Library of Congress Primary Source Sets for the K-2 Classroom

Did you know that the Library of Congress has three primary source sets that were designed with the early elementary grades in mind? They are: Symbols of the United States, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln: Three Great Presidents, and Children’s Lives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Each one contains a selection of primary sources – all available as easy-to-use PDFs – with historical background information, teaching ideas for the early childhood classroom, and an analysis tool and teacher’s guides.

When developing these primary source sets, we selected common topics and identified primary sources that are age-appropriate and engaging for younger students. Whether you are seasoned in incorporating primary sources into your early childhood curriculum, or want to give it a try for the very first time, these three primary source sets are just for you!


Betsey [sic] Ross [Detail], c1908

Symbols of the United States

Six U.S. symbols are highlighted: the Liberty Bell, the U.S. flag, the bald eagle, the national anthem, Uncle Sam, and the Statue of Liberty. Primary sources include posters, sheet music, newspaper cartoons, and photos.

Sample activity from the Teacher’s Guide: Invite students to look closely at the three documents related to the flag to find differences; for example, the number of stars. How do these images show that symbols can change over time?

“Symbols of the United States” is also available as an interactive Library of Congress Student Discovery Set.


The Washington family [Detail], 1798

The Washington family [Detail], 1798

Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln: Three Great Presidents

For each president, one primary source shows something about the president’s home or family life, the next one represents one of his great achievements, a third item is a portrait of the president, and the fourth is a photograph of the monument or memorial dedicated to him.

Sample activity: Ask students what they notice about the portrait of George Washington and encourage them to move from generalities (for example, he was old and had white hair) to specifics (for example, he is holding a sword).



Washington, D.C. Public Schools [Detail], 1899?

Washington, D.C. Public Schools [Detail], 1899?

Children’s Lives at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

The dawn of the twentieth century was a time of great change in the United States, and many of those changes can be seen in the lives of the nation’s children. Images, film, and books shed light on the ways in which they worked, learned, and played around the year 1900.

Sample activity from the Teacher’s Guide:  Display a photo such as the one at left and ask students to do a “30-second look.” Remove the photo and ask them to share details they remember seeing.  Display the photo so they can look again.



We hope you enjoy using these three primary source sets with your students, and we think you’ll find that you can use teaching ideas from these sets with our other primary source sets. If you’re new to using primary sources in the classroom, you can see a picture of practice in the blog post Kindergarten Historians: Primary Sources in an Early Elementary Classroom.

We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences about incorporating primary sources into the early childhood classroom.

Disability Awareness Month: Four Questions for Eric Eldritch of the Library of Congress

Last year we presented a blog post on Deaf Culture for Deaf Awareness Month. One of the co-authors was Eric Eldritch. In honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month, we asked Eric several questions about his work helping the Library of Congress promote an understanding of people with disabilities as citizens, contributors and employees in a diverse […]

Encouraging Student Interest in the Economic Context of the Constitution with Continental Currency

In the September 2014 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article focused on the economic challenges facing the young United States at the time of the Constitutional Convention. We suggested that continental currency might ignite student interest in the subject.

Educator Webinar: Tapping the Power of Teaching with Visual Images

On Tuesday, September 23, at 7 PM ET, education experts from the Library will offer a webinar that will engage participants in a model photograph analysis activity, facilitate a discussion about the power of teaching with visual images, and demonstrate how to find visual images from the Library of Congress.

Throughout the year, the Library will be hosting educator webinars every other Tuesday at 7:00 ET focusing on a variety of instructional strategies for using primary sources in instruction. The 2014 schedule and information about joining the webinar is now available from

The Civil Rights History Project: Primary Sources and Oral History

History is most fascinating when we feel connected to the people who lived in the past. One way to pique student interest is by using primary sources from the Library of Congress — letters, photographs, and oral histories — that document real people’s lives. The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress recently launched the Civil Rights History Project, a digitized collection of interviews with active participants in the Civil Rights movement and essays about the movement.

Share “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” Using Primary Sources

Last year the Educational Outreach Team provided a collection of primary sources that documented what we did on our summer vacation. This was such a popular post that we decided to share how we spent our summer vacations using primary sources. Enjoy this year’s adventures and hopefully get some ideas on how you might incorporate primary sources to help you learn more about your students and their interests.

Living the Dream: Reflections on a Year as Library of Congress Teacher in Residence

In my first blog post as Teacher in Residence, I set a number of goals: to connect primary sources to literature, to create research questions to advance inquiry, and to foster library skills. I was able to meet these goals in a number of ways and to reach out to teachers and librarians with approaches to working with primary sources and teaching research skills.