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A student closely examines an historic print
Student examining a primary source.

Keeping Students Engaged with Primary Sources

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The end of the school year brings anticipation and excitement. It can also bring a realistic challenge of keeping students meaningfully engaged as the countdown ticks to summer. Resources from the Library of Congress can help students stay curious, practice meaningful analysis of primary sources and (perhaps) even enjoy it!

Free to Use and Reuse Sets

Free to Use and Reuse Sets
  • What is it? These themed sets on an array of topics feature items from the Library’s collections that are available for public use without any restrictions. The newest set is always featured on the Library’s home page.
  • Why is it engaging for students? Items in each set are visually compelling and include a range of formats. The sets might spark curiosity about a new topic or an area that is personally relevant to students.
  • How could a teacher use it? Teachers could use these sets to revisit and reflect on topics or events that they’ve covered during the school year. The sets are great for gallery walks and for practicing different types of source analysis.

Story Maps 

Story Maps
  • What is it? These multimedia resources use different types of primary sources from the Library’s collections to tell stories in an immersive way. Story maps are one of the newest resources from the Library and include a range of topics to explore.
  • Why is it engaging for students? Primary sources can feel more relevant when they are essential to telling a story about a place, people, or event.  With story maps, students see how different types of sources work together.
  • How could a teacher use it? Story maps give students a curated look into the Library’s collections. Because the story maps are highly structured and give users a path to follow, these resources can be appropriate for students to explore independent of a teacher. Students might even be inspired to create their own analog version of a story map, using primary sources from their lives.

Topics in Chronicling America 

Topics in Chronicling America Research Guides
  • What is it? Chronicling America provides free access to millions of historic American newspapers. Research guides on topics widely covered by the American press give an introduction, search strategies, and selected newspaper articles.
  • Why is it engaging for students? While newspapers are likely not the way that students get their news today, it can be intriguing for students to see how historic events were covered during the time in which they were happening. It can invite thoughtful discussion about the role and nature of “the news”: how people get their news today, how it has changed over time and why it matters.
  • How could a teacher use it? Teachers could invite students to search for topics that they covered during the year and how that coverage varied by state. Students could also look for how the craft of journalism has changed over time, including the structure and form of different types of articles, what role images can play, and the language choices journalists make.

In addition to the three highlighted here, you might also check out Poet Laureate Projects, Today in History, Exhibitions, and the Civil Rights History Project.

Have you used other resources from the Library that sustained students’ attention? What do you recommend? Tell us in the comments!

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