Primary Source Inquiry Kits as Supports for Student Independent Research

August 16, 2019

Each year, over half a million middle- and high-school students around the world participate in the National History Day (NHD) contest. As students develop History Day projects, they have opportunities to engage in the practices of historians: to plan, carry out, and communicate their own history research using primary sources. Yet historical research is a complex task and requires a range of skills that many students struggle with, such as reading complex historical documents—often with anachronistic vocabulary and structure— gathering and synthesizing evidence across numerous sources, and translating evidence into findings and conclusions. These tasks are challenging for all types of students, but can be a particular struggle for ELLs and students with IEPs. This can lead many teachers and schools to treat National History Day participation as an enrichment activity targeted toward higher performing students. 

In Maryland, though, many school districts have begun requiring all 8th-graders to participate in History Day contests. In order to help teachers develop History Day projects and engage in primary source-based research with a more diverse range of students, Maryland Humanities and Maryland Public Television teamed up through a grant from the Library of Congress’s Teaching Primary Sources (TPS) Consortium to create a series of inquiry kits. The inquiry kits feature sets of historical documents on topics chosen to be both engaging to students and relevant to Maryland history curriculum. The kits were built to remove some of the barriers for teachers and students when trying to choose a topic for a History Day project, find high-quality primary source documents related to that topic, and analyze the documents as part of a History Day project.