Primary Sources for the Primary Grades: Kindergarteners and a Presidential Inauguration

This post is by Teresa St. Angelo, the 2016-2017 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

Kindergarten students analyze a photograph of a presidential inauguration

“The students were listening, participating, involved, and having fun,” exclaimed two kindergarten teachers. “And they were interested. I wasn’t sure how you would do that with this topic, but everyone loved it!” added a third.  Teachers also told me that they saw strategies that they could extend to other subjects, including math and reading. What prompted these excited comments? A lesson on presidential inaugurations!

I began the lesson by gathering the students on the classroom carpet and describing my role as Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress. I explained that we would study a photograph to learn about a very special event for the United States. I projected the image and told the students that at the end of the lesson they would be able to identify the special event happening in this photograph.

Lincoln's Second Inaugural

Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural

Students took a laminated copy of the photograph to their tables to make observations. They circled items that they noticed first, or details that would help them identify the important event. While students were circling details, I approached them individually and asked questions such as, “What do you see in the image?” and “What did you notice first?” Then, students again gathered on the carpet and each named one detail they circled.

Students seek clues about inaugural activities

I projected more primary source images to deepen learning. As they viewed an image of the U.S. Capitol building, we discussed its importance. I asked students to compare details from the building in their original image to image of the Capitol building. Students made the connection and realized the Capitol was the building in their original image, and I explained what a presidential inauguration is, and where it takes place.

Before showing the next image I asked the students, “Do you think people like to go to inaugurations?”  When I showed this image of the inauguration of Harry Truman, the students responded, “Wow!”

The students viewed primary source images of five different activities for an inauguration which included: the procession, the oath of office, the inaugural address, the parade, and the inaugural ball. After they studied the inaugural ball image, I instructed the students to find the man they think is the U.S. president at the ball. I asked if anyone knew this president’s name, and a few students called out, “Abraham Lincoln!”

I directed students to look again at the first image and try to find Abraham Lincoln. Imagine the excitement when they found him!  Then I asked, “What special event is happening in your image?”

The thrill of realizing it was a presidential inauguration, as they called out their answers, and the sense of accomplishment in the room is something I will never forget! That is the power of primary sources!

Let us know what you are doing with your students for the inauguration.

5 Comments

  1. Sherrie Galloway
    January 17, 2017 at 11:41 am

    A wonderful example for students of all ages. Thanks Teresa!

  2. Sue Wise
    January 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you for featuring very young learners thinking critically about historical documents, building historical thinking skills, and learning about this important current event.

    Children are interested in their world. They yearn to learn from everything–not just stories, but from everything they see and hear and touch. We MUST support our children in engaging in real-life learning so that they are prepared to actively engage with the world around them.

    They are citizens of this nation and of the world–the future doers and leaders and problem-solvers. We must teach them to observe and question what they see and hear around them so that they continue to learn from, adapt with, and influence the world around them.

  3. Sheri N
    January 24, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    My students are still talking about this lesson! What appropriate timing- it really peaked an interest in the inauguration For my kindergarten students!

  4. Alison Volk
    January 24, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    The lesson was fantastic! I was amazed at how you were able to explain such a difficult concept and have the children grasp it through with such excitement. The children were talking about it for days. Congratulations on doing such a fantastic job!

  5. Cara P
    January 25, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    What an amazing lesson! My kindergarten students were engaged the whole time and learned so much. I plan on using several strategies that were used in other content areas. Great job!

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