Teaching with primary sources
This collection of resources includes best practice articles, primary source process guides, lesson plans that model historical inquiry, and book-length materials that incorporate primary sources.
When used effectively, primary sources can open a world of possibilities in the classroom. When students have opportunities to approach sources as historians do, history becomes an art and a mystery — rather than a series of lifeless facts. This collection of materials offers ideas for integrating primary sources into your teaching, shares best practices, models the process of historical inquiry, and provides a selection of exemplary lesson plans.
Learning from primary sources: Guides for students
Reading guides and process guides
- Primary source analysis worksheets from NARA
- A series of worksheets for students to use when analyzing various primary source materials. The worksheets, designed by the National Archives and Records Administration, cover materials including photographs, maps, sound recordings, posters, cartoons, motion pictures, and more.
- Reading newspapers: Factual reporting
- This learner’s guide introduces students to the use of historical newspapers as primary sources and provides key questions for reading them.
- Reading newspapers: Reader contributions
- A learner’s guide to reading letters to the editor and other reader contributions in historical newspapers.
- Reading newspapers: Editorial and opinion pieces
- A learner’s guide to identifying, reading, and understanding editorial and opinion pieces in historical newspapers.
- Reading newspapers: Advertisements
- A learner’s guide to reading and understanding advertisements in historical newspapers.
- Wills and inventories: A process guide
- Guiding questions for students investigating daily life in the past through wills, inventories, and probate records.
- Reading primary sources: An introduction for students
- A step-by-step guide for students examining primary sources, with specific questions divided into five layers of questioning.
- Reading primary sources: Interactive guides
- A series of interactive guides to reading primary sources. Each one explores a different type of material, stepping through layers of questions to guide the reader through the process of historical inquiry. The following guides are available:
Teaching with primary sources
Strategies and best practices
- Oral history in the classroom
- Oral history lets students learn about history from the people who lived it. This series of articles will show you how to bring oral history into your classroom, whatever grade you teach.
- The no-so-famous person report
- Instead of teaching the history of the famous, use research in primary sources to teach students that the past and present were made by people like them.
Model lesson plans and activities
- Reading Amadas and Barlowe
- Students read about Amadas and Barlowe’s 1584 voyage to the Outer Banks, and practice thinking critically and analyzing primary source documents. (Grade 8 Social Studies)
- “A female raid” in 1863: Using newspaper coverage to learn about North Carolina’s Civil War homefront
- Students use original newspaper coverage to learn about a raid on local stores by Confederate soldier’s wives in March 1863 in Salisbury, North Carolina, and use that historical moment to explore conscription, life on the homefront, economic issues facing North Carolina merchants, the challenges of wartime politics, and the role of newspaper editors in shaping public opinion. (Grades 8 & 11 Social Studies)
- Teaching about slavery through newspaper advertisements
- Students analyze a selection of advertisements related to slavery from an 1837 newspaper in order to enhance their understanding of antebellum North Carolina, U.S. history, and the history of American slavery. (Grades 8 & 11 Social Studies)
- The North Carolina mountains in the early 1900s through the writing and photography of Horace Kephart
- Students develop an understanding of daily life and culture in the mountains of North Carolina during the early 20th century through photographs and written sources; practice visual literacy skills and gain experience analyzing visual and written sources of historical information; and learn to revise their early analyses of historical sources and to synthesize the information found in different kinds of primary documents by planning a museum exhibit. (Grade 8 Social Studies)
- Migration into and out of North Carolina: Exploring census data
- Just how many people left North Carolina in the first half of the nineteenth century — and where did they go? To answer questions like this, the best place to turn is census records. The census can’t tell us why people moved, but a look at the numbers can give us a sense of the scale of the migration.
Find more lesson plans that use primary sources.
Finding primary sources
On LEARN NC
- North Carolina digital history textbook
- Primary sources, multimedia, readings, and lesson plans to tell the many stories of North Carolina’s past. LEARN NC’s “digital textbook” for 8th-grade North Carolina history makes primary sources central to the learning experience, using them to tell the stories of the past rather than merely illustrating it. Special web-based tools help students learn to read those sources and ask good questions of them.
- Tobacco bag stringing: Life and labor in the Depression
- Images and text from a report in the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill documenting tobacco bag stringing work in North Carolina and Virginia in 1939.
- Diary of a journey of Moravians
- First-hand account of the journey of twelve Moravian brothers from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Bethabara, North Carolina in 1753.
Finding individual sources: Our advanced search form allows you to select a format of resource, so if you’re looking for letters, diaries, maps, or interviews, this is a good place to start.