Investigative Question

How do families remember their past?

In Standard 2.1, students develop a beginning sense of history through the study of the family — a topic that is understandable and interesting to them. Students are introduced to primary sources related to family history, including photographs, family trees, artifacts, and oral histories. In response to the question How do families remember their past? students study the history of a family and may construct a history of their own family, a relative’s or neighbor’s family, or a family depicted from books. By studying the stories of a diverse collection of families — such as immigrant families, families with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender parents and their children, families of color, step- and blended families, families headed by single parents, extended families, multigenerational families, families with members having a disability, families from different religious traditions, and adoptive families — students can both locate themselves and their own families in history and learn about the lives and historical struggles of their peers.

In developing these activities, teachers should not assume any particular family structure and ask questions in a way that will easily include children from diverse family backgrounds. They need to be sensitive to family diversity and privacy and respect the wishes of students and parents who prefer not to participate. Members of students’ families may be invited to tell about the experiences of their families. Literature and informational texts may be shared to spark inquiry and help students acquire deeper insights into life in the past and the cultures from which the families came; the stories, games, and festivals that parents or grandparents might have enjoyed as children; the work that students as well as their families would have been expected to do; their religious practices; and the dress, manners, and morals expected of family members at that time. Students are encouraged to compare and contrast their daily lives with those of families who lived in the past. To deepen student understanding and engagement, teachers may have students read When I Was Little by Toyomi Igus, Dear Juno by Soyung Pak, The Boy with Long Hair by Pushpinder (Kaur) Singh, and In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco.

To develop the concept of chronological thinking, students may construct timelines of their school day and important events in their lives. To culminate this unit of study, teachers may have students interview an older adult or family member about life in the past and then create a timeline of the person’s life.

This inquiry set is the first time that students are introduced to the vocabulary term and concept of primary sources (in comparison to secondary sources). As the framework text details, primary sources shape students’ own lives, heritages, and family identities, and they can serve as an entry point for students’ broader learning about the richness of source material. This activity will also lay a foundation for later studies about the discipline of history and the related social sciences. This inquiry set begins to introduce primary sources with two concrete definitions that teachers should take time to project, post, and review with the whole class. Begin introducing this activity by explaining primary and secondary sources:
  • A primary source is an original document or artifact from the time period being studied. Some examples of primary sources that second-grade students may be familiar with are diaries, letters, audio recordings, and photographs from the period.
  • A secondary source is one that has been created by someone without first-hand experience, after the event has happened or the time period under study has passed. Secondary sources are often created by people who analyze primary sources. Some examples of secondary sources that second-grade students may be familiar with are textbooks, biographies, and documentary films.
(Note: Some sources can be both primary and secondary sources, based on the question historians are studying. For example, a second-grade social studies textbook from 1972 could be considered a secondary source (because it was written by people without first-hand knowledge of an event or time period) and a primary source (if the question historians were asking was What did social studies education in the 1970s look like?). This level of detail, however, is unnecessary for this first introduction of the topic to second graders and is provided here for the teacher’s consideration.) The accompanying definition graphics may make this distinction more concrete for students (see student handouts). Once students have a basic understanding of primary and secondary sources they can begin to explore the primary sources in this collection. These photographs illustrate some of the ways that families remember their pasts, which will help students answer the investigation question for this standard: How do families remember their past? Students may wish to explore the sources as they relate to something in their own lives, or they may note literal observations about the children and documents in the collection. Teachers may wish to use these sources to note similarities and differences (or continuities and changes) in how families use primary sources to construct and pass on their own histories. There are many opportunities for extensions of this activity, as the framework excerpt illustrates. (Note: Although some students may wish to connect their own experiences to the families and sources in this set, many other students may not feel comfortable doing so for a variety of reasons. Thus, if extension projects are presented, take care to provide several different opportunities for students to engage with the material.) At the end of the primary source explanation, students can determine the differences between primary and secondary sources drawing from material they explored in the lesson (see student handout). There is also an exit ticket activity that may be helpful to teachers in checking for understanding
In this activity, students practice sorting sources and determining whether they are primary or secondary sources. Directions: 1. Begin by having students cut out their cards on Student Handout 3, or provide them precut. 2. Have students read the information on their cards aloud to their tablemates. 3. They should then collectively determine if each card represents a primary or secondary source, and explain their reasoning behind the decision. *See student handout for literacy support. Handouts 2.1 Families and Primary Sources Student Handouts
  • California Revealed. California Revealed has created Curated Themes to mirror and supplement the existing Teaching California Inquiry Sets. California Revealed partners with hundreds of libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other nonprofit organizations across California to provide free digital preservation and online access services for primary source materials documenting the state's histories, arts, and cultures. The resulting collection spans diverse formats, regions, time periods, and cultural perspectives. We hope these Curated Themes will prove valuable to K-12 teachers looking to go deeper with Teaching California's classroom-ready Inquiry Sets and more generally to California educators interested in teaching with primary sources.
  • 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.
Although some students may wish to connect their own experiences to the families and sources in this set, many other students may not feel comfortable doing so for a variety of reasons. Thus, if extension projects are presented, take care to provide several different opportunities for students to engage with the material.