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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.