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Chronological Reasoning and Causation

What Do Historians Do?

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Contemporary United States (1965 - present)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Comprehension

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Mid Hudson
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Grand Street School Class, Newburgh, NY in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

This activity can be completed on Consider the Source or with the attached Google Slidedeck. For best results, utilize the Google Slidedeck to facilitate the lesson.

Google Slides:

Example IDM:

Title: What do historians do? 

Overview:  This is an introductory lesson that will help teachers and students learn the job of a historian and how they can also analyze and interpret historical documents and artifacts.

Goal: To teach students how to use, analyze and interpret various historical documents and artifacts (to think like an historian). 

Objectives: Students will understand that: 

  • Historians use various documents and artifacts to understand and write about the past. 

  • Studying historical documents and artifacts will help them better understand the world around them.

  • Primary Sources bring history to life. They build interest in a topic. Your students will understand how images of real people and specific events will be more relevant to their lives

  • Recognizing different forms of evidence can be used to make meaning in social studies (including sources such as art and photographs, artifacts, oral histories, maps, and graphs).

Investigative (Compelling) Question: What do historians do? How can you think like an historian? 

Time Required: 

3 - 4 Sessions 

20 - 30 minutes

Recommended Grade Range: K-2 (but can be used with grades 3-6) for teachers who want to introduce how to analyze primary source documents with their students. . 

Subject: Social Studies


Next Generation ELA Standards:

Key Ideas and Details 1. Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text

 NYS Framework:

K.2 Children, families, and communities exhibit cultural similarities and differences

1.2 There are significant individuals, historical events, and symbols that are important to American cultural identity.

2.6 Identifying continuities and changes over time can help understand historical developments.

 Social Studies Practices:  A. Gathering, Interpreting and Using Evidence, B. Chronological Reasoning and Causation, C. Comparison and Contextualization, D. Geographic Reasoning

Credits: Jill Rogovic 


Materials Used: 

National Archives

Inquiry Design Model

Kid Citizen

Video: How do historians know about the past?

Video: What Are Primary Sources? - Kid Citizen

  • Primary Source video from Kid Citizen. What are Primary Sources?

  • Photograph Grand Street School Class, Newburgh, NY (NY Heritage Digital Collection). Please note: This photograph from 1916 was intentionally chosen as way to show that schools were not integrated at that time. This is an important understanding of education in the early 1900s and can lead to rich discussions when you compare and contrast your class pictures to this one. More information and other photos can be found here: Hudson River Valley Heritage Early Education in the Hudson Valley

  • Map - Kid Citizen: A Bird’s Eye View: Wondering with Maps (blog and teacher resource guide)

Aerial Photo Slider application allows a user to compare two aerial photos side by side

Inquiry Design Model template for inquiry. 

What do Historians Do? IDM Template

See these Worksheets in Spanish:

 Resources Used: 

13. Description of Procedure: Teacher note: These tasks are meant to be done as a whole group or in small groups. Images can be displayed under a document camera or on a screen. Photographs can also be printed and shared in small groups with magnifying glasses.

See Inquiry Design Model Template What do Historians Do?  to teach this lesson as an inquiry. 

Compelling Question

Staging the Question

Supporting Questions

Performance Tasks


Summative Assessment

Call to Action 

Extensions : N/A

15. Evaluation: The teacher will use student responses and observation to evaluate if students understood the activity.