Indian Residential Schools

Concept(s) Continuity and Change, Primary Source Evidence

Exemplary example of Continuity and Change

Prepared for Grade(s) 7

Province AB

By Gail Smith

Time Period(s) 1800-1900, 1900-present

Time allotment 5 x 60 minutes

Brief Description of the Task

Funding and support for the development of this lesson plan is as a result of a grant from Alberta Education to support implementation of the K-12 Social Studies curriculum. Financial and in-kind support was also provided by the Calgary Regional Consortium (

This lesson explores the experiences of Aboriginal children within the Residential School system in Canada. To provide students with background knowledge about Residential Schools, a PowerPoint presentation is attached. Questions, activities and research projects are provided to stimulate thought on historical significance, evidence, and continuity and change in regards to this issue in Canada today. To engage these concepts students analyze primary and secondary source documents, including a touching, personal account of a former resident of one of the residential schools in Saskatchewan.

Required Knowledge & Skills

To complete this task, students will need:
To read and comprehend at or just below a grade 7 reading level
Basic knowledge and familiarity with computers and the internet
Ability to successfully navigate through a PowerPoint Presentation and the internet
Familiarity with Canada's First Nations peoples and a working knowledge of the basic vocabulary identified in the introductory lesson
To have completed studies on early European explorers in Canada, missionaries and the fur trade
To have begun studies on Confederation
Have a basic understanding of historical significance
An understanding of the difference between primary and secondary sources
A basic understanding of the co-existence of continuity and change over time

Detailed Instructions

Background notes: These lessons are best taught along with the textbooks Our Canada: Origins, Peoples, Perspectives, or Voices and Visions: A Story of Canada. The ideal entry point for this lesson would be the pre-Confederation period of Canadian history between the early 1800s and 1867.

Before beginning, you may wish to alert students to the fact that the word Indian initially came into being through Christopher Columbus. When he arrived in what became the Americas, he thought he was in India; therefore he named the people he first encountered- the Taino people-Indians. This name stuck and became the word to describe all Indigenous peoples and communities in both North and South America.

Part 1-Introductory Activity

1. For Grade 7 Alberta classrooms using Our Canada: Origins, Peoples, Perspectives, this lesson would best be taught after reading page 254; or Voices and Visions: a Story of Canada, page 237.

2. To introduce students to the topic of the Indian Residential School system in Canada, provide each student with a copy of ATT 1 — An Introduction. Using the Our Canada textbook, direct students to look at the picture of Thomas Moore (p. 254) both before and after his entrance into the Regina Residential School in 1897. As a class, discuss the differences between the two pictures and then ask students to complete the "before and after T-chart" on the handout with as much detail as possible.

3. Discuss the changes that can be seen and discuss why these changes may have occurred. Have students generate possible reasons for the changes on their worksheets. Once students have completed the sheet, introduce them to the required vocabulary by reviewing the terms provided. Provide examples and explanations where necessary to help students better understand the terms. Have students then answer on their own the questions regarding the changes in appearance of the Aboriginal boy.

Part 2 – Indian Residential Schools PowerPoint

4. Provide students with a copy of the handout ATT 2: Historical Significance - Residential Schools. For Alberta classrooms using Our Canada: Origins, Peoples, Perspectives, this lesson would be best taught after reading page 313. Before viewing the PowerPoint review what makes an event historically significant (that the event deeply affected a lot of people over a long period of time; reveals something to us about the past).

5. Introduce students to the historical thinking concept of continuity and change by explaining that one way historians look for continuity and change is to identify elements of life that have gotten better and elements that have gotten worse; this helps them generate ideas as to what has changed and what has stayed the same.

6. To make this connection ask students to think back to when they were nine years old and how their life has changed since then. What aspects of their life have gotten better (i.e. more freedom, school environment is more fun, ability to make more independent choices, cooler clothes and toys, more friends) and what things in their life are not as good (i.e. more cliques in school, greater responsibilities and stress)? Expand on this list by asking students to consider what parts of their life have stayed the same (i.e. still live at home, still dependent on parents for money, still live in the same town, continue to play the same sports) and what parts have changed (bigger than they were, no longer like the same things they used to — into different music).

7. Using two different mind maps titled "Things in my life that have changed" and "Things in my life that have stayed the same" track student responses on the board.

8. Explain to students that when historians look back on the past — which is comprised of everything that happened to all people over all time — they need to make sense of what has happened; one of the ways they do this is through establishing what has changed and what has stayed the same. The exercise they just completed used the historical thinking concept of continuity and change; the same concept historians use in their work.

