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Primary Sources

Primary sources are original objects or records that have survived the past. Some times referred to as "raw history," they represent a direct personal experience of a specific time in the past. Primary sources are artifacts such as official documents (birth certificates, marriage licenses, and property contracts), journals (diaries and letters), clothing, toys, tools, visuals (sketches, painting, and photographs), and more.

video clipWatch 21st Century Learning Matters from YouTube.
Then, explore the Teacher Resources from the Library of Congress.

eyeRead the article Teaching Inquiry with Primary Sources to see inquiry in action.

Barbara Stripling has written one of the most comprehensive and convincing essays on the relationships among inquiry-based learning, information literacy and k-12 curriculum. She states that "Use of primary sources is an important component of inquiry in social studies. Students must be taught to observe and draw valid interpretations from artifacts, ephemera, images, maps, and personal accounts. Student must be taught to interpret the primary sources in light of its context (e.g., a soldier writing a letter about a recent skirmish may think it the bloodiest battle of the war because he was injured; a photographer shooting a peace march from a low angle may convey a huge crowd, while an overhead shot might show a small crowd with empty streets behind it). Because so many sources are being digitized, students have more access to primary sources than they have ever had before [and the amount available online will grow tremendously over the coming years]. Primary sources may be particularly exciting to elementary students who have limited background knowledge. They, therefore, need scaffolding to foster the validity of their interpretations" (2003, page 26).

Frances Jacobson Harris has demonstrated how challenging it is to manage visual and artifact interpretation skills of middle grade students.

eye means readRead Key Word: Primary Sources in THE BLUE BOOK by Callison and Preddy, 483-488.

eye means readRead Primary Resources from Leslie Preddy.

Explore escrapbooking.com to learn more about using primary sources in classrooms and libraries.

Key Words

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