Primary and secondary sources are vital when teaching students various historical concepts. A primary source is a key piece of evidence from history-for example; a photograph, a letter, or an object that was there at the time, or created at the event. On the other hand, a secondary source helps us to analyze primary source materials, for example; a contemporary book, or document that helps us process the primary source. The following activities and lessons will enable you to teach the difference between these to your students in a creative and engaging way.
1. Introduce the concept with a video
This can be a tricky concept for students to understand, so before you teach this in greater depth, introduce these key historical concepts and terms with a short video. Students can make notes and explain to you what they discover so that you can clear up any misconceptions that they may have.
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2. Teach primary sources through current affairs
Sometimes our teaching tools are right in front of us. Weekly newspaper articles are a great way to introduce primary sources to students with very little prep. Students could bring in a selection of newspapers to class each week and begin annotating them and making connections between other current publications and papers.
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3. Critically analyze photographs
Photographs are a very credible primary source, and most students are familiar with modern ‘photography’ platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. Use this to your advantage by having students begin to critically analyze social media with youth culture and current events and then link them to important events from the past.
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4. Comparing primary and secondary sources
This comprehensive lesson plan provides a guide on how to teach and compare primary and secondary sources using US Congress as an example. Students compare the Constitution to a secondary source to understand the key differences between them. This is a great lesson for older elementary.
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5. Allow research time
Give students the opportunity to research what primary and secondary sources are before you begin to teach the topic. The website below provides great questions that will allow for more thinking and learning opportunities.
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6. Comparison card sort
This drag-and-drop activity will test student knowledge of primary and secondary sources. This is a timed activity to add an extra element of competition!
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7. Question Cube
This practical question cube will give students more freedom to explore sources using the key questions needed. A simple cut-and-stick activity to use when exploring a range of primary and secondary sources.
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8. Comparison Worksheet
This visual worksheet has examples of primary and secondary sources with short descriptions of each. Students are required to decide what each source is with a short justification to show their understanding of the topic.
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9. Card Sort Activity
This cut-and-stick card sort activity will be a fun, yet practical, activity to consolidate knowledge regarding the difference between primary and secondary sources. Have students draw a grid onto large flipchart paper and work in teams to complete it.
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10. Teaching Ideas
Teaching primary and secondary sources gives students opportunities to explore world history in a variety of ways as well as explore differing perspectives. This lesson plan would be a good base for the start of the year to develop historical thinking skills.
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