Posts Tagged ‘primary source’

As we continue preparations for the Richard Bartol, Jr. Conference for Educators this week, Teacher Ranger Rob Finkill continues a series for teachers who cannot attend the conference, but that focuses on the same types of primary source document comparisons that will be done by those attending the conference…this week’s post compares two accounts of the events at Little Round Top here at Gettysburg National Military Park.


littleroundtop   Little Round Top here at Gettysburg is one of the most visited spots on the battlefield. Countless visitors have stood and gazed out in amazement at the picturesque scenery and maybe contemplated what occurred there July 2, 1863.  The well known book “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara and the subsequent movie “Gettysburg” have brought much attention to the actions of Joshua Chamberlain and his regiment at the end of the Union line on Little Round Top , the 20th Maine. Their struggle against Colonel William Oates and the 15th Alabama has been written about by men on both sides. The accounts given are excellent primary sources to compare, as they both describe the same event from 2 different points of view.




Our post today will provide some ideas for you in the classroom to incorporate accounts from both of these men and their soldiers in an attempt  to analyze these primary source accounts to take a more in-depth look at the events on Little Round Top. These accounts would provide an excellent pre or post activity for those classes who participate in one of the Park’s free Battlefield Footsteps Program called “Determination”, which is a hike in the footsteps of the 15th Alabama regiment and the 20th  Maine regiment, but if you can’t bring a class to the park, these resources  will still help you put together a worthwhile and meaningful lesson.

Using these accounts is also an excellent way to incorporate primary sources in your classroom and make connections to objectives from the Common Core State Standards

Here are a few objectives would apply:

Grade 5: Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and difference in the point ofview they represent

Grades 6-8: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources

Grades 11-12: Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and  larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

The Library of Congress has an excellent publication called “Teaching with Primary Sources”




Ideas for a lesson:

Before digging into the activities, it is a good time to discuss how sometimes people who experienced the same event  may view that event differently , even though they experienced the same moment. You may want to “stage” a moment in class and then have students write down what they saw and see if there are any  differences in student perceptions of what happened. Ask students for any examples that they might have and then discuss how major events in history are no different. If you are not in a Civil War Unit, be sure to set the context of the battle for your students – this short overview video is a good one to watch of the events of the Civil War leading to Gettysburg.

Here are a few ideas of how to start off your activity:

Background of Oates and Chamberlain

Maps of the area

Key vocabulary explanations

For a teacher reference or student extension activity, view the video of a Ranger tour of Little Round Top for an overview


  • Watch portions of  the movie of Gettysburg on the fighting at Little Round Top

(spoiler alert: it is from Chamberlain’s point of view)

              You may also want to have your watch this again after having students read the primary source accounts


financialorganizationHelp Students Organize their Thoughts

After introducing the lesson and the purpose, have your students read the accounts of the events at Little Round Top from the both the Northern side, Joshua Chamberlain, and the Southern side , William Oates.

Set your students up with some easy to use graphic organizers as they read over the accounts of both men. Below are several strategies to pick from to guide your students in analyzing these primary sources.

Two strategies to use use are:

APPARTS  – have students determine author, place & time, prior knowledge they have, audience,  reason, the main idea, and significance

Click here for a more detailed explanation

Click here for a graphic organizer for APPARTS

SOAPS – students determine subject, occasion, audience, purpose, and speaker

Click here for a graphic organizer for SOAPS


 Extension / Discussion Activities

After your students read the accounts and fill out Graphic Organizers- (this could be done in groups, pairs or alone ), pick from this list of activities to complete ….

1. Develop thesis or claim statements that students can support with evidence about

either side, then support their claims

2. Using a Venn Diagram , have students determine what is different and the same

about each account, discuss together why there may be differences of opinion in the accounts.

How could they find out the “truth”?

Click for a completed Venn diagram as a basic example

3. Stage a debate in class between Oates and Chamberlain in class. One side would be “Chamberlain” the other could be “Oates”

4. Have students pretend they were soldiers in one of the regiments, re write the accounts from a soldiers point of view.


Here are the accounts from Chamberlain and Oates

Joshua Chamberlain’s official report on the events at Little Round Top

William Oates report on the events at Little Round Top

William Oates letter years later about the events at Little Round Top



Click here to view a video of the route that Oates’ men took and the area where the fighting took place

This video is good for students who may not be able to visit Gettysburg and want to see what the ground looks like today.

Little Round Top from MrFinkill on Vimeo.

Comment here with more ideas or thoughts...

