Women protesting WWI

Four Fold Concept and Vocabulary Building Literacy Activity

WorkerThe Four-Fold Concept and Vocabulary Building Literacy Activity is a fairly common strategy used to help students develop background knowledge, comprehension, and vocabulary. This works particularly good with primary sources that contain important, but often hard to understand concepts like freedom, education, democracy, human rights, citizenship, Civil War, Bill of Rights, government, or Bill of Rights. The ultimate goal is to help students make abstract concepts more concrete through breaking down complex terms into easy-to-understand parts.  



Find a good primary source to use that has a good amount of textual information or fairly explicit symbols or interpretations that your students will be able recognize. Students can also come up with concepts that might not be explicit as well.

If you are looking for a good source, search the Library of Congress by using terms that you would like to teach, filtering by “Photos, Prints, Drawings,” and selecting “Available Online” under the Access Condition menu so that you can download a high resolution image that is out of copyright.

EagleThe images throughout this post are great to use in the classroom as well – typically at a middle to high school level as it teaches about World War II, war bonds and savings stamps, protesters and conflicting viewpoints, and the (wartime) economy. Links to all of the War Posters listed below. Feel free to only use one of these images, though it can also be informative to hand out different images to each group and let students share their findings with one another to encourage recognition of contrasting images. Encouraging students to explain their source and concept also helps ensure deeper level understanding.


Classroom Activity

There are a number of variations for this activity, but one of the best ways is to break the classroom into groups of 3 or 4. Place a poster paper and markers at different areas in the room. Draw the Four-Fold layout on each of the poster papers (or have students draw it themselves!). Then, stick their primary source to the image to the “Illustrate” section of the Four-Fold.


For the next part, have them come up with a few ideas of what they think the main term/concept is displayed in the primary source. If you want to speed things along, give them a choice of 2 or 3 terms that you would like them to examine. For example, if you are using the images above, you could use concepts like Citizenship, War, or Economy. However, having students come up with their own terms/concepts is a great way to encourage their critical thinking and analysis skills, just be sure the term they choose is something that you want to teach and they should learn.   

CaravanNext, have them spend at least 7-10 minutes on the first three sections – List, Rank, Compare – perhaps even announcing when groups should be moving onto the next section. This is also a good time to have groups share with the class what they came up with on each of the sections with one another and ask them questions about why they came up with what they did.

After they have filled out each of the other three sections, have them illustrate their concept term next to the primary source in relation to the comparison made. This is where students get really creative! For example, students could draw and label a layered cake in order to explain a concept like Government or Democracy.

Download the Four-Fold Concept Development Strategy Instructions Here. [PDF]


Key Questions

  • What does [the concept] mean to you?Loans for farms not arms
    • E.g. What does freedom mean to you?
  • What are the main themes of the source?
  • Are there any themes that aren’t explicitly stated?



  • Before the students choose the concept, have students do a short collaborative primary source analysis by identifying 5 observations, 2 reflections, and 2 questions.
  • As students are coming up with their concept term, walk around the class and guide the groups by asking them specific questions about their source. Sometimes coming up with the right term can be hard for students to do.


Grade Level RecommendationFamily

  • Middle and High School (could be adapted to Elementary with the right resource)


Skills Used

  • Critical Thinking and Analysis
  • Literacy
  • Vocabulary Building
  • Understanding of Abstract Concepts
  • Making Concrete Conclusions


Helpful LinksRoosevelt

War Posters:

War ProtestersSoldier

Four Fold Strategy [pdf]

Four Fold Strategy [docx]

LOC Primary Source Analysis Tool