Be a History Detective!

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13911

Do you consider a historian to be a detective? Detectives follow clues to solve mysteries, and historians use clues to unravel the past. With your stellar reading skills, you can do the same!


Comprehension, History

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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You asked your friend if you could borrow his bike. He said, "Okay."

boy looking annoyed

  • How do you think he really feels about it?
  • Do you think you should borrow his bike?

Even though he agreed, it might be better to skip using his bike this time.

While his words would lead you to think one thing, his facial expression led you to a different conclusion.

You used critical-thinking skills and the available clues to figure this out!

In your science classes, you’ve probably learned about the scientific method, which is the process scientists use to conduct experiments.

  • Did you know that historians have their own method of investigation?

It’s called — surprise! — the historical method.

The historical method is the use of critical-thinking skills to determine not just what happened, but also why and how.

When studying the events of the past, historians ask questions like these.

  • How strong is the evidence?
  • What is its significance?
  • Does it represent a change from the past or a continuation?
  • What is its cause?
  • What are its consequences?
  • What did the people of that time think of it?
  • Did it have good or bad effects overall?

Look at the evidence historians use to reconstruct the past. The main tools they use are called primary and secondary sources.

First, you need to know the difference between primary and secondary sources.

Here’s a simple example.

brother hugging sister

A little girl fell out of a tree. Her brother heard her cry out and ran over to comfort her. She told him what happened. Then, the brother ran to his mother to tell her the story.

The girl is the primary source, and her brother is the secondary source.

  • Pretty easy to remember, right?

Like the little girl’s story of what happened to her, primary sources are original, eyewitness accounts of events. The information comes from someone who was there when the event occurred.

Primary sources are the most important evidence historians have.

Some examples of primary sources are noted below.

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Anything, not a primary source is called a secondary source.

Like the boy’s story of what happened to his sister, secondary sources retell the story but are not eyewitness accounts. They may contain the original information, but something has been added or omitted.

Secondary sources are articles, books, videos, and other media that use primary sources for information but add interpretation and commentary.

Examples are noted below.

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  • Are you ready to test your knowledge of primary and secondary sources?

Head over to the Got It? section now.

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