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Tip of the Week: 10 Primary Source Integration Ideas from the Library of Congress (Part Deux)

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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. The first post of the two-part series offered ten suggestions for filling your room with engaging primary sources. I’ve adapted her second post highlighting ways that primary sources promote systematic critical thinking and posted it below. These are starting points for you to adapt for your own grade level and content area.

The point? That the Library of Congress needs to be one of your go-tos, must use, constant companion tool of choice.

(And when you’re done here, be sure to head over and bookmark the excellent LOC blog Teaching with the Library of Congress.)

Connecting to Primary Sources
Distribute copies of a Primary Source Set from the LOC Teachers Page and ask students to select one source that connects to them personally in some way. In small groups, play “Twenty Questions” with one of the group answering the questions. The goal is to discover what makes the primary source meaningful to that student. Only Yes/No questions and answers are allowed.

For older students, have them select a piece of evidence that connects to a contemporary issue.

Connecting Primary Sources
Extend the first activity by asking students to find another students whose primary source connects to theirs in some way. It might be the topic, event, time period, cause and effect, or people. Discuss how one primary source adds to understanding of another. This is a perfect time to introduce or reinforce the SHEG ideas of contextualization and corroboration. Why do historians connect primary sources? What can we learn when we look at the same event or person or topic or time period from different perspectives? What can happen when we don’t do that?

Question Everything
Select one or more primary source images on a theme and write a short, intriguing statement about each one. Ask student groups to generate and record as many questions as possible related to each image and statement. Which questions hold the most promise for further research and why? Mary suggested using Marian Anderson’s performance at the Lincoln Memorial was a prelude to the Civil Rights movement.

Challenge the Text or Opening Up the Textbook (OUT)
Ask students to compare primary sources to controversial passages from their textbooks, looking for additional evidence or alternative perspectives. Write alternative passages based on the additional evidence. In these lessons, students examine at least two documents – the textbook and a historical document that challenges or expands the textbook’s account. For a sample OUT, see the SHEG Battle of Little Bighorn Lesson Plan.

Visiting Archivists
Contact local archivists, librarians, or museum educators to bring primary sources into your classroom. Combine the visit with a lesson contrasting primary and secondary sources. The  Library of Congress has some helpful resources that include definitions and examples that can help.

Testing Text
Select a primary source text from Chronicling America or other archive and write its most challenging vocabulary words on a white board. (Or have students scan the document for words that are unfamiliar.) Ask students to read the passages and work to infer meaning from the context within the document. Work together or in small groups to define these words and phrase. Then rewrite the sentences as they might appear in a current newspaper article or social media post.

Science Spies
Pick any current technology – smartphone, gene therapy, space exploration – and ask students to locate primary source evidence of that technology’s precursors.

Kids Do Tech
Introduce basic analysis of a Library of Congress primary source using any of the analysis guides by format. Then introduce the LOC digital online version and help students walk through the process. Encoruage students to select from a variety of tech choices for sharing their analyses. The tools could include Adobe Spark, Smithsonian Learning Labs, Google Keep, iMovie trailers, Instagram, Vine, or Tumblr.

Map Flyover
Share links to birds-eye view maps from the Library’s huge map collections and give students time to zoom into each map and closely observe details. What inferences or conclusions can they draw from the evidence? Or have students select from Google Streetviews or sat images from Google Earth. Better yet, have students compare and contrast the LOC maps with the modern Google versions. What difference and similarities do they see? What caused the changes? Why have some areas changed more than others?

It’s My Birthday
A great way to train students to create effective LOC document searches is to ask students to pick a date, then search and select two or three primary sources related to an event or famous person connected to that date, and document what they found.  Or students can search by date in Today in History or Jump Back in Time to discover what happened on their birthdays, with related primary sources.

What strategies have you tried? What has worked? What have you had to adapt?


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