Top of page

Getting to Know You…with Library of Congress Primary Sources

Share this post:

Helping students get to know one another is important in the first few weeks of school.  Did you know that using primary sources from the Library of Congress can help you accomplish this?   Side benefits: You’ll learn something about each student, and they’ll become familiar with the concept of primary sources.

Summer Teacher Institute Participant
Summer Teacher Institute Participant

At the Library’s Summer Teacher Institutes, we use primary sources to get acquainted on the first day.  Instead of starting off with introductions, we launch right into an activity called “Connecting with Primary Sources.”   Each participant browses through a pile of printed primary sources, selects one that interests them, and examines it quietly.  Then they make notes about what details engage them, and why.  For example, is it prior knowledge on the topic? …a personal experience? …thoughts or feelings triggered? …curiosity?  …or something else?

When ready, we go around the room and participants introduce themselves one at a time, sharing their primary source and why it engaged them.  I never fail to learn something special about each participant – whether it’s a key event from their own past, a family story, or a topic they’re passionate about. I’m sometimes startled by how personal and heart-felt these connections can be – connections that were made with a historical primary source.

Give it a try in your classroom or library.  Here are three ideas for engaging students with primary sources while helping everyone get to know one another:

  1. Find a Library of Congress Primary Source Set that relates to a topic you’ll be studying.  Have students select one item that interests them most, then share what engaged them, and why.
  2. Facilitate the Connecting with Primary Sources activity from the Library’s Professional Development Builder with your students, using the ready-to-print primary sources included.
  3. Introduce the concept of primary sources by asking students to bring in items that represent their summer experiences.  Have students share their connection with each item, either individually or in a mini-museum.  Then, guide your class in discussing what “story” these objects (primary sources) tell about each individual and about the class collectively. You might also be able to discuss the difference between seeing that firsthand evidence of someone’s summer and just hearing someone else tell the story secondhand.

If you’ve used primary sources to engage students and help them get acquainted, please share in the comments section.

Comments (2)

  1. if you want to know that your particpant how much information about primary sources the first day school or uni please to get a pretest this test show that the your participant have you enough information about primary sources this method help you for planning

  2. As a new teacher, this really gives me some good ideas that I can use to help get to know more about my students. I especially like that this could be done with any grade level.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.