Analyzing Primary Sources with Elementary Students

Use Newsela levels and Annotations to read and analyze a Newsela article from the Newsela Library Primary Source section
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Students Analyzing Primary Sources using Newsela

About This Strategy

In this strategy, students use Newsela articles located in the Newsela Library (Primary Sources section) to complement their understanding of an assigned topic or a topic of their choice. Students will be able to access the text at five reading levels. By default, articles are presented to students at their current Newsela reading level but can be adjusted accordingly. Students will be encouraged to explore primary sources at several reading levels to see if any new information is found as a result. Students will use the Newsela Annotations feature to analyze primary sources - especially doing a close reading of the original text.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Decide whether the primary source document analysis is going to be used under the umbrella of a broader topic (e.g., during a Document Based Question unit in which multiple sources, both primary and secondary, are analyzed) or by itself.

  2. Create Newsela Text Sets for students to select articles from. The Text Sets should include articles on a variety of topics relevant to the content taught and/or of high student interest. You may consider creating a Text Set containing a mix of primary and secondary sources on any given topic (perfect for Document Based Questions) or focus on primary sources only.

  3. Make a determination regarding the grouping of the students: independent, pairs or triads. Locate the Cooperative Learning Chart in the resource section below, if needed, to use as a reference.

  4. Locate and make copies (or enable digital access to) the Primary Source Document Analysis Template to be used by students during reading. Refer to the example in the resource section below.

Student Preparation:

  1. Explain to students that they will be looking at various levels of primary sources, closely reading, and annotating them in order to analyze the primary source.

  2. Model for students how to access articles on Newsela including using features like Annotations. (To learn more about using Newsela Annotations, consult the resource section below.)

  3. Using teacher discretion, form groups of two or three students and remind students of  their responsibilities within each group. Refer to the Cooperative Learning Chart in the resource section below, if needed. If students prefer working independently, make this option available, as well.

  4. Provide students with the Primary Source Document Analysis Template to be used during reading and preview the template with students.

  5. Review the task, timeline, expectations, and evaluative tools.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Assign the Newsela article or Text Set. You can decide whether to provide it at the Newsela Recommended reading level for each student or adjust the reading level to a particular grade for all students.

  2. Have students explore the primary sources within the assigned Text Sets on Newsela to identify the ones that peak their interest (or pertain to the broader topic e.g., as part of the DBQ unit). Encourage students to explore different Lexile levels of one particular primary source to see if any new information is found as a result.

  3. Have students read and annotate the Newsela articles of their choice (individually or in groups). Consider creating a color coded system, or if you're a PRO user write annotations to help students answer the guiding questions from the Primary Source Document Analysis Template. An example of a color coded annotation system Non-PRO/PRO Newsela Users:

    • YELLOW: highlight/write information about the author's background

    • RED: highlight/list examples of bias towards the subject matter

    • BLUE: highlight/jot down vocabulary words that support the author's claim

    • GREEN: highlight/list facts/opinions that made you wonder

  4. Have students complete the Primary Source Document Analysis Template as they read the primary source. Refer to the example of the completed chart included in the resource section below.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Have students present their analyses either verbally (during a group sharing rotation) or using Google Classroom, Canvas or any other digital classroom platform to another group and/or the rest of the class.

  2. Students who were listening to the peers presenting their analyses can write (or post) an exit ticket to document what they learned in the process.

Recommended Newsela Texts or Text Sets

Christopher Columbus

  • Essential Question: Christopher Columbus - a villain or a hero?
  • Grade Level: 4-5
  • Content Area: Social Studies, ELA

Primary Sources: Famous Speeches

  • Essential Question: What are effective communication skills when speaking in front of an audience? What makes a speech appealing to an audience?
  • Grade Level: 4-5
  • Content Area: Social Studies, ELA

Text Set Title: The Underground Railroad

  • Essential Question: Why would people put their lives at risk to help slaves escape to freedom?
  • Grade Level: 4-5
  • Content Area: Social Studies, ELA

Historical Documents

  • Essential Question: Why is democracy important?
  • Grade Level: 5-9
  • Content Area: Social Studies, ELA

World War II

  • Essential Question: What effect did World War II have on individual citizens and entire nations?
  • Grade Level: 4-6
  • Content Area: Social Studies, ELA

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