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As we continue preparations for the Richard Bartol, Jr. Conference for Educators at the end of the month, Teacher Ranger Rob Finkill begins a series for teachers who cannot attend the conference, but that focuses on the same types of primary source document comparisons… this one between the Declaration of Independence, and a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on the meaning of the Fourth of July to the enslaved population.

Recently on July 4th,  Americans  celebrated our nation’s  birthday.  Fireworks, picnics, and hot dogs of course played a major part in those celebrations. It has also been a time for citizens to celebrate the ideas and principles of the Declaration of Independence. Americans, throughout our history, have interpreted our founding documents in different ways. The Fourth of the July is a great chance to look at the Declaration of Independence and how Americans have interpreted its meaning.

4th of July   The Declaration of Independence is, obviously, a great primary source for students to analyze. Another interesting primary source activity would be to look at how its meaning has been interpreted and used over the years by citizens of the United States across multiple generations.

Making a connection

The debate over slavery in the United States led to specific uses of the meaning of the Declaration (and the Constitution for that matter ) by both African-American and white abolitionists. No where is that demonstrated more clearly than in a speech given by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852 called “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”.

This speech and the Declaration can help students site specific evidence of how the principles and beliefs contained in the Declaration of Independence helped give hope to African Americans in Antebellum America and the movement to end slavery.

DOI l  Start from the beginning

Before looking at the Frederick Douglass speech, students should understand the principles found in the Declaration of Independence that focus on the rights that African Americans and abolitionists were fighting for.

Have students look at the first section of the Declaration of Independence and support a simple claim statement:

Here is an example:

The Declaration of Independence states that people have the right to freedom and a government that protects their rights.

Students can use the Google Document below which contains a portion of the first section of the Declaration along with a student friendly version for lower level readers.

Declaration of Independence Text

Have students use the graphic organizer below to organize their thoughts. The organizer has a section to include a “concrete detail” (specific fact) and space for students to make their own supporting details about the text they select.

Detail and Supporting Details Graphic organizer


douglassFrederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Speech

Many experts consider this the greatest American abolition speech ever. Douglass himself stated that he worked as hard on this speech as any he ever did. The speech was given on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, NY. Interestingly enough, some abolition groups and some African American communities in New York had taken to holding Fourth of July ceremonies on the 5th of July as a protest. In 1852, the debate over slavery was growing. The Fugitive Slave Act, as a part of the Compromise of 1850,  had caused much resentment in the North and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe had recently been published, bringing the reality of slavery to parlors all over the country.

The speech itself is very long (it took over 90 minutes to deliver), so having students look at the entire speech may not be practical. The speech can divided into three parts:

Full Text of the Speech

Part 1 : History of the Declaration and the Founding Fathers

Douglass summarizes and praises the Founding Fathers and the Declaration.

Part 2: Slavery in America

After almost soothing the audience, he delivers his own feelings on the 4th of July and how a slave might view it, using irony and symbolism in many cases.

Here is a well known portion of the speech found in Part 2:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Part 3: Hope for the Future

It is easy to focus on the words of Part 2, and forget that Douglass shares in Part 3 that there is hope for our nation based on the principles found in the Declaration of Independence.

I have taken portions  of the speech  that relate to the Declaration and included student friendly versions for lower level readers  and placed them on a Google Doc whose link is found below. This may help make the speech more manageable in a class period or two.  You may want to create questions for students to answer from each section; just have them read it and discuss, or even make a wordle word cloud (click to see one) for a quick summary.

Click for a Google document with portions of the speech and student friendly versions of those portions.


making connectionsMaking connections between the speech and the Declaration of Independence

“No one used the principles of the Declaration so forcefully as the abolitionists, particularly black abolitionists. Without those principles at the founding (of our nation) blacks would have had no where to look for a future in America.”

-Historian and Author David Blight

Students start the activity by examining the principles of the Declaration, so after reading  the speech students can be asked to:

  • Support the statement by the historian David Blight by siting specific examples where Douglass references the principles in the Declaration.

Here are a few examples:  belief in natural rights, equality, liberty, right of revolution

This question could relate directly to a Common Core goal for Social Studies (grades 6-8):

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

Other ideas

  • Look for examples of irony and symbolism in the speech and explain.
  • Put yourself in the crowd that day, how would you have reacted?
  • Why does Douglass use pronouns of “you” and “yours” extensively?   What message is he trying to send the audience?
  • Use Douglass’s argument for a modern issue “What to the _______ is the 4th of the July?”



Independence Daze: A History of the 4th of July Pod Cast from Backstory.org

(Backstory with the American History Guys is an excellent podcast resource.)

Edusitement lesson plan : Launchpad: Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave is the 4th of July?

Reading Frederick Douglass from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities


Comment and share more ideas on the speech

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