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Key Concepts in Historical Thinking

This section provides a number of activities and briefing sheets to introduce students to key concepts they will be using as they work with these Mysteries. It includes three exercises for introducing students to the use of primary documents: What are Primary Documents?, History vs. the Past, and Testimony vs. Evidence. As well, it includes background material for teachers on Causal Explanations in History, Distinguishing Biased and Impartial Perspectives, and the Kinds of Evidence Offered in Court.

Introduction to Using Primary Documents: Exercises

If students have not worked critically with primary source documents before, it is STRONGLY recommended that they do at least one of the following three exercises before working with the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History sites:

What are Primary Documents?

In this introduction to historical documents, that can be used by elementary to graduate students, students come up with a list of the kinds of documents that historians of the future might use to understand our world hundreds of years from now. They learn the term “primary documents” to define these records. Students conclude the lesson by deciding which kind of primary document(s) will do the best job of describing their lives.

History vs. the Past

In this introductory lesson, students learn to appreciate the importance of primary documents as they explore the six key differences between history and the past. Teachers can easily adapt this lesson for different age levels.

Testimony vs. Evidence

This lesson is designed to help older students, or those more experienced with primary documents, to intensively examine one primary document to discover the kind of testimony and other kinds of evidence it contains.

Teachers' Background Material

Causal Explanations in History

A brief (400 word) discussion of different types of historical explanations and the difference between direct and underlying causes.

Distinguishing Biased and Impartial Perspectives

A brief discussion of the differences between biased and impartial perspectives, whether impartial perspectives are even possible, and factors to consider when judging whether perspectives are biased or impartial.

Kinds of Evidence Offered in Court

A brief discussion of the four types of evidence commonly presented in a criminal trial and how they are evaluated by the courts.