Primary Sources for the Primary Grades: Exploring–and Learning–the National Anthem with Primary Sources

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

At the beginning of May, I tell my students that by analyzing several primary sources they will discover who wrote the national anthem of the United States, discover why it was written, and learn the lyrics, singing it with understanding and confidence by Memorial Day.

Provide this image to each student and conduct an analysis of it. Start by asking your young learners to describe what they see in the image. Their responses can be written on large chart paper under the heading “see” or “observe.” Urge  students to think more deeply about the image by providing questions for reflection, such as:

      • Why was this image made?
      • What can you learn from analyzing this?

If necessary, help students read the words printed at the bottom of the image and ask them what they think the words mean. How do those words connect to the picture?

“And the star-spangled banner, in triumph shall wave, o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!”

Original manuscript of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Francis Scott Key standing on boat, with right arm stretched out toward the United States flag flying over Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland. Percy Moran, 1913

Tell students you are going to give them an image of the original manuscript for the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key. Give students time to look at the image. What do they notice? What do they wonder about? Tell them that you will read the words after the following image is analyzed.

Give each student a copy of the image of Francis Scott Key at Fort McHenry. Support students as they observe, reflect, and develop questions in order to discover what is happening in the image. Supply questions to help them along their path to discovery. Give the young learners some historical facts about the event depicted, choosing facts appropriate for the age of your students. Tell them that this image was made many years after the event, and ask them to consider what they can learn from it about the event, and what they cannot learn from this image.

After time has been given for an analysis, tell the students that Francis Scott Key wrote ”The Star-Spangled Banner” as a result of this experience. Discuss how he might have felt and then discuss the students’ feelings about the image.

Go back and read Francis Scott Key’s words. If time allows, give students a published version of the song. Discuss what the words mean.

Play a recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Let students sing along to learn and understand the meaning behind the U.S. national anthem.

What did your students discover about “The Star-Spangled Banner”?


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