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. Coming to NCSS with Information That Will Amaze Your Students

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