Some Ideas about Teaching



Teaching how to do Sourcework Questions


For what it's worth, this is how I teach my pupils.

The BASIC APPROACH is the same for the two. It is vital that they are able to recognise the kind of question it is, though they can do this by looking at the keywords (accurate, valid, reliable = reliability/ useful, helpful = utility). When they have done this:

FIRSTLY, they look at the provenance. They should note who wrote it, and his situation, and what this might mean for the way he wrote the source.

SECONDLY, they look at the content. They should note HOW TRUE it is, but also HOW MUCH there is, and HOW RELEVANT it is.

THEN, when they have thought about these issues and gathered a set of ideas/facts...

If it is a RELIABILITY question, they write about what the ideas they have gathered might mean for the source's reliability. You cannot rely on a source where the author is biased or the content is untrue, for instance. They finish by answering the question: 'reliable for what...'


If it is a UTILITY question, they write about what the ideas they have gathered might mean for the source's usefulness. A source which is biased will be useful for giving us that side's point of view, for instance, and a source full of true facts will be very useful if we want to know the truth. A biased source may not be much good for telling us about the side he was biased against, however. They need training always to talk throughout about: 'useful for what...'

Two more things.
1. The word 'reliable' is BANNED from all utility questions (use 'trustworthy' instead), and the word 'useful' is BANNED from all reliability answers.
2. I encourage all children to drop the word 'biased' (which they always interpret as 'useless') and make them use 'one-sided' instead.

By INSISTING on these rules enthusiastically from the start of Year 10, I find that by the end of Year 11 I have sometimes managed to get almost half of my pupils paying any bl**dy notice whatsoever.

Posted on: Sep 20 2005, 06:35 PM





To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (2005/2006), 'Teaching How to do Sourcework Questions',  at Greenfield History Site (