Our Favorite Posts: 10 Ways to Enrich Your Classroom with Primary Sources

August is a perfect time to revisit ideas for incorporating primary sources into classrooms. This week, Cheryl Lederle of the Library of Congress showcases one of her favorite posts.

When I talk to teachers, it’s clear that one thing has not changed since I left the classroom: Teachers are always looking for ideas to increase learning opportunities. Even better if those ideas are quick and easy to implement! That’s one reason that 10 Ways to Enrich Your Classroom with Primary Sources is a favorite of mine: It offers easy ways to bring primary sources into classrooms of any level or curriculum focus.

As you approach a new school year, please share ways that you’ve enriched your classroom or library with primary sources.

10 Ways to Enrich Your Classroom with Primary Sources – Part 1

December 3, 2013 by

This is a guest post by Mary J. Johnson, an educational consultant to the Library of Congress.

As a teacher, you can saturate your classroom with primary sources from the Library of Congress to promote critical thinking and inquiry. Think of every surface, including computer screens, as potential display spaces for primary sources – photographs, cartoons, music, films, maps, historic newspapers, artifacts, and more. Teaching with the Library of Congress offers timely suggestions. Add questions and critical thinking prompts from the Library’s page for teachers, and you’ll have a constant source of primary source conversation starters at your fingertips.

Part 1 of this two-part post offers ten ideas for filling your classroom environment with primary sources. In an upcoming Part 2, we will list ten additional easy ways to introduce primary sources into your classroom.

  1. Teacher Mystery. On your door, display a photograph that says something about your past. For example, if your grandmother was a teacher (or singer, tennis player, immigrant, etc.), locate and print a representative photograph from the Library of Congress collections. Can your students discover the connection?
  2. Jigsaw Maps. On a table, fill a basket with cut up pieces of a laminated historic map for your students to assemble. Bird’s eye view maps work well for all ages. You may also choose maps related to your curriculum. Help students think critically about the maps by posting questions from Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Maps nearby.
  3. What Makes You Say That? Pin cutout letters to a wall to guide primary source analyses all year long:  What do you observe? What do you think you know? Why? What do you wonder about?
  4. Timeline Builders. Run an empty timeline with dates all around the room. As questions about the past come up throughout the year, students can search for images or texts in the Library of Congress collections to illustrate the timeline.
  5. What’s That Sound? As students enter the room, play a recording from the Library’s audio collections. Promote curiosity with questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Sound Recordings.
  6. Sticky Thinking. Place an enlarged primary source photograph in the center of a large piece of butcher paper on the wall. Print “I think…because…” above the image. Ask students to post their observations and inferences on sticky notes around the image.
  7. Primary Source Me. Each week, feature a student photo surrounded by the student’s choice of Library of Congress primary sources that say something about personal interests, family, or ancestors.
  8. Book Bags. On a wall, display the cover of a favorite book surrounded by paper lunch bags. Ask students to search the Library of Congress website for historical images that illustrate the context of the story. Attach the images to the bags.
  9. Primary Source Set of the Month. Make a large wall display of items in a Primary Source Set from the Teachers Page. Ask students to write observations, reflections, or questions on post-it notes to place around the primary sources.

  10. Quotation Nation. Copy quotations from historical newspapers in Chronicling America onto butcher sized paper. (Start with Topics in Chronicling America to save time.) Ask students to guess who might have said each, as well as when and why.

How have you enriched your own classroom environment with primary source displays? We hope you will share more ideas in the comments.

Civil War Photography: New Technologies and New Uses, a Teacher Primary Source Set from the Library of Congress

Can you imagine a photograph made of metal? A picture book made with egg whites? A wood-and-glass device that lets you see 3-D images? In the 1850s and 1860s, these were all cutting-edge photographic technologies. The Library’s newest primary source set, “Civil War Photography: New Technologies and New Uses,” immerses students in the new methods and formats that emerged in the decades around the war.