DocsTeach – ‘Weighing the Evidence’: An amazing activity design tool for critical thinking


Today I came across a great resource while searching for something else. DocsTeach is an activity creation tool from The National Archives (USA). Students are encouraged to work with documents, videos, images, and other things found in the archives. Teachers need to register to use the activity tools, but students can use the activities without registering. There are number of tools, but I will only focus on one for now. Here is how it works:


  1. Go to DocsTeach and click on ‘Register’ in the top-right corner.
  2. Choose a user name, enter your email address, add a password and re-enter the password before clicking ‘Register’.
  3. You will receive an email fairly quickly. Make sure to check your junk box if you don’t see it. In the email, click on ‘Confirm Registration’.
  4. You will be taken to a page where you can type in your username and password. Click on ‘Log in’ when done and you will be taken to the front page.
‘Weighing the Evidence’
  1. Go to DocsTeach and click on click on ‘Activities’ at the top of the page.
  2. Click on the green ‘Create an Activity’ button near in the top-right box.
  3. Below the title ‘Weighing the Evidence’, click on ‘Create an Activity’. If you aren’t already logged in, enter your username and password before clicking on ‘Log in’.
  4. You will be taken to a dialogue box. Click on ‘Continue’.
  5. Click on ‘Find Documents’. You will taken to a new page. Click on ‘Browse’ or ‘Search’ and then click on the subject area and type.
  6. You will be given a grid of documents. Click on any document and you will be taken to a larger picture of the document and the description.
  7. When you find a document you like, click on ‘Add to Activity’ and it will change to ‘Added to Activity’. Click on ‘Back to Results’ to choose more documents.
  8. Keep adding documents until you feel there are enough for students to “weigh out” the evidence. A good amount would be around 8-12 documents. The limit is 18.
  9. Once you have added enough, click on the big green button labelled ‘Back to Activity’.
  10. You will be taken to the labelling page. Click on the box under ‘Topic Title’ to name the activity. Click on the left box under the title ‘Interpretation One’ to have the one side of the argument and click on the right box under the title ‘Interpretation Two’ and type in the counter argument. Click on ‘Next’ at the top of the page.
  11. Click and drag the document at the bottom of the page into the area that is labelled ‘Drag document here’. Drag them in the order you want them to appear from left to right in the activity. Once you are done, click on ‘Next’ at the top of the page.
  12. The next section is optional, but helpful. There are two boxes, the one on the left is an introduction to the activity and the one on the left is the conclusion. These can be used to give further instruction or a followup activity such as a writing assignment or further research on their own. Click on ‘Next’ when done.
  13. On the next page, type in a title, author(s), historical era (dropdown menu), thinking skill (dropdown menu), Bloom’s Taxonomy level (dropdown), synopsis, and notes. The notes are visible to the students during the activity. Click on ‘Save and View’ to finish. You could also click on ‘Publish’ to share with others through the DocsTeach website.
  14. On the next page, copy the URL address under the title of the activity or click on ‘Start Activity’ to start using the activity.
  15. Share the URL with your students. When they go to the address, the students can click on a thumbnail on the top-right of the page to view the document. They can zoom in or out and can click on ‘Details’ to read the details on the document. Click on the top-right ‘X’ to close the window and go back to the activity.
  16. Students drag the document onto the balance. The farther the document is placed to the left or right, the more the student believes it fits that category. Once all the documents are places, the way it is tipping tells the students what way they think the evidence leans.
  17. Once students are done, the can click on ‘I’m Done’ and enter your email address (or class email), name, and message before clicking on ‘Send email’.
This is a fantastic activity to have students think about the types of evidence and the quality of evidence. It helps students think about their own feelings regarding the topic and whether the evidence matches their thoughts. They can follow it up to find evidence of their own to confirm or reject their initial thoughts. It helps students to think about information critically and gives them a framework which they can use to evaluate their own research material.

In the days ahead, I will add some other activities from DocsTeach. There are a number of activities that can be used in the ESL classroom. If you have any comments, please add them below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or send me an email using the contact form on this website. Thanks! 


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