Primary Source Resources

Use the info on this page to find great ways to incorporate Primary Sources in your classroom! At the bottom of the page we have links to help you locate some great primary sources.

Adapting Documents

Follow this link to the site for great tips and ideas on how to adapt primary source documents to fit the level of your students!

Clock Timeline

Use this strategy with any source that deal with a specific event in history. After reading/viewing the source, have students consider the SEQUENCE of how the event happened. Instead of doing a regular timeline with dates, you timeline the event with clocks--showing the time (or relative time) things happened. If your source isn't specific, you could have students discuss and make predictions about what order/when they think things occurred.


This is an easy strategy to use with ANY Primary Source. Have students listen/watch/look/read the source. Then guide students in making a connection between the source and something else--another source/their own lives/something in the world. For example, you could have students listen to a Native American song and then discuss the role of music in our own lives.

In Living Color

Students often come to believe history occurred in Black & White. With this strategy, take any black/white source (a map or photograph, for example) and have students color it. Taking it a step further, have students justify why they choose the colors they do. Have them write about how color changes their perspective of the event.

Magnifying Glass

It may seem too obvious, but consider using magnifying glasses (or a Magnifying Glass app on an iPod) to help students look more closely at primary documents. Especially with older documents OR very involved images, it can be helpful to take a closer look. Consider making it a "scavenger hunt" and giving students specific things to find. If you do it this way, be sure to process the info after and make larger connections to history. Primary sources should be fun but its not just a game!

Op-Ed Piece

This is a strategy to use when you are looking at a document that contains a controversial story. Give students the background of the story, read the document, and then have students write their opinion of what they think should happen. This would work well with Supreme Court decisions, for example.

Picture Interviews

This strategy is best done in a "whole class" situation. Display a historical image on the screen--the larger the better. Have a number of students come to the front and represent specific figures from the image. The teacher then becomes an interviewer and asks the students about the situations that are occurring in the image. Students will need to use their imaginations and really put themselves into the history to talk about what is going on, why they are there, what they are thinking, etc.

Picture Point of View

In this Photo/Picture strategy, you have students choose one point in a photograph or one person in a photograph.
It could be the dog at the bottom of Paul Revere's "Boston Massacre" etching, or the Mother in the doorway of Rockwell's "Freedom from Fear" poster. Have students view the event/image from that particular point of view. Orally or in writing, have students tell the story from how "they" are seeing things. This is a great strategy to help students consider different perspectives in historical events.

Respond in Kind

In this strategy, students will respond to a source by creating their own version of the source. If they read a letter, they will respond to the writer with their own letter. If they read a speech, they will write (and perhaps even give!) their own speech in response. You could even have students create their own comic in ComicLife after looking at historical comic strips, like Orphan Annie. This is a great way to look at different perspectives by having students question the authors or perhaps even give their own version of events.

Scaffolding Questions

This strategy is fairly simple but is an important way to make all sorts of primary sources understandable to students on all learning levels. When faced with any primary source, ask students scaffolding questions. Start with a simple question whose answer is obvious in the document/picture/song/etc. From there build up to deeper, higher level thinking questions that require students to activate their background knowledge. This is an especially important strategy to help students begin to tackle primary sources on their own.

Then and Now

This is a great compare/contrast strategy that works especially well with primary source advertisements. It is designed to help students make a connection between something in the past to their lives today. Give students a source to look at and have them find a comparable item in today's world. Using the two items, students then look for similarities and differences between the two. (i.e. Compare a Kodak Camera ad with the new iPhone)


How To Write a DBQ

Want to write a DBQ for your own classroom? Use this handy-dandy worksheet, with step-by-step directions, to help!