time period you are studying. Have students develop a thesis statement which includes supporting evidence from all five sources. Discuss the documents in order of the most supportive to the least supportive of the thesis.

83. Provide students with several different visual documents dealing with the same subject or time period, e.g. a photograph, painting, sculpture, advertisement, poster, cartoon, map, postcard, book cover, illustration or graph. All of these documents have a creator with a point of view. Ask the students to show how the creator’s point of view is revealed by the choice of pose, perspective, framing, distance, language, subject and purpose, and what was included or excluded. Which source did the students find the most credible and reliable?

84. Ask students to prepare a briefing paper for the prime minister at the beginning of the Boer War, the Conscription crisis of 1917, the Winnipeg general strike, the On-to-Ottawa trek, the October crisis of 1970 or the debate on the Kyoto Accord. Provide students with a set of documents on one of the topics. Ask them to analyze the primary sources and propose at least two courses of action for the prime minister and cabinet to consider.

85. For one of the Begbie Essay Questions (BEQ) place each of the documents on index cards. Distribute the cards to groups of two or three students. Each group must then create a statement to support their position on the topic to the rest of the class.
(suggested by Larry O’Malley)

86. Have students use a set of BEQ documents and sources found in the library and/or on the internet to prepare for a panel discussion on the topic. Students on the panel should support different sides of the issue.

87. Provide students with a set of BEQ documents. The first time you use these documents with a class, have the students read the first document and form a temporary hypothesis designed to answer the assigned question. Have students refine or revise their hypothesis based on their study of each subsequent primary source. You could also have students study the documents on an individual basis and compare their hypotheses.

88. “History can be written in one thousand ways.” Select one political cartoon. Ask the students to interpret the cartoon in a variety of ways using major Canadian philosophies of history (good versus evil, struggle for survival, rise and fall of civilizations, progress, colony to nation, Empire of the St. Lawrence, metropolitanism, growth of freedom, biographies of great persons, oppressor versus oppressed etc.). Use this approach with other types of primary sources.

89. Find a primary source that expands on or contradicts a statement in the student textbook. Ask students to defend or refute conclusions drawn by the textbook’s author and search for additional documents that support their conclusions.

The historian writes a history

90. Discuss the difference between primary and secondary sources with your class. Provide your students with the documents from the Begbie Essay Question (BEQ) on the Komagata Maru incident.
(a) Divide the students into groups of four and give each group a large sheet of paper and a felt pen. Ask half of the groups to justify the position of the federal government with respect to the people aboard the Komagata Maru, and ask the remaining groups to justify the position of the people aboard the Komagata Maru who wanted to settle in Canada.
(b) Have students present and discuss their findings.
(c) Have students read pp. 15–19 in Canada in a Changing World History (Desmond Morton), then pose this question: Was the author of the text fair in his description of immigration to Canada in the early part of the century? Ask the students to support their position with specific reference to the various documents handed out and to the textbook. (suggested by Ed Harrison)

91. Provide students with a time capsule containing a variety of primary sources produced during a limited time period. Ask them to write a short essay describing what they learned about the time period from studying the documents. Have them compare their conclusions with the interpretation found in their textbook.

92. Have students study the BEQ dealing with women’s struggle for the franchise and write an essay on the topic. Have the students compare their interpretation with a textbook account of the same issue. Discuss the similarities and differences. (You could do the same thing for most of the BEQs.)

93. Using a set of BEQ documents on a limited topic, ask students to prepare oral reports on the topic. Their presentations should have a thesis.

94. Give the students five to ten documents centered on the life of one person. Ask the students to prepare an obituary or eulogy on the person based on the documents. The article should refer to the person and his or her impact on Canadian history.

95. Select sets of primary source documents which students can use in preparing a “heritage minute” documentary. Have them show the rest of the class their documents and documentary. Have class members critique each presentation.

96. Give groups of students a set of documents on a common theme or issue. Ask them to use the documents as inspiration for writing and performing a short skit or dramatic production designed to interest the class in the topic addressed by the documents. If the students prefer, they could use the documents as a basis for a short article on the issue for submission to Wikipedia.

