Provoking Inquiry: The Use of Primary Sources in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 5 of 12

Lesson 1 – Analysing Receipts

Our PLC group designed the first lesson with two specific intentions in mind. First, we wanted the lesson to be built around a primary source that students were familiar with and could easily relate to. Second, we wanted to teach students how to analyse primary sources in a fun and non-intimidating way, before introducing them to historical artefacts in the second lesson. To achieve the above goals, we decided to move away from the social studies curriculum and design the first lesson such that the focus was placed on sparking joy and developing the historical thinking skills of corroborating evidence and creating evidence-based interpretations.

The main inquiry question that framed the first lesson was What can we learn about the owner of these receipts? To get students excited about primary source analysis, we revealed to them that the receipts belonged to a teacher teaching the Primary Five level, before presenting them with the challenge of identifying the teacher. The receipts featured the teacher engaging in a variety of different activities, such as grocery shopping at NTUC FairPrice, dining at restaurants and shopping at Popular bookstores. In addition, to cater to the different readiness levels of students, those from the HP class were given receipts containing a longer list of purchases, while students from the LP class received receipts featuring fewer items or services.  

At the start of the lesson, our PLC group guided students to wonder about the broad categories of information (e.g. marital status, location of home, religion and ethnicity) that would help them to uncover the identity of the teacher. Following that, we got students to examine the receipts and describe what they see, before providing examples and non-examples to demonstrate how to corroborate evidence from two or more receipts to think of well-reasoned inferences. Students were subsequently divided into groups of four to complete an A3 sized worksheet.

The discussions that took place during the lesson were particularly rich. During their small-group discussions, it was common to find students challenging one another’s assumptions by asking interesting and relevant questions such as “Why would someone who lives in Orchard Road have three grocery receipts from an NTUC Fairprice in Ang Mo Kio?” and “Is it really fair to say that this person has a sweet tooth just because he bought one packet of gummy bears? How do we know for sure that he bought it for himself?” Even during the class discussion led by the teacher to collate findings, groups continued to challenge one another to validate inferences using evidence from multiple sources and ask thoughtful questions that challenged underlying assumptions.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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