Introduce to students some of the things historians consider when thinking about continuity and change:

--> Continuity and change are interrelated: processes of change are usually continuous, not isolated into a series of discrete or separate events.
--> Some aspects of life change more quickly in some periods than others. Turning points help to locate change.
--> Progress and decline are fundamental ways of evaluating change over time.
--> Chronology and periodization can help organize our understanding of continuity and change.

The concept of continuity and change is an abstract and difficult concept for many students to grasp at first. For strategies to help students see connections between the various aspects of continuity and change and elements that they can relate to in their own lives, visit the Benchmarks of Historical Thinking website (

9. Once students understand the concept of continuity and change, read the questions on ATT 2: Historical Significance, together as a class. Discuss the questions with students and explain that they will now view a PowerPoint presentation on the residential school system and should complete the questions on the sheet. Students may answer questions as they view the PowerPoint and/or complete the worksheet after viewing. After the slide show, ask students if there was anything they learned that surprised them, and then after discussing this with students have them answer any questions they haven't completed as a group.

Part 3 - Analyzing a Historic Photograph 

10. Explain to students that they will use primary and secondary sources to construct knowledge about the past. Provide students with the ATT 3 — Analyzing a Historic Photograph. Directing them to the picture in the handout, begin by asking students what they think the difference is between a primary source such as this picture of students in a residential school and a secondary source such as a website that has information about this event. After students have provided some responses, point out that a primary source is an artefact that was created during the historical period under study (i.e. government documents, journals, cultural artefacts-tools, jewellery, and toys), while secondary sources are sources that provide information about the event or time in question. These sources are often created after the time under study.

Initiate a discussion on the photograph by asking students to compare the classroom in the photograph to their own classroom. You may wish to have students complete the questions in the handout either alone or in small groups.

Part 4 - Examining Sources of Information 

11. In this next activity students are introduced to how historians use evidence from primary source documents to construct knowledge about the past. Explain to students that when we study history, it is important to draw on evidence in order to ensure that we are gaining an accurate understanding of the past.

They will now examine the sources of information from the PowerPoint presentation to discover whether this information should be considered historically valid. To do this they will look for historical evidence to ensure that facts and information are indeed, correct and accurate.

Explain that this historical evidence may be found in the form of government records, artifacts, testimonials, documents, relics, photographs, among other sources. A Happy 40th Birthday Card, with a name and date on it, may even provide useful evidence for a number of things. For example, it could help us establish the age of a historical figure and the people he or she was close with.

Explain to students that the Powerpoint presentation uses many websites for information; however: Are these reliable sources? Where did they get their information from? What assumptions and particular perspectives are evident in the information provided from this source?

Visit the Historical Benchmarks website for strategies to help students understand the ways in which historians use evidence to both verify and construct historical accounts of an event (

Part 5 - A Letter of Remembering

12. Students will now evaluate various sources of evidence on Residential Schools and use this evidence to explain their understanding of life as a student in a Residential School. Begin by showing students a primary source document in the form of a personal letter: ATT 4 - Letter of Remembering.

The letter was written to me (Gail Smith) as a result of interview questions I sent to a dear family friend. I grew up with Elsie Coocum's children, and Elsie and her husband remain good friends with my parents. Growing up, we spent many holidays, celebrations and special times together. While growing up, it was never mentioned that this family was Aboriginal, Cree, Métis or any other culture. My parents had friends of every nationality and I truly believed I grew up in a home free of prejudice. It wasn't until years later that I realized the family were of Aboriginal/Cree descent.

A copy of the original letter is in the attachments. In order to make reading the letter easier, I have edited it and typed out the contents of the letter.  A handout for students is provided at the end of the letter with questions and a culminating activity -- writing a letter to Elsie -- for them to complete.

Part 6 - Reflection Activity/Final Assessment (Optional)

13. As a final reflection exercise in a full class discussion, review with the students what they have learned about Indian Residential schools in regard to:

a. Continuity and Change
b. Historical evidence (primary and secondary source documents)

After the discussion, students are to complete a response in the form of a paragraph/essay, telling what they learned in regards to Indian Residential Schools.

Sample rubric criteria is included with these lessons.


Historical Thinking Objectives
1. Students will "Demonstrate how an event, person or development (Residential Schools in Canada) is significant by showing how it sheds light on an enduring and emerging issue in Canada." Students will also explain how and why historical significance varies over time and from group to group.
2. Students will use primary and secondary sources to construct an original account of a historical event.
3. Students will explain elements of continuity and change in a period of history. They will identify changes over time in aspects of life that we ordinarily assume to be static; and identify continuities in aspects of life we ordinarily assume to have changed over time. They will understand that periodization and judgments of progress and decline can vary depending upon purpose and perspective.

What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections