Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A Message of Ancient Days

Understanding Primary Sources:
What Do We Have In Common?

Objective: Students study first person accounts of people from different parts of the world and different time periods to learn what they have in common.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
4-5 hours over 3-4 days

Building Background:
Ask students to think about two different people living 1000 years ago in Rome and in China. Would these people have had similar interests and concerns, or would living in different places mean these people had different concerns? Encourage students to be honest in their answers. Have students spend 5-10 minutes on their own writing a list of things these people might have had in common. Discuss their answers and list them on board. (Possible issues might include housing, food, shelter, friendship, work, trade, entertainment, etc.) Tell students they will be studying first person accounts of people from different parts of the world and different time periods to learn what they might have in common.

What To Do:

1. Organize students into working groups and assign each a part of the world, such as: Rome, India, China, the Middle East, Africa, Northern Europe.

2. Have each group use the school or public library to find first person accounts from the part of the world they have been assigned. Remind students that these accounts do not need to be very long, but should include different kinds of information about the individual's life and times.

3. Students should read their first person account closely. (Remind students that each member of the group must read the account.) Then, working together, each group should fill out the What Did They Write About? worksheet.

4. When they have finished the worksheet have each group briefly explain the following about their primary source: Who wrote it? Where did this person or persons live? In what time period did this person or persons live?

5. Write the category titles from the worksheet on the board. Taking each category in turn, ask the groups whether their primary sources included any references to each category. Make a list in each category of which primary sources made reference to the category. Are students surprised at the number of similar topics across region and time? Discuss.

6. Have each group write a report about the content of their primary source. Encourage volunteers from each group to present the reports to the class. What similar concerns, interests, or issues do students notice in the different primary sources? Discuss. Ask students if the topics mentioned in their sources are of interest or concern to people today.

Ask students to identify one topic or concern they found in their primary source that surprised them most and explain why.


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