Primary Source Activities for the K-2 Classroom

Have you been searching for lessons that incorporate Library of Congress primary sources in the K-2 curriculum? Look no further than The Teaching with Primary Sources Journal, where you’ll find learning activities created specifically for early elementary students.

The TPS Journal is an online publication created by the Library of Congress in collaboration with the TPS Educational Consortium. Each issue focuses on pedagogical approaches to teaching with the Library’s digitized primary sources in K-12. One entire issue is devoted to Elementary Learners.  Here are several TPS Journal activities for primary grades:

Classroom scenes in Washington, D.C.

Classroom scenes

30-Second Look: Classrooms Then and Now (K-2)

Students participate in a timed 30-second look at a historic photograph of a classroom, record and compare their observations, and discuss similarities and differences between their classroom and this one.



Scott Joplin's New Rag

Scott Joplin’s New Rag

Communicating Through Music: “Scott Joplin’s New Rag” (K-2)

Students investigate “How do musicians communicate?” by comparing understandings from looking at sheet music and hearing a sound recording.




Coeur D'Alene man, Phillip Wildshoe and family, in his Chalmers automobile

Coeur D’Alene man

Transportation Now and in the Past (K-3)

Students analyze photographs of different transportation methods from the early 1900s and then compare and contrast transportation in the past with transportation today.



Thirty-six Star United States Flag

Thirty-six Star United States Flag

Stars, Stripes and Symbols of America: Comparing Our Flag, Past and Present (1-2)

Students use critical thinking skills to analyze and compare two versions of an important national symbol: the American flag.



Three roosters sitting on a cracker box

Three roosters

Listen and Wonder: Is it a Chicken or a Boy? (1-3)

Students listen and wonder about a sound recording of a six-year-old boy imitating different sounds to discover what they can learn about his life.




Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Photo Analysis – Presenting the Statue of Liberty (1-3)

Students observe similarities and differences between two visual images, while learning about an important national symbol.





As you explore these learning activities, you may notice that each issue of The Teaching with Primary Sources Journal includes a learning activity developed for elementary grades, as well as one for secondary grades. If you browse past issues via The TPS Journal archive you may find some upper elementary activities that can be adapted for K-2, such as Every Picture Tells a Story (3-5).

For additional early-learning ideas, check out the following blog posts:
Library of Congress Primary Source Sets for the K-2 Classroom
Kindergarten Historians: Primary Sources in an Early Elementary Classroom

Introduce your primary students to primary sources – with help from the TPS Journal! We’d love to hear your experiences and ideas about teaching K-2 students using primary sources.

“What Do Scientists Do?” Seeking Answers in the Alexander Graham Bell Papers at the Library of Congress

What do scientists do? This simple prompt was central in one activity during the inaugural week-long Seminar for Science Educators held at the Library this summer. Twenty-five educators examined primary sources, and one secondary source, from the Library’s collections to generate possible answers.

Back to School with Primary Sources: A Primer from the Library of Congress

Welcome (or welcome back!) to Teaching with the Library of Congress, where we hope you discover and discuss the most effective techniques for using Library of Congress primary sources in the classroom. We invite readers to engage with topics ranging from What Makes a Primary Source a Primary Source? to what’s happening “next month in history?” Here are staff picks for places to start – or continue – teaching with primary sources.