97. Using a set of BEQs, have a class debate from the point of view of the people at the time. Have the class discuss how choosing a contemporary point of view on the same topic might affect the outcome of the debate.

98. Using a set of BEQ documents or a set of documents on another event or theme, have students prepare an editorial, letter to the editor, political cartoon, poster, pamphlet or other illustration on the issue addressed by the documents that might have been written or produced at the time of the controversy (e.g. the potlatch, Komagata Maru incident, Prohibition, women’s suffrage, Berlin/Kitchener controversy, Battle of Ypres, end of Prohibition, bathing suits, bilingual currency, Jewish immigration, Cold War, Avro Arrow, flag debate, Amchitka nuclear test, discrimination).

99. Have students examine a number of leaflets, pamphlets, advertisements, posters, or paintings etc. from Canadian history. Ask them to list the characteristics of a well-designed item, and design a similar item on a contemporary or historical topic.

100. Have students write an essay on a Canadian historical topic (e.g. the CPR, the Alaska boundary dispute, the Conscription crisis of 1917, relief camps during the Depression, the changing role of women in the 20th century, the October crisis etc.), making use of some of the Begbie contest primary sources.

101. Study one painting of an historical event. An original work of art is a personal interpretation. Describe the artist’s interpretation. What other ways are there of showing this event or scene? If possible find another artist’s depiction of the same event and compare the two paintings.


Bardswich, Miriam & Sandra Fryer. Labour and Social Reform. Oakville, Rubicon, 2002.

Borda, Jenifer. War and Peacekeeping. Oakville, Rubicon, 2002.

Fine-Meyer, Rose & Stephanie K. Gibson. Advertising: Reflections of Culture and Values. Oakville, Rubicon, 2002.

Fine-Meyer, Rose. The Immigrant Experience. Oakville, Rubicon, 2003.

Freeman-Shaw, Elizabeth and Jan Haskings-Winner. Canadian Sources Investigated 1914 to the Present. Toronto, Emond Montgomery, 2008.

Hou, Charles. “Decoding Political Cartoons.” Library and Archives Canada.

Hou, Charles. “World War II Through Cartoons,” McCord Museum Thematic Tours.

Hou, Charles and Cynthia. Great Canadian Political Cartoons 1820 to 1914. Vancouver, Moody’s Lookout Press, 1997.

Hou, Charles and Cynthia. Great Canadian Political Cartoons 1915 to 1945. Vancouver, Moody’s Lookout Press, 2002.

Hou, Charles and Cynthia. Great Canadian Political Cartoons 1946 to 1982. Vancouver, Moody’s Lookout Press, 2011.

Hou, Charles and Cynthia. The Art of Decoding Political Cartoons: a Teacher’s Guide. Vancouver, Moody’s Lookout Press, 1998.

Hou, Charles and Cynthia. The Riel Rebellion: A Biographical Approach. Vancouver, Moody’s Lookout Press, 1995.

Hou, Charles and Cynthia. The Riel Rebellion: A Biographical Approach. Teacher’s Guide. Vancouver, Moody’s Lookout Press, 1995.

Jarvis, Aliphat, Bain, DesRivières, Scully, War and Peace: Canada’s Global Role. Scarborough, Prentice Hall Ginn, 1996.

Leskun, Charles and Tim Tobin. Nationalism and French Canada. Oakville, Rubicon, 2003.

Library and Archives Canada, Learning Centre, Toolkit.

Library of Congress, American Memory.

Library of Congress, Using Primary Sources.

Explorations in “Un-framing” Art – Ed Harrison.

Decoding Photographs – Laura McCoy.

Pappas, Peter. Analyzing Primary Sources.

Pettigrew, Jan and Jonathan Shoss. Trade and International Relations. Oakville, Rubicon, 2003.

Teachers’ Curriculum Institute. History Alive: Engaging All Learners in the Diverse Classroom. Menlo Park, Calif., Addison-Wesley, 1994.

World History Matters

© The Begbie Contest Society — La Société du Concours Begbie