Cinematic Reading Frames: On Reading Archaic Primary Sources

Cinematic Reading Frames: On Reading Archaic Primary Sources


Brooke Feldman

Many of my students are struggling readers. Not only do many students read below grade level, but the added challenge of deciphering archaic primary sources seems overwhelming, and to many, absolutely insane. Rather than simply providing explanatory secondary sources, I have developed a set of practices to help students comprehend these challenging texts. These practices support an initial approach to addressing the following literacy standards:

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Case Study: Tariq’s Address

For the steps outlined below, I provide examples from a text we recently tackled in my 8th grade world history classes. The text is Tariq’s Address to His Soldiers, 711 CE, and it’s on the eve of the conquest of Spain. The speech is rich in figurative language, and Tariq provides the modern audience clear, specific reasons for the spread of Islam.  Here are the four steps I’ve been following starting with me, at my desk, getting ready for class:

Step 1: Analyze the source myself

Given the difficulty of the text, I initially noted challenging words for the students. I circled the words and provided student friendly definitions. I did not do this for all challenging words, but rather ones students would need to identify and comprehend the gist of the speech.

Oh my warriors, whither would you flee? Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You have left now only the hope of your courage and your constancy. Remember that in this country you are more unfortunate than the orphan seated at the table of the avaricious master. Your enemy is before you, protected by an innumerable army; he has men in abundance, but vou, as your only aid, have your own swords, and, as your only chance for life, such chance as you can snatch from the hands of your enemy. If the absolute want to which you are reduced is prolonged ever so little, if you delay to seize immediate success, your good fortune will vanish, and your enemies, whom your very presence has filled with fear, will take courage … (rest of speech here)

Step 2: Match the themes with video

After reading Tariq motivate his soldiers, my mind immediately jumped to Braveheart and then to 300. So I pulled clips from each movie on YouTube. I uploaded this clips to my classroom blog ( and planned a Do Now activity to start the class that featured these videos. I knew it would serve as an accessible, engaging way to introduce the key themes of the text.

Step 3: Create reading “look fors”

  1. For this text, I wanted students to read for the main ideas of each paragraph. This foundation allowed students to analyze individual paragraphs as well as the text as a whole.
  2. I also had students look for the reasons why and how Islam spread.  Not only what was the function of the particular text, but also how it relates to our unit question: how do religions unite people and empires?  Especially given the complexity of the text, and the time I planned to devote to it, I needed to make sure it supported my overall unit objective.
  3. I also wanted students to identify examples of figurative language. Not only does Tariq’s word choice provide richness, but also this supports the work my students are currently doing in their writing classes. Whenever possible, I try and plan horizontally and coordinate my approach to texts with the English teachers on my team.

Step 4: Format for success

The text is dense so that I wanted to make sure students had the physical space to organize their thoughts. I chose to put one paragraph on each page so that students could annotate effectively. However, I highly regret not double spacing this text. That’s a big change I’m going to make for next year!

What other changes can I make?  What approach have you taken?  Leave a comment!


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