Asking Questions Like a Historians

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SWBAT to cite observation when inferring the importance of a picture or artifact.

Big Idea

Students should first state what they see (or other senses) before inferring what's important.


10 minutes

We infer things all the time. We infer based on what our senses tell us. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish the two. This lesson helps students understand the difference between what their senses tell them and what they are understanding based on that experience. 

Historian, like scientists, observe things and then use what they see, hear, taste, feel, and smell to theorize about it. I want students to be able to clearly state what they sense and then to understand that their thought about that, what they infer, can vary and is not factual. 

I explain that it is important, as we study history, to realize that we are interpreting events and their importance based on what we believe to be true. I explain that historians and researchers of all kinds go through a similar process of identifying factual information based on the senses and then interpret that for meaning. As an example, I hold up a pencil. I describe the pencil using my senses. The pencil is long, yellow, with a rubbery pink end and a black end that leaves residue when pressed on a surface. Then I create a theory by saying that because it leaves a mark, there are many of them in the room and I also see paper with marks of similar color and width that I think the object (pencil) is used to write.

Students will be learning how to go through the same process and support their theories with evidence from their senses.


15 minutes

After explaining to students the process of noted what they sense and then theorizing about it, I give them a chance to do it. With a picture, similar to the picture resource provided with this lesson, they will be using their sense of sight. I ask students to share out how we can use our sense of sight to describe things. We can describe the color, what the texture looks like, the quality of the picture, the forefront and background of objects in a picture, the shadow or contrast, etc. I ask them to pay attention to the many ways of using the sense of sight. 

Each group of 4 or 5 students are given a picture to practice with. I ask them to describe what they see, making sure not to make guesses or explain what they think is happening in the picture or why its important. Just describe what you see. As I go around to each group, I listen for correct descriptions of the picture. I praise what students are doing well and correct students who are making theories.

After a few minutes of describing the picture, I ask for their attention. I then ask them to make theories on what is going on in the picture. Through modeling, I teach them to support their theories with examples, "I think this is happening in the picture because I can see that" or "I think this is a (thing) because I see this in the picture", etc. They then get time to try it out.


5 minutes

The concept is reinforced at the end by asking individual students to share their thoughts with the class. I reinforce sentence structure by asking students support their ideas with evidence. I get students who share out loud multiple chances to offer a complete thought using evidence.