Educator Resources

Document Analysis

Magnifying glass on census documentEspañol

Document analysis is the first step in working with primary sources. Teach your students to think through primary source documents for contextual understanding and to extract information to make informed judgments.

Use these worksheets — for photos, written documents, artifacts, posters, maps, cartoons, videos, and sound recordings — to teach your students the process of document analysis.

Follow this progression:

Don’t stop with document analysis though. Analysis is just the foundation. Move on to activities in which students use the primary sources as historical evidence, like on

  • The first few times you ask students to work with primary sources, and whenever you have not worked with primary sources recently, model careful document analysis using the worksheets. Point out that the steps are the same each time, for every type of primary source:
    1. Meet the document.
    2. Observe its parts.
    3. Try to make sense of it.
    4. Use it as historical evidence.
  • Once students have become familiar with using the worksheets, direct them to analyze documents as a class or in groups without the worksheets, vocalizing the four steps as they go.
  • Eventually, students will internalize the procedure and be able to go through these four steps on their own every time they encounter a primary source document. Remind students to practice this same careful analysis with every primary source they see.

Worksheets for Novice or Younger Students, or Those Learning English

See these Worksheets in Spanish language

Worksheet for Understanding Perspective in Primary Sources - For All Students and Document Types

This tool helps students identify perspective in primary sources and understand how backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences shape point of view.

Former Worksheets

These worksheets were revised in February, 2017. Please let us know if you have feedback. If you prefer the previous version of the worksheets, you can download them below.

CC0 Materials created by the National Archives and Records Administration are in the public domain.