Collections of texts tightly focused on a specific topic are known as “text sets.” They may include varied genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and so forth) and media (such as blogs, maps, photographs, art, primary-source documents, and audio recordings).1

Text sets are a great way to help students build their knowledge about historical topics. In this post, we illustrate how to guide students through their inquiry, using Trace-Based Cases. First, we begin with a trace of the past, illustrated in an artifact, photo, or other visual text. Then, using other sources, we continue to guide students through: 1) descriptive questions, 2) analysis questions, and 3) evaluative questions. These questions help trace the history of the steamship over time.

Step 1: Descriptive Questions

We begin with some descriptive questions. These evidence-based questions provide background information to help students contextualize. However, rather than assigning these questions, work on them together with some group activities that involve a variety of sources, including: artifacts, photos, paintings, maps, charts, graphs, and written primary and secondary sources.

These are all evidence-based close-ended questions that can be answered by searching for facts within a variety of sources, such as: artifacts, photos, illustrations, and paintings. Next, you want to help your students develop deeper analysis questions.


Step 2: Analysis Questions

At this point, you can add more texts:

Analysis part 1 begins with why and how questions, which explore the relationship of the parts to the whole. For example: Why was the steamboat invented? How did they use the steamboat? How did the steamboat impact the economy?

Analysis part 2 considers the question: What if? For example, what if the steamboat was never invented?


Step 3: Evaluation Questions

Evaluation questions considers implications, solutions, conclusions, or recommendations: So what? What now? and What next? For example, with so what questions, we can ask why the invention of the steamboat was significant. What were the implications? Was it successful? Furthermore, asking what now students can compare and contrast the past to the present, using photos that illustrate air boats and cruise ships of today in contrast to the steamships of yesterday. Then, asking what trace reasons why people stopped using steamboats and invented new forms of water transportation. Next, we can link the past to the present, and trace the evolution over time.



Dr. Deborah Kozdras has worked with students from K-20 and now provides professional development and creates curriculum for K-12 educators at the University of South Florida Stavros Center.

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