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Monday, March 5, 2012

Teaching with Primary Sources

I’m recently back from OPI’s Indian Education Division’s “Best Practices” Conference, where many of the sessions, including the one we presented, focused on using primary sources.

There are lots of reasons to have students work with primary sources, many of which are outlined in this online article from the National Archives: "History in the Raw." 

Adding urgency to incorporating primary sources into history and social studies curriculum are the new Common Core Standards—soon to be adopted across the state. These standards recognize the value of integrating primary sources into the classroom. For example, Common Core Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies include these expectations for students grade 6-8:
In Grades 6-8, students will be able to

  • #2 : “Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • #6 : “Identify aspects of a text, including those by and about American Indians, that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose…
  • #9: “Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.”

And primary source analysis remains important in later grades as well.

So how do you do it? "Using Primary Sources, Library of Congress Learning Page Lesson Framework" has good suggestions.

What else do you need? Good analysis tools help. Both the National Archives and the Library of Congress have analysis worksheets.

The National Archives’ worksheets are easier to use at first blush: http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/.

With practice, however, I’ve grown to like the Library of Congress’s worksheet even more—but only when I have access to both the worksheet and the “Teacher’s Guide” which has guiding questions missing from the student version.

Library of Congress Student Worksheet.
Library of Congress Teacher’s Guide.
Advice for using this tool can be found in this recent post on the Library of Congress’s blog for teachers

This post is already plenty long, so I’ll talk about where you can find good primary sources in a future post.


  1. I love reading old diaries and journals. The Miles City Star has a column 25 years ago, 100 years ago and they reprint short article from that time.

    1. I know a teacher in Chester, who worked with her local paper to have her students create those stories for the newspaper. I always thought that was a really cool assignment.