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Tip of the Week: Primary Source Integration Ideas from the Library of Congress

Three years ago, Mary J. Johnson, an educational consultant to the Library of Congress, created a two part article on the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog highlighting primary source integration strategies. I’ve adapted and posted Part One below.


As a teacher, you can saturate your classroom with primary sources from the Library of Congress to promote critical thinking and inquiry. Think of every surface, including computer screens, as potential display spaces for primary sources – photographs, cartoons, music, films, maps, historic newspapers, artifacts, and more. Add document analysis sheets and critical thinking prompts from the Library’s page for teachers, and you’ll have a constant source of primary source conversation starters at your fingertips.

But what are some specific strategies for introducing primary sources to students? Let’s start with these ten:

Teacher Mystery
On your door, display a photograph that says something about your past. For example, if your grandmother was a teacher (or singer, tennis player, immigrant, etc.), locate and print a representative photograph from the Library of Congress collections. Can your students discover the connection?screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-2-52-41-pm

Jigsaw Maps
On a table, fill a basket with cut up pieces of a laminated historic map for your students to assemble. Bird’s eye view maps and panoramic maps work well for all ages. Look for maps that are connected to your specific content as a great way to hook kids into your instructional unit. Help students think critically about the maps by posting questions from Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Maps nearby.

What Makes You Say That?
Pin cutout letters to a wall to guide primary source analyses all year long:  What do you observe? What do you think you know? Why? What do you wonder about?

Timeline Builders
Run an empty timeline with dates all around the room. As questions about the past come up throughout the year, students can search for images or texts in the Library of Congress collections to illustrate the timeline.

What’s That Sound?
We often don’t think enough about using sound as a primary source. As students enter the room, play a recording from the Library’s audio collections. Encourage curiosity with questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Sound Recordings.

Sticky Thinking
Place an enlarged primary source photograph in the center of a large piece of butcher paper on the wall. Print “I think . . . because . . .” above the image. Ask students to post their observations and inferences on sticky notes around the image.

Primary Source Me
Each week, feature a student photo surrounded by the student’s choice of Library of Congress primary sources that say something about personal interests, family, or ancestors.

Book Bags
On a wall, display the cover of a favorite book surrounded by paper lunch bags. Ask students to search the Library of Congress website for historical images that illustrate the context of the story. Attach the images to the bags.

Primary Source Set of the Monthloc-source-set
Make a large wall display of items in a Primary Source Set from the Teachers Page. Ask students to write observations, reflections, or questions on post-it notes to place around the primary sources.the Library of Congress website for historical images that illustrate the context of the story. Attach the images to the bags.

Quotation Nation
Copy quotations from historical newspapers in Chronicling America onto butcher sized paper. (Start with Topics in Chronicling America to save time.) Ask students to guess who might have said each, as well as when and why.

Have fun!

Next week? Part two.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. very good thing

    September 9, 2016
  2. Jill #

    Great ideas here! Definitely going to be saving this one…thanks Glenn!

    September 10, 2016
    • glennw #

      You’re welcome! Looking forward to seeing how you might adapt them.


      September 12, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tip of the Week: Primary Source Integration Ide...
  2. Tip of the Week: 10 Primary Source Integration Ideas from the Library of Congress (Part Deux) | History Tech

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