Investigative Question

What have been the costs of the decisions of people in the past?

Students may continue their development of analytical skills by identifying the costs of their decisions. They should recognize that a cost is what is given up in gaining something. This fits with the economic concept of exchange. When students trade, they gain something, but they also give up something. What they give up is the cost of the choice. It should be emphasized that each choice has a cost (a simple example is the story of the Three Little Pigs, where two of the pigs give up safety for play).

Redwood trees, the tallest trees in the world, are native to California. As more people moved to California during the Gold Rush, they were amazed by the state’s natural resources. Redwood trees were believed to be an almost unlimited resource, and a logging industry developed around turning these giant trees into building materials. By the late 1800s, the redwood forests had been extensively logged.

The images in this inquiry set can be used to explore the ways in which people chose to harvest the redwoods throughout the 19th century, and a choice made in the 1960s to protect some of these trees from logging. The set’s investigative question — What have been the costs (consequences) of the decisions of people in the past? — can be used to guide students through the images to help them understand some of the costs of choosing to log or preserve redwoods.

Before looking through the sources in this set, project for the class a topographical map of California. Together, find the parts of the state that have forests. Look at your own location in the state and discuss what grows where you live. Then point out where Humboldt County is located, as this is the site for the images included in this set. Students should describe the details they see in each image. Use these details to complete the organizer as a whole class, noting costs and benefits. A suggested writing exercise is included.

This exercise is meant to help students examine choices made at different times in the past, and consider the costs associated with each choice represented in the photographs. Teacher directions: Work with students to complete this visual analysis chart. Doing this as a whole class, or as small groups will help students to exchange ideas and modify their own ideas about costs of choices made in the past. After students complete this chart, have them compose a paragraph that compares image 2,3, or 4 with image 1 or 5 to consider what the costs are of logging versus having a forest left intact. The topic sentence should make a claim about which choice (logging or preserving trees) is a bigger cost. Be sure to tell students that there is no right answer to the claim, but that what matters is how the claim is supported with evidence. The students should use three details from the chart as evidence. The students should have a concluding sentence that re-establishes their claim and explains what a consequence may be.


  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.


  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.