National Archives is America’s record keeper. It saves a wide variety of historical documents and materials spanning almost the whole history of the United States. The Education section in the National Archives hosts numerous resources to help teachers incorporate primary documents in their classroom teaching. Two main resources I want to bring to your attention are Working with Primary Sources and DocsTeach.
Working with Primary Sources provides practical worksheets to use in class to help students with the analysis of primary documents. The purpose is to enable students to develop document analysis skills and help them “think through primary source documents for contextual understanding and to extract information to make informed judgments.” The worksheets work on different media types including photographs, posters, maps, videos, audio recordings, graphs, and many more.
DocsTeach is an online tool provided by the National Archives which allow you to search for and explore document-based activities to use in your classroom. You can search for primary sources using keywords and you can further refine your search by historical era and document type (e.g., video, audio, map, poster, photograph, etc). Each activity comes with instructional guidelines on how to use it with students, the grade level it targets, the thinking skills it engages, and many more. DocsTeach also provides online tools to help teachers create their own activities. The process is simple and easy: choose a document, create an activity, provide instructions, and share with your students. Check out this guide to learn more about how to create DocsTeach activities .
Some of the document-based activities you can create for your students include:
This activity helps students learn about the process of document analysis and how to use it in the analysis of primary sources they work on.
In this activity, you “showcase one document while posing a question or instructions to quickly engage students, focus classroom activity, and spark conversations.”
In this activity you “display a document and highlight specific parts to quickly engage students and focus classroom activity.”
“Link primary sources to locations on a map to practice spatial thinking and understand the impact of geographic factors in history.”
“Pair documents concerning a historical event, concept, or figure with descriptions, questions, or other documents to impress upon students that the whole is derived of smaller parts.”
“Turn primary sources into historical evidence that students sort through and evaluate to draw historical conclusions.”
“Introduce students to primary source documents containing historical data and encourage them to consider the source, the presentation style, and the intended impact of the material.”
“Present primary sources as a string of documents and help students make connections among those documents and the historical events they illustrate.”
“Present primary sources and challenge students to sequence them based on careful document analysis.”
“Teach students to use visual cues and context to understand a document”
“Intrigue students about a particular document and give them practice forming hypotheses.”
For other platforms that provide access to primary source documents, check out this collection.