By creating a concise headline to represent what they learned, students must identify main ideas and patterns and then make a judgment about which of those ideas and patterns are most important. Often the source or sources used in this activity shed light on underlying issues that influenced the events of a particular historical era.
Students first read and/or examine a set of sources (i.e. documents, readings, images, or videos). As needed, you may want to present a focus question (for instance, “What do these sources tell us about the effects of the new law on the country?”) to guide students’ examination. Remind students that they should be looking for patterns across the documents.
Students are then asked to compose a headline based on the information and patterns contained in the sources that they just reviewed. The headline that students create must be different than titles from any of the resources they examined. Headlines also should contain both subjects and verbs and are usually no more than 12 words in length. You might ask students to write a brief (no more than three sentences) explanation of how they arrived at their headline.
Below their headlines, have students write three pieces of evidence they recorded from the resources they examined that support or explain their headline.
Use a Single Source: While the above activity asks students to synthesize what they have learned using a variety of sources, you might instead ask students to analyze a single source and create a headline for it. Have students follow the steps above, eliminating step number three unless the source they’re examining is particularly long or complex.
Rethink Perspective: In addition or as a substitute to their original headline, you might ask students to write a headline with a particular perspective in mind. For instance, if teaching the Reconstruction Era unit, you might ask students to imagine they are writing a headline for a newspaper with a Radical Republican or Southern Democrat bias. If students are doing this activity in addition to the original activity, ask them to consider the following question: How is their headline for this activity different from their original headline?1
Students gain a more complex understanding of the Progressive Era in the United States and consider what it means to re-present history by using primary source